Eight Qualities of a Good Coach
A knowledgeable coach can be a great asset for any athlete, but in order for you to get the true value of the coaching relationship, your coach needs to be a good communicator and respect the client/coach business service relationship. If you’re in search of a coach, even if you don’t know exactly what you need in regard to the training itself, there are some expectations you should hold for your coach. The more you are paying for your program, the higher quality these services should be. Use this list as your guide, and be sure to comment if you think of anything I’ve forgotten here:
A good coach will:
- Take the time to get to know you and build a plan that is compatible with your priorities. Your coach should know not only about your goals and available training time, but also about your life and time outside of your training. Phenomena like work stress, sleepless nights, child custody wranglings, and spouse demands can greatly influence how an athlete performs and is able to recover. The more your coach can take these factors into account, the better your program will fit into your life, and the more likely you are to progress in your training.
- Will plan not just be day to day or even week to week blocks based on how each week goes, but have in mind your whole season plan arranged around your goals, commitments, available time and stresses. There may be times early on in the program or during an illness where you are going day to day, but in general, your day to day and weekly plans should fit into a comprehensive whole. The coach who is constantly asking “what do you want to work on this week?” isn’t doing his or her entire job of making the training build towards the season or important events.
- Will listen and interpret as well as coach. The most common complaints I hear from clients switching from another coach are that they felt like they weren’t being heard and they felt pushed to over-train. These two concerns often go hand in hand. If the coach isn’t paying attention to a tired athlete and continues pushing along a set schedule regardless of illness or other complications, the athlete is likely to be driven further and further into the ground. Good coaches take the time to listen, go over data, and just as importantly, ask followup questions.
Find a coach for you
- Will explain their availability from the start and return phone calls and emails promptly. This is the second most common complaint I hear from new clients concerning previous coaches. Client concerns are most often time sensitive. Responses that come too late can be worthless. Good coaches make their clients a priority by setting office hours, making themselves available throughout the day, and sticking to their communication follow-up commitments.
- Can hash out specifics concerning strengths and weaknesses and the plan to address them. Your coach should have a good idea of the requirements for success in your sport and the exercises and approaches that help move clients toward them. Not every coach is an expert in every area however, nor should they pretend to be. When a weakness falls outside your coach’s specialty areas, he or she should help you find the additional training assistance you need. For instance, a coach who is particularly good at forming training programs for mountain bikers but isn’t a bike handling specialist should help to connect you for sessions with someone who is. Likewise for nutrition or mental skills.
- Will give you positive reinforcement in a way that lets you know when you are meeting expectations and when you’ve gone above and beyond. A good coach isn’t going to congratulate you or give feedback every time you complete a workout (even if you wrote a book about it in your training journal), but he or she is certainly going to let you know when you’ve hit a new benchmark, or did a workout stronger than the week before. He or she will give praise when you show a high level of commitment, and generally let you know whether you’re progressing as they would normally expect at the point in the program.
- On the flip side, a good coach won’t be afraid to call you out if you don’t appear to be sticking to your stated priorities in regard to training and goals. This is one of the most difficult tasks for coaches to accomplish. We’re in the customer service business when it comes down to it, and we want to keep clients happy. Having a conversation about a training program that isn’t going well can be tricky, especially if the main problem is that the client is not following the plan. Experienced coaches will tackle this with tact and understanding, but also with suggestions and updated expectations.
- Will ask for and respect your feedback. This is very close to the qualification of listening and interpreting. Many athletes won’t know what or when they are supposed to give feedback unless they are asked. A good coach should explain the kind of feedback they need to direct and adjust the program. The main thing to remember is that the written program usually starts out as an ideal suggestion, and then the real training program is the one that you and your coach adjust and refine as you go along. And that’s very much the real value of your coach.