By Sarah Scozzaro,
CTS Ultrarunning Pro Coach
In my nearly 20 years of coaching, including more than a decade coaching ultramarathon runners, I have evolved as a professional. There are many ways to work as a coach, and I’ve made certain decisions to align my practice with my values and my approach to athlete development. Here are things I choose NOT to do in my coaching practice, although I did some of them earlier in my career.
Why am I sharing this and why does it matter for you as an athlete? I think it is important for athletes to understand why professional coaches choose to include or exclude certain behaviors and services. I do some things differently than my colleagues, even colleagues within CTS. That’s a strength, in my view, because athletes and coaches are individuals and we have opportunities to match coaches with athletes who align with their personalities, beliefs, and communication styles.
With that as a prelude, here are things I don’t do as a professional coach.
Write static plans
I have nothing against static plans, per se. They can be a reasonable and cost effective entry level for people looking to start training. Many new athletes aren’t sure where to start, and static plans can be a solid starting point. Pre-written plans can also give more experienced athletes access to well-designed templates they can riff off of and adapt to their needs. I chose not to write or sell static plans, however. My greatest joy and purpose as a coach is developing relationships with athletes. I also feel those relationships enable me to deliver the most value and benefit to each athlete. We become a collaboration and the magic of their training comes not from the plan itself, but rather from working together, adjusting things, and finding what works for them. That is COACHING vs programming.
Post my race times and splits
No shade on coaches who post their race times and splits. I made a personal decision not to share my own performance metrics because my race times have zero to do with my ability to coach you. I walk the walk, or rather, run the run, because I love endurance sports and trail running. But my own performances don’t provide any insights into my ability to help you achieve your best or navigate a comeback from injury or finish your first ultra. Plus, we all know how ultrasignup works; if someone wants to know my times (or anyone else’s) they’re out there.
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Use my image as a standard/proof of qualification
Similar to posting race times, how I look, my weight, and the definition of my muscles have nothing to do with my abilities as a coach. Early in my coaching career, I thought my race times and how I showed up physically (i.e. my appearance) were important components of what qualified me as a “good coach.” I learned quickly (thank goodness!) that striving to be lean and/or muscular had nothing to do with coaching effectively, creating solid training programs, motivating my athletes, and developing the best paths forward for them toward their goals. I am far more interested in what my body can do – and what I can help you do with yours – than how either of us looks on Instagram.
Force a coaching fit
This is simple; if I don’t feel I’m a good fit for an athlete and they would flourish working with someone else, I am going to find them that fit. I would never hold an athlete back due to stubborness or ego. I have worked with athletes who I realized, upon working with them beyond the initial onboarding, would benefit more from another coach’s expertise or coaching style. Athletes have also outgrown me, and it was important for their development that I found a coach who could take them further in their journey. And I’ve worked with athletes whose goals, lifestyles, or sport specificities evolved over time and they needed a coach more aligned with those changes.
This is one of the wonderful aspects of being a part of CTS and having such a strong group of colleagues I can refer athletes to. We start with free coach consultations and athletes work with Dominic – our Coach Matchmaker in Athlete Services. The initial coach matches are usually spot on, but if the athlete or coach feels a change should be made – after a week, a month, or several years – we find a better fit. I love having colleagues I trust and respect so I can feel confident athletes will be in good hands even if they are not working directly with me.
Taking a “no pain, no gain” or “no rest” approach
I take rest days. While short training streaks or those done for charity can be fun, I don’t engage in long term (multi-month/multi-year) streaks. Not only do I not schedule prolonged periods of back-to-back training sessions, I will skip a scheduled training session if something is wrong. I recognize that continuing to train is crossing the line of “training” vs “obsession” for me. And I also have similar conversations with athletes when they seem to be approaching that line. I don’t promote a “no pain, no gain” philosophy. Do I want you to push limits & grow as an athlete? ABSOLUTELY. But never at the cost of honoring or listening to one’s body.
Hijack athlete goals
I don’t push an athlete towards a goal because it is actually something I want. I WILL fully support my athlete’s goals, no matter whether they are goals I would pursue myself. An athlete’s goals must be personally valuable for them. It is not for me to decide what is meaningful or stimulating for the athletes I work with. But, once I understand their goals, it is incredibly satisfying to build a program and support them towards those goals.
Overall, it is a privilege to be welcomed into an athlete’s life. Athletes trust their coaches with deeply personal aspects of their lives, far beyond the specifics of training data and workout feedback. My hope is that sharing some insights into my practice helps you find the right coach for you, or perhaps prompts a conversation with the coach you’re currently working with.