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Dear Coach: How Do I Develop A Strong Coach/Athlete Relationship?

Building a strong relationship with your coach can be critical to achieving your training and racing goals.

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Hiring a coach to help you on your path to becoming a performance-driven athlete is just the first step toward success. The implementation of a solid training program and the execution of the physical work will lead to performance gains, but the highest executing athletes have built a level of trust and mutual respect with their coaches that has led to increased levels of performance both in training and in competition. This relationship forms when athletes are completely comfortable being themselves, where risk-taking is encouraged and fear of failure or judgment is absent from the coach/athlete relationship entirely. This is always a two-way street, of course, but as the athlete, here are a few tips on establishing this positive, performance-enhancing relationship with your coach.

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Stick with the plan

It’s true that the initial relationship between athlete and coach starts off of “blind trust.” This is because you don’t know each other yet and will have to work out the kinks, just like in the start of any relationship. During this critical “getting to know you” period, make sure you stick to the training plan that has been written by your coach. Do not get derailed by doing the workouts of your colleagues or friends, or something you found online that looks inciting. This will quickly dissolve the relationship between you and your coach, and also does not allow your coach to really learn how you react to certain stressors or patterns, or what your strengths and weaknesses are, all of which help the coach make specific changes to how you as an athlete perform and adapt.

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Be vulnerable and engaged

The ability to be vulnerable as an athlete allows the coach to see the “bad with the good” and helps the coach build your plan and understand you better. Allowing a coach to watch you perform (this can also be done virtually via shooting video, for example) and being open to constructive feedback will allow your coach to realize you trust in them as your athletic “caregiver.” Being engaged with your coach and wanting and listening intently to feedback helps the coach understand that you are wanting to be a constant learner and also allows you to learn more about yourself and become more competent in your athletic journey.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Whether you are coached online or in-person, being able to openly communicate with your coach is probably the most important step in building the coach/athlete relationship. The ability to be open and honest, telling your coach not only how the workout went in terms of data, but probably more importantly how you felt during the workout, will help the coach paint a much clearer picture of how you are reacting to the stressors/load of the coaching plan.

Here is an example: As an athlete you complete a tempo running workout. You upload the information from your watch to Training Peaks. From a data standpoint, it looks like you nailed the workout, hitting all prescribed paces. However, you include a subjective narrative of how you felt during this workout and talk about a nagging dull pain you are feeling in your foot during the entire workout. This personal description is absolutely critical for the coach and will aid in additional adjustments in the training plan to avoid injury and keep progress moving forward. Being able to tell the coach when things are going well is easy, but the ability to be vulnerable and tell the coach when things are not going well will only help you build trust with your coach that helps strengthen the relationship and quality of the program prescribed to you.

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When these principles are practiced, the trust that builds between you and your coach will be the fundamental building blocks that help lead you to undeniable performance gains.

Tristen Rogers is a USAT Level 2 Coach, Head Coach of the HAT Altitude Team, and owner of HAT House Endurance Camps

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