I was talking this week with a group of athletes, some coached by CTS and others not, and the conversation turned to their experiences with coaching over the past several years. Most of them had at least one poor experience with a coach, and the most important point I took away from the conversation was that independent coaches and coaching companies look very similar on paper and on the web, but the athlete experiences vary dramatically. So perhaps I need to be clearer about what sets professional coaches apart.
CTS Coaches Do More Coaching
According to survey data from TrainingPeaks, the majority of coaches are hobbyists. They supplement their primary career with endurance coaching. It’s their side job. What that means for athletes is that when push comes to shove, your coach’s primary career takes priority. It also means they do less coaching (1-19 athletes, according to TrainingPeaks) on an annual basis than a professional coach. When you look for an orthopedic surgeon to replace your knee, do you go to the doctor who dabbles in knee replacements, or the doctor who has replaced tens of thousands of knees? What makes that experienced surgeon more valuable is the number of variations and complications he or she has seen. You don’t want your doctor to be surprised by what he or she encounters when you’re on the table. My coaches coach for 40 hours a week, at least. They work with a variety of athletes from different backgrounds, with different challenges, and at different starting points in terms of fitness and experience. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say my coaches do more actual coaching in three years than most independent coaches do in 10.[blog_promo promo_categories=”coaching” ids=”” /]
CTS Coaches Are Accountable
My coaches are accountable, to me. First they have to be invited to be trained as a CTS Coach. Then they have to graduate from a mandatory Coaching College that includes classroom education, practical learning, and close mentoring. All in, it takes 3-5 months of training before they begin working with their first athlete. All an independent coach has to do is take a weekend seminar from a National Governing Body like USA Cycling or USA Triathlon. In ultrarunning there isn’t even an NGB to be certified by! And to be honest, a lot of independent coaches have no licensure at all. It’s not required; there is no barrier to entry in the coaching profession. Anyone can hang a shingle, put up a website, and call themselves an endurance coach.
For me, accountability goes beyond a coach’s initial training. There is ZERO oversight of coaches licensed by NGBs. No one is checking to see that your training program has any basis in sports science. No one is checking to make sure your coach is being ethical. No one is holding your coach accountable for delivering the services or responsiveness promised on his or her website, and you have no one to go to in order to hold them accountable. I built an entire Quality Assurance Program to hold my coaches accountable. We randomly review athlete training plans to make sure they are sound. We have a dedicated Athlete Services department so athletes have a resource they can turn to if they need anything. And one of the hallmarks of our continuing education program is putting an athlete’s training plan (with name removed) up on a big screen so the coach can explain and defend his or her rationale for anything in the plan to our most senior coaching staff.
Perhaps most important, I fire coaches who don’t deliver. We devote lots of resources to supporting and developing coaches, and that makes it easy to spot the best performers and weed out ineffective coaches. Some may be great at connecting with athletes but not at producing performance improvements. Others may be great on the sports science side but incapable of inspiring an athlete. Nobody is there to fire an independent coach. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best to be self-employed.
CTS Coaches Use Technology
This was one of the most surprising revelations that came from my conversation with athletes, and was confirmed by talking with my coaches. With so many pieces of technology available for scheduling, monitoring, and analyzing training, I figured online scheduling/communication and data file analysis were absolutely industry standard. No one could possibly still be delivering training plans via Excel spreadsheets or fax machines, or ignoring power or GPS files, right? Apparently I was wrong. Lots of independent coaches are still doing just that. There’s no excuse. If your doctor says he still prefers ether for anesthesia you’d run out of the office. Sure, it works, but if someone is using substandard tools, why would you expect their methodology to be any more up to date?
CTS Coaches Talk to Athletes
This was another point I could barely fathom. Did you know there are coaches out there who talk to their athletes once a month? Who adjust training once a month? There are even coaches out there who hand out an identical – IDENTICAL – training plan to dozens of athletes. It’s one thing if you are offering static training plans; it’s another if you’re advertising full-service coaching and still delivering static training plans! There is no coaching package at CTS that offers anything less than weekly contact with your coach. Some athletes choose to communicate less frequently than that, but when athletes call my coaches pick up the phone. We even have policies around how quickly athlete communications must be responded to, and we hold coaches accountable to those standards.
One training plan adjustment per month is closer to a static training plan than it is to coaching. Communication is the essential difference between training and coaching. Communication is what defines coaching, not the training plan. If you go a month without talking to your coach or your coach looking at and adjusting your training (if necessary), you can be way off track before anything gets done about it. And it would be one thing if such low-contact packages were cheap, but independent coaches out there are charging as much or more than CTS for those packages. Again, with no industry oversight, there’s no system to ensure athletes are receiving the value they are paying for.[blog_promo promo_categories=”camp” ids=”” /]
The Good News
There are a lot of great independent coaches out there. Lest you read this and think I am saying that CTS Coaches are the only great coaches out there, I make the case above in affirmation of all professional coaches, not just CTS Coaches. The only coaches who will disagree or take offense to anything written above are those who know they haven’t done the work and aren’t delivering the service commensurate with their fees. Coaching is a profession, not a hobby. The bar for entry should be higher than completing a marquee event, attending a weekend clinic, and/or being the local fast guy or gal.
This week we announced that 2x US Pro National Champion Matthew Busche is our newest CTS Coach. His pro career is absolutely an asset to the toolbox he brings into professional coaching, but it was not his qualification to be a CTS Coach. He had to complete the exact same process as someone with a Master’s degree in Sports Science. He had to meet the exact same standards and demonstrate the exact same coaching proficiencies as any other CTS Coach. And as a CTS Coach he will be held to the exact same standards to remain a CTS Coach. That is how a profession works; true professionals welcome structure because it exposes amateurs and poseurs who undermine an industry by delivering substandard services with no repercussions.
If you are not coached by CTS, naturally I want to change that. But even more than that, I want you apply what I have written above to ANY coach you are working with or are considering working with. Look critically at their education, their accountability, and their commitment to the profession of coaching. Choose a professional; your goals deserve nothing less.
CEO/Head Coach of CTS