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Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of Working With A Coach

You are a successful, accomplished person who has achieved success in life through your careful research and planning. And now you have athletic goals and are thinking of working with a Coach, or are already working with a Coach - a prospect that relieves you, excites you, and terrifies you, all at the same time. You are feeling, perhaps for the first time, that you need to relinquish control of your goals to another person.

Not so! Rest assured that you are in control of your training and the path to your athletic success. A Coach can be one of the greatest fuels for your success if you adopt the right mindset and behaviors for your partnership with them.

These tips will apply to you if

  • You are contemplating working with a Coach for the first time

  • You want to fix a current coaching relationship that seems to be off-track

  • You started working with a new Coach and want to begin on the right foot

Before diving into the five tips, there are a couple table-stakes that we need to get out of the way. If you are having trouble integrating either of these into your life, I don't believe that a Coach is right for you at this time. Before you spend the time researching a Coach, or before you spend the money to pay a Coach, make sure you have checked the box on these two basics:

  • You consistently train and find ways to make it happen in your busy life, at least 3-4 days a week. You are aware of the delicate training-work-family-social balance and do your best to shuffle things around as needed to fulfill your commitments in each of these areas.

  • You have a device that collects pace and heart rate data, you know how to use it, and you use it regularly. Alternatively, you are willing to buy such a device, learn how to use it, and use it regularly. (This is especially needed if you are working with a remote coach. They need to see this data to ensure you are getting training benefits from the paces, distances, and efforts you are putting out in your training.)

Have you checked the boxes on these two things? Then you're on the path to being the most coachable you. Keep reading...

Tip #1: Find your motivation within

It is not a coach's job to motivate you. It is true that a coach should provide encouragement at the right time and equip you with strategies for overcoming obstacles, but on a day-to-day basis, you are responsible for getting your training done. No one is going to be there to make you do it. You need to be internally motivated to reach your goals.

Tip #2: Pursue knowledge, not perfection

The people who are at the highest level of mastery in their craft did not get there on their own. They relentlessly observe others, ask questions, and conduct their own personal research. If you ever get to the point where you think you have all the answers, you almost certainly do not - but more importantly, you will be unable to hear others when they give you a perspective that is different from yours. Keep your mind open, ask question, do your research, and discuss these things with your Coach. Your Coach, too, is continually seeking to grow their knowledge-base and your conversations and debates about your training will benefit both of you individually.

Tip #3: Over-Communicate

Coaches are not mind-readers. Analyzing workout data is helpful, but data provides only part of the picture of you as an Athlete. Because data does not capture things like your mood, your muscle soreness, your arguments with your kids or your partner right before the workout, or the outcomes of a stressful work meeting, it is imperative that your coach knows what is going on in your mind and your life, as these are factors that will affect your ability to optimally train. If you do not have a regular meeting on the calendar to discuss these things with your coach, request one.

Tip #4: Let your ego go, and be patient

You will not see instant speed and podium finishes after working with a coach for just a few weeks, or even a few months. In my experience as a Coach and as an Athlete, the first 12 months of a new Coach-Athlete relationship is a data-gathering and learning experience. It takes at least 3-4 months to understand an Athlete's life and training patterns, and to identify their strengths and weaknesses. It takes another 3-4 months after that to consistently execute a plan that improves an Athlete's limiters. And it takes an additional 3-6 months following that to tweak the plan. All the while, life is happening, and both you and your Coach are navigating work, family, illness, injury, etc. - each of which requires additional time and patience to map its affects on your training.

Tip #5: Trust the process

You a goal-driven human who is understandably uncomfortable with laying the fate of your goals in someone else's hands. Your initial reaction to your new training schedule delivered by your Coach may be resistance. You may find reasons why the prescribed workout doesn't work for you, or why it would be difficult for you to complete that workout. This resistance is natural, but you must trust your Coach. You will not be able to reach the point of a truly personalized schedule if you do not execute the training plan as prescribed. Trust that your coach has your goal in mind every step of the way, and is doing the big picture planning - this is what you are paying them for! If you find yourself resisting the workouts your Coach has written for you, here are some tips-within-a-tip.

  • First, replace "I can't" with "I won't" as you think about the workout. For example, if you say "I can't do this workout because I'm traveling," modify that to "I won't do this workout because I'm traveling." Ah, interesting. Is it that you won't do the workout because you're traveling, or you won't do the workout because it requires additional planning (about routes and facilities at your destination) that you have not done? Are you able to do that additional planning?

  • Second, if you still come to the conclusion that you can't and you won't do a workout as written, then talk to your Coach about why it is unappealing or hard for you complete (see Tip #3!). Understand the purpose of the workout, and aim to come to an agreement about a workout you can do in its place.

Every Coach has their own style, as does every Athlete, and there is an art as well as a science to finding the best coaching match. However, you can maximize the time, money, effort, and thought you put into your coaching engagement by keeping these 5 tips in mind. Your success in executing these tips define how "coachable" you are, and therefore, your resistance to any of these factors make you less coachable. This does not mean doomsday for your athletic potential - perhaps you are more effective at coaching yourself than taking someone else's guidance, or you need to work with a coach with a different style. Alternatively, you could take your challenges to heart and focus your energy on improving them. Vulnerability is one of the fastest ways to improve.

Here are a few additional resources about working with a coach, that I found while writing this post. Hope they are helpful to you!

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