The relationship between athlete and coach is a special relationship, a different kind of relationship that evolves over time, and I firmly believe that the athlete and coach must be the right fit for each other. Coaching is a very selective process, at least it is for me anyway. I’ve had coaches since I started sports in middle school, I’ve had some I do like, many I don’t like and then there are a select few who I have considered friends and mentors where the relationship will last a lifetime.
Coaches are more than instructors, more than a teacher, they are someone who guides you down your own path as an athlete that gives you the opportunity and self-confidence to be the best you can be. They are the ones who have taught me that you can finish a race and not succeed or conversely you can DNF and have it be the best race of your life. The best coaches I’ve had have been realistic, they’ve been hard, they’ve been compassionate, they’ve provided support, they’ve celebrated successes and helped get me back on track when I’ve failed. They have made me feel like I want to be better and can be better no matter how far ahead I’ve gotten or how far down I’ve fallen. The best coaches have helped uncover my inner drive to be a better me.
When I talk about inner drive, no matter how good the coach, I don’t believe you can truly get better if you don’t have the drive yourself to get better. It’s easy to blame a coach for a failure, but I think before blaming someone else you really have to ask yourself, did I simply want to make it through or did I want to get better for me? There have been times I have just wanted to make it through an event or a sport, but didn’t have the drive to get better. In failure, it was easy to blame other people or the coach. In hindsight, it was my own fault in that I didn’t realize “my goal” was not in fact a goal, it was a point A to point B that I didn’t have the desire to succeed in, that I didn’t have the desire to get better for myself. This is an example of finishing, but in reality, I failed.
The coach that is right for you helps you work through your own mental challenges, figuring out where you may have gone wrong with your goal or adjusting your goal to something new, something you have a true desire to achieve deep down. Keep in mind this is a two-way street and you have to be the right athlete for the coach. If the athlete isn’t willing to listen to hard advice and know that your failure hurts the coach just as much if not more than you, you may not be the right athlete for that particular coach. That being said, there are also times the coach fails the athlete, tapering them too soon or too late for example, or not listening to their athlete based on what they are feeling potentially being over or under trained. A good coach recognizes his or her own failures and works with the athlete for correction. If you have a coach that does not in turn listen and work through issues with you, that coach may not be right for you as an athlete.
In my experience with coaching, I find people often judge coaches too quickly believing that any coach should, will and can make any athlete better. Athletes can go wrong in believing that a coach owes you success, when in reality you have to do your part and put in the work when it’s tough. People may think that if the athlete doesn’t get better, it’s the coaches fault, end of story. This is where looking at yourself, your habits, and what you want out of what you are doing is important. I’ve had great coaches, the best, but they weren’t good for me. I’ve had coaches that didn’t have a great history, haven’t produced the volume of high quality athletes others have, and they’ve been the best coaches I’ve ever had. When it comes to finding a coach, I’m extremely selective. Several years ago I took the time to think about what I need out of a coach, what qualities I want, the coaching style I want, how much interaction I need from a coach, how much support, and most importantly how I want a coach to make me feel when I perform well and when I perform poorly. Will I learn from them? Do I dream further with them? Do they make me realize my inner drive to be a better athlete, to be a better me? If the answer is no, no matter how good they are, they aren’t good for me and I in turn won’t be good for them.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of good and bad coaches help me come to realize it’s important to ask these questions as well as come to an understanding that coaching is a choice, not a need. As an athlete I don’t need to be better, I choose to be better and the coaches I choose help me realize my goals. I’ve self-coached and have been successful, but I also know I probably didn’t realize my full potential and didn’t get the full benefit of my abilities that I would have with a coach. I also know coaching is tough, really tough. Being a coach myself, having a responsibility to other people is very difficult, stressful and emotionally exhausting, especially when it comes to their dreams and goals. It’s your coach’s job to do right by you, but everyone messes up, myself included. A little understanding and empathy goes a long way in building the relationship with the coach of your choice.
Advice I would give to anyone who is thinking about getting a coach, step one is to evaluate your own goals, step two is to interview coaches. You don’t have to take the first one that comes your way and your gut should tell you who is right for you, not the opinions of others. Step three, don’t expect your relationship as coach and athlete to always go smoothly. It’s just that, a relationship and a good relationship is built out of learning from the positive and negative attributes that all relationships have. Give the relationship time to grow. Step four, take periodic checkpoints during the year to evaluate the health of the athlete-coach relationship. Is it still working? How are you feeling? AND TALK, not over text, not over email, in person, voice to voice, face to face, talk and share your thoughts, joys and frustrations. Step five, embrace their experience and dedication to coaching. A good coach has lots of experience that he or she tailors to each athlete. Embrace their love of sport and enthusiasm about you. You are their job, they wouldn’t put time into you unless they too thought you were something special.
Now go swim, run, bike, climb, snorkel, dive, kayak, do whatever you do and enjoy it for yourself. If the day comes you want a coach, you want to see if you have the inner drive to get better through feedback and a different point of view, start the search. Coaching has the potential to be one of the greatest experiences of your life. I’m in the middle of one of the greatest moments I’ve ever had and am experiencing some of the best coaching I’ve ever had. Here’s to England, my coach, my crew, my athletes, my family, my friends and all my supporters, we’re going to make it!