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Virtually Coaching

Coach Lance Watson explains how to find your next (online) triathlon coach.

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Once upon a time, athletes were forced to use coaching resources close to home. They read what they could, and perhaps blended a little bit of advice from the local swim, bike and run coaches. Today, the Internet connects people like never before and enables athletes to make their coaching choices without regard to physical location. And many age-group athletes, from beginner to advanced, are starting to realize that professional coaching is not just for professional athletes. A good program will take into account your work schedule, family obligations, key events and availability of any local group workouts you can take part in. There are a lot of options out there—finding the right coach for your goals and budget means having a game plan when you start your research.

Get personal

A coaching contract should be a personal relationship. You want to make sure you find the right fit—but also understand that, like with many relationships, time will build and enhance that connection. Before going into the interview process, really think about what you want from a coach outside of the actual swim-bike-run guidance. If you need lots of emotional support and help with goal setting, make sure to mention that.

Other things to consider and address

» Do you connect? Does the coach communicate well? If you can’t relate to your coach, it won’t work. Having a sense of connection builds trust and makes it more fun.

» Find out how often you will e-mail, talk on the phone and make modifications to your program according to your needs. Think about your own expectations for communication and talk candidly about them.

» Has the coach worked with athletes in your age group or with similar goals? Often?

» Where is he or she located? More than three or four time zones can make communication more challenging. A short plane ride or drive means more opportunity to meet for training camps or races.

Do your homework

There are coaching schools, certification programs and continuing education for coaches. Coaches can have a wide background of learning and university degrees—often in physiology, kinesiology or human performance, but also education and nutrition—coupled with years of experience working in single-sport or multisport fields.

» University education: A degree in sport science or related field is a big benefit to understanding the elements of athletics and performance.

» Coaching certification: Is he or she USAT-certified or similar? This will be one indicator of experience and knowledge levels.

» Track record: How long has he or she coached, and to what level of success?

» Additional certifications: Does the coach have additional certifications in nutrition, strength and conditioning, psychology, etc.?

» Experience coaching athletes in person: This is where a coach acquires technical coaching skills and understanding of the finer points of biomechanics and physical adaptation to training.

» Experience in online coaching: How much experience does he or she have coaching online, which requires a different skill set?

» Triathlon background: Does your coach have racing experience, and does he or she train? Experience competing and training, specifically in triathlon, enhances the coach’s understanding of what the athlete goes through.

» Roster size: Work with a smaller athlete base number, ensuring more attention to your needs.

It’s always a good idea to get references or to ask other athletes about their experiences. Most coaches are in triathlon because they are as passionate as you are about the sport and the potential for individual success. Open the door to coaching and see where you can go!

How does it work?

Skype, FaceTime and video analysis are great ways to bridge the physical gap. Skype and FaceTime enable coaches to have a person-to-person chat. A coach can demonstrate a skill or sit in on a key indoor session with his or her athlete. Many of us have received video clips of family events or other activities via e-mail. Why not shoot a video on your smartphone and e-mail your coach your 100m swim time trial, or put it on YouTube? By filming different angles, the coach is able to freeze-frame and give written and verbal feedback, along with video captures, to point out areas for improvement. Good coaches rely on the feedback of athletes, so no matter what tool you are using, communication is essential to the relationship.

Online training programs such as TrainingPeaks make a great interface for posting an athlete’s personal calendar, and provide a user-friendly forum where athletes can upload data from bicycle power meters, heart rate monitors and GPS devices for pace, elevation changes and distance. A coach can use the software to view an athlete’s planned session, his or her feedback and training data all on one screen. Over time the combination of coach and software helps you learn your training patterns and how to use that knowledge to become a better athlete.

The Match.com for coaches and athletes

TrainingPeaks recently launched an athlete-coach matching program for those looking for a coach. You start by filling out a detailed form about your goals, and TrainingPeaks uses that information to match you with an appropriate coach. After a detailed interview session, you decide if it’s the right fit. Home.trainingpeaks.com/coach-matching.aspx

LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Olympians, Ironman and age-group champions. Visit Lifesportcoaching.com.