By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
There’s no shortage of training resources available to athletes via websites, forums, static training plans, books, and magazines – and my coaches and I have even produced a lot of that content. But even as artificial intelligence makes its way into endurance training I firmly believe working one-on-one with a professional coach is the most effective way for athletes to reach their goals and exceed their expectations. Am I biased? Of course I am. I’ve been a coach for 30 years and helped develop hundreds of top-notch coaches who either still work for CTS or who have moved on to leadership positions in sports science programs, professional teams, and national governing bodies. All the aforementioned content and tools have their place in an athlete’s journey, and when it is time for personal coaching, here’s what working with a coach can do for you.
Focus on what’s important
These days there is training, nutrition, and recovery advice available free from all directions. Some of it is good, a lot of it oversells the potential benefits of some tidbit from sports science research, and a whole bunch of it is just utterly wrong. A coach helps you filter out the noise to align your goals and personality with fundamental and proven strategies. That doesn’t mean either you or your coach should reject new ideas just because they are new, but a coach can provide context and perspective about how new information integrates with what is known to work.
Identify strengths and weaknesses
Self-coached athletes gravitate toward their strengths (climbers climb and sprinters sprint, for instance) because it’s fun to do what we’re naturally good at. A professional coach helps you become a more well-rounded athlete by identifying and addressing weaknesses, which in turn further enhance your strengths. Athletes often fear that shifting focus away from their strength will reduce their performance in that area, when in reality you’ll be a more effective climber if riding in the wind on the flats doesn’t take as much out of you. You’ll be a better sprinter if you can get over the climbs with more energy left. You’ll perform better in varying environmental conditions if you train your gut and learn how to adapt your nutrition and hydration strategies based on factors like exertion, ambient temperature, and the duration of the event.
Gaining a competitive edge
Performance depends on more than training data. This is a big part of the reason I say coaching is an art that happens to leverage science. Your best performance is not necessarily a reflection of what your training graphs and charts say. That’s data; you’re a human athlete. As a human athlete, you have choices about how you respond to challenging situations and how you recognize and take advantage of opportunities. These choices are how you create a competitive advantage that is unique to you. As coaches, we create a series of progressively more challenging situations for an athlete and guide you through the process of making better decisions for yourself, gaining the skills necessary to succeed, and building the confidence that comes from incremental success.
Alignment with your purpose
Some athletes crave competition and the social engagement associated with events. Others pursue personal goals in solitude and use the alone time to recharge mentally. Particularly with endurance sports, athletes’ reasons for participating can change as their lives, relationships, and careers evolve. There’s no right or wrong way to be an endurance athlete. You don’t have to compete. You don’t always have to go big or go home. On the other hand, the urge to compete can arise at any age. A coach can help you align your goals with your values, so your training is a part of your personal growth rather than an obstacle in its path.
Voice of reason and accountability
Goal-oriented athletes can be their own worst enemies in that their passionate pursuit of training and competition goals can be disruptive to other priorities in their lives. Whether it’s prioritizing training over relationships, becoming hypervigilant about food choices, or sacrificing career opportunities to squeeze in another competition, a coach can provide the perspective and accountability to help an athlete rebalance priorities for physical health, mental health, relationships, and career.
What to look for in a great coach
Leaders want to see the level of professionalism and quality rise throughout their industry – including their competitors – because the competition drives innovation. Although I believe CTS Coaches are the best in the industry, I also know there are a lot of great coaches out there who have their own coaching businesses or work with other coaching companies. Here are some of the key things I look for when deciding to hire or retain a coach for CTS, and I think they are a good starting point for any athlete looking to work with a coach:
- Science-based education:
The truth is, the bar for calling yourself a coach is extremely low, which leads to many “see one, do one, teach one” coaches whose only education comes from their own training and competition experiences. Personal experience with training and competition can be very helpful, but only when added on top of a strong foundation of sports science education.
- A track record of results:
At the end of the day, a successful coach must be able to show that athletes they work with improve their performances and achieve their goals. That doesn’t always mean Olympic medals and World Championships; a track record of successful first-time finishers, age-group results, and lifestyle transformations can be just as meaningful.
- Dedication to continuous learning:
Sports science, training technology, and coaching methodologies continue to evolve, and coaches must be constantly curious and personally invested in learning. There’s a difference, however, between continuing to learn and chasing every new fad or study result. Great coaches learn quickly but enact changes slowly.
As we head into fall and athletes start reviewing their accomplishments and struggles from the summer season, I’d encourage self-coached athletes to consider whether you have reached the point of diminishing returns doing it on your own. No matter what level of performance or competition you reached this season, I guarantee working with a professional coach will improve your performance in the next one.