It may seem a bit early to start thinking about next season already, but now is a great time to start looking into working with a personal cycling coach.
So why look for a coach now, in the middle of the season? Though getting some help from a coach now may help you finish off the season strong, the idea is to give yourself the time to find the coach that is right for you. Choosing someone as your coach can be the same as finding a new dentist or car mechanic. You want to find someone who you can trust to have your best interests in mind, who knows enough and has the experience to guide you through your training and racing year so that you show up at your key events as fit as possible.
When it comes to shopping for a coach or coaching group to work with, there are a few key things that I think are important and a few misconceptions that should also be noted.
- Certifications: To become certified as a coach through USA Cycling, all you need to do is pass an open book exam. In actuality, coaching is pretty unregulated which means anyone can call themselves a coach and start signing up clients. Being certified does not always guarantee that the potential coach knows anything, but it may show a level of commitment to gaining and maintaining the certification, which does require a certain amount of related continuing education.
- Education: This one is pretty important. Your coach should have a good understanding of basic exercise physiology concepts so that they can design your training program and assign workouts based on a desired out come and not just because it is something that they saw in a book or magazine. When assigning workouts, I like my athletes to understand why they are doing them and what we expect the results to be. If the coach does not understand the point of a workout, then why would they prescribe it to their athletes?
Though education is important, there is a saying in the coaching world that athletes “Don’t care how much you know as long as they know how much you care”. A PhD in exercise physiology may know everything there is to know about overload and recovery and mitochondrial density and oxygen uptake etc, but if they are not committed to actually applying that knowledge to help you as an athlete, what good is it.
- Race Results: Riders who win may not have a clue as to how they got the fitness that they had or how to help someone else gain that level of fitness. Picking a coach solely on their race resume is not a good strategy. Instead look at the resumes of the athletes who have worked with that coach. Look at the level of improvement that the athletes have made and in what areas and then secondly at the race results. The coach can only work to make sure the rider is prepared as possible for a given event, but once the race starts, there is little they can do to ensure a good result.
- Coaching Style and Personality: If your coach gets on your nerves or has a style that you just cannot stand, what are the chances that you will trust and listen to them? When it comes to hiring a coach, you should take the time to actually interview them before making your decision. In this interview, you can decide if this coach is the right one for you and for the coach to decide if they think you are the kind of athlete that they can work with.
Your coach’s style should also fit with what you, as an athlete, need to improve. Some athletes need a drill instructor style of coach. They need to be told what to do and that they have to do it and that is good enough to motivate them. Other riders need to understand the reasoning behind the workout to be motivated. I have seen training programs at either end of the spectrum. I have seen spread sheets with nothing but numbers for reps, sets, HR or Power targets time and I have seen programs with long explanations about every part of the workout. Knowing what works for you should be considered when selecting a coach and coaching level. If you need more information, then you may have to pay a little extra to get it.
- Cost: When shopping around for a coach or coaching group, keep in mind that what you are paying for is the years and years of collective experience and knowledge and not just the time the coach spends writing your program and talking to you during the month. Most successful coaches have spent a lot of time and money acquiring the experience and knowledge that they will use to help you reach your goal.
Most coaches support several athletes and time is a limited commodity when it comes to being self-employed. You should expect, and be willing, to pay a little extra if you are going to need or want more of your coach’s limited time.
- What you get for the money: This is something that should be determined well before you hire a coach. Having clear expectations of what the coach will be providing and what the coach will expect from the athlete will save lots of headaches later on. Phone calls, face to face meetings, emails, training programs, feedback, race support and coaching rides are just a few of the services a coach may or may not be willing to provide when you hire them. Make sure you know what you are looking for and what the coach or coaching group can provide.
- Trust: This is really one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a coach. One of the jobs of a personal cycling coach is to guide you and your training throughout the training and racing season so that you are as prepared as possible for the events you want to do well in. If you do not trust the coach, then you will constantly be second guessing what they are prescribing. You need have trust in the thought that your coach has your best interests in mind with everything they prescribe. It is the coach’s job to gain that trust by making sure the athlete has a clear understanding and agrees with what they are planning to do.
- Does the coach work independently, as part of a group or coaching company? This can be an important consideration. Working with an independent coach may gain you greater attention from the coach and hopefully a better level of personalization in your training, but that may come at a higher financial cost. Working with a larger group or company may be more economical, but you may give up some interaction or custimization in your program. This is where talking to the coach and asking what you can expect from them in terms of interaction and modifications to the program comes in. Find that level of balance between cost and benefit that works best for you.
These are just a few elements that I think you need to keep in mind when looking to hire a cycling coach. Ask around and find out as much as you can about any coach or coaching group that you are considering. Call and talk to the coach. I do not know of any coach that is not willing to talk to a potential athlete and answer any questions you might have.