Sports coaching is no longer the preserve of school and professional sports. Most recreational or aspiring age-group competitors in all sporting codes have realised the value of having a coach guide them through their training. So, I thought I would try to come up with some criteria to use when choosing between the myriad coaching options available today.
Groups or solo – I think this is the first major category that needs to be considered. There are advantages and disadvantages to both squad training and online coaching. Sport is a great way to meet new people and I have seen how people enjoy the social aspects of being part of a ‘club’. It is easy to become a hermit when training, and belonging to a squad is a nice way to maintain a healthy social life. There is also the support structure it provides when things aren’t going so well, and the accolades are great when things do.
Negatives include being stuck into rigid time schedules. Having to be somewhere at a certain time. This is fine for some but others, who have more flexible work schedules, may battle. There is also the inter-group competition. There can be the ‘every session is a race’ dynamic that develops and this is where self-discipline and a clear eye on your personal goals is needed.
Advantages for online coaching is that your schedule should be completely adapted to fit in with the rest of your life. If your work allows you to go out and train in the daylight, you want to take advantage of that. If you travel a lot, the training should come with you. If you want to join the occasional group session, that should be worked in. The disadvantage is obviously that you miss out on the social side of things. You spend a lot of time in your own head and on your own and, although possible through video, technique and form is harder to analyse and monitor.
Most coaches today, offer an online option but not all have regular group sessions. So, if you want to train with a squad, straight away you can eliminate many who are not in your geographical area and those that are only online.
There are some questions to ask then when you have narrowed things down to the squads in your area:
How do they cater for different abilities – do they have A, B and C groups etc. or are there enough people of your ability and skill level in the group to ensure that you are not isolated?
How are different goals catered for – Is everyone training for the same thing or are different distances and seasonal plans catered for? If so, how is that achieved?
If you need hands-on technique and form advice, is this possible in the squad. Ensure that individual attention is possible in the group situation.
Most obviously, how close are the sessions to you – training takes up a lot of our free time. We don’t want to add to that, having to drive for ages just to get to training.
If online coaching is a better fit, these are questions I would ask of a potential coach:
How does the coach communicate with you – Communication is key in a coaching relationship but especially important online. You want to determine how accessible your coach is to you. Are there any restrictions and does the format that the coach uses suit you?
Are your individual needs and goals catered for – The big advantage of remote coaching is that the program should be perfectly specific to your needs and aspirations.
Technique and form analysis and instruction – Is this possible and how is it achieved if you need it?
OK, so you have determined which type of coaching approach you are after, now how do you select the specific coach/squad:
Experience – I realise that this makes it difficult for new coaches, but I would definitely apply the criteria of experience and longevity when assessing a coach. In fact, any business really. The caveat to this is that coaches can get set in their ways. Exercise science is a rapidly moving field and your coach should stay up to date.
Qualifications – Yes, some coaches have learned from their own training and racing experience and, while this counts for a lot, a bit of tertiary training is always an asset.
Track record – The coach’s track record should fit with what you are aspiring to. For example – If you are focusing on short, powerful efforts, choosing a coach who specialises in long, endurance events may not be your best option. When I wrote ‘track record’ your initial thought may have been to the coach’s own racing performance. While there is valuable, first-hand experience to be gained through their own racing and training, the best athletes do not necessarily make the best coaches and racing as a pro does not always prepare someone for coaching people with jobs and other responsibilities.
Approach and personality must fit yours – Spend time communicating with your potential coach before signing up. Make sure that their approach to training and racing fits with yours. Do you need a motivator or an exercise prescriber? Do you need a ‘tough love’ or a ‘sympathetic’ approach? It is more than likely a combination of all of these, and different approaches apply at different times. The key is to find the coach that most fits with you as a PERSON and as an ATHLETE. There is a reason I wrote those in that order.
A coach should take you seriously. Should be kind when you are battling and tough when you are lazy. A coach should be the voice of reason when you are questioning yourself but also when you are getting ahead of yourself. Not every coach works for every athlete so take the time to find the right one for you.