Ask The Expert – Working with a Triathlon Coach


22.01.19 at 12:21 pm

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With the race calendar filling up, thoughts will be turning to training and perhaps more specifically, improving. As part of this you may be thinking about working with a coach. But coaching isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ process, so how do you choose the right coach for you? We spoke to John Wood of Tri Coaching for an insight on the questions you should be asking.

First things first, you need to understand your motivations. What is it that you want to achieve? If you don’t know this then you can’t set a plan with your choice of coach, and you won’t know who suits you best. Whether you want help getting started, reaching age group level or just adding some structure to help you enjoy your training more, work out what it is you want from a coach and why you want it.

Next, why do you want a coach? Do you want the programme to make life easier for you and you don’t need to think? Do you want the guidance of someone who knows what they are talking about and their experience? Do you want to tap into the ability to train with a group? Along with what you want to achieve, this is a really key question in your decision as to who you want as a coach.

How do I find a coach?

Referrals from friends can be a great way to get a steer on what their coaches are like. You know your friends so you will be able to appreciate first hand what the different coaching styles are like. The BTF have some free training plans but for actual coaches, try their Coach Finder or head to good old Google. You can search for people locally if you want to have the personal touch if you need that, or you can do something completely remotely and work with someone further away if they fit what you are after. Training Peaks also list coaches who are affiliated with them.

What should I look for?

Qualifications are not the be all and end all for coaches – but they do confer at least a certain amount of knowledge. The BTF is the main body in the UK so realistically you’re looking for someone who is Level 2 qualified or above. That will mean that not only does a coach know how to run particular sessions but that they can actually organise a plan for you rather than just individual day to day sessions. Along with this, experience and expertise might be something that matters to you from your coach. This can be important if you want to achieve a particular level of competition, or you have a complex life to work around – you want to deal with a coach who has experience either of that level of competition themselves, or helping people attain that level.

Different people will gel with different coaches – some need a quiet, gentle and caring hand, others need a more abrasive approach to “kick them into gear”. Either way, you can’t find that out without talking to different coaches; find out their approach and whether it fits with your lifestyle and your mindset. After all, you’re looking to build a successful relationship with this person.

What feedback should I expect?

This very much depends on what you want and what you need – and what you are willing or can afford to pay for. Lower cost options may offer limited email contact. In other cases you might get text or even phone call support. If you work with a local coach (or are willing to travel) you may well get face to face meetings over a coffee. It’s something to discuss and investigate when you are looking for your coach.

Can I trial coaches?

Some coaches will allow you a trial or grace period in your programme and others will have a minimum “buy in”. A buy in does ensure at least a little commitment to your relationship but personally, I like to give athletes and clients the chance to roll on month to month. It may not be the best for business – it can leave you vulnerable to people deciding to leave – but on the flip side it doesn’t leave athletes, the clients, YOU, feeling trapped in something that’s not working.

When should I start?

Starting with a coach means different things to different people. The earlier in a season that you can build that relationship with your coach, the better. If you have races in the summer, you will need a good 3-4 months working with someone to have an effect on your speed, strength and stamina. That’s not to say that you need to be working with someone for years on end but you want to have enough time for particular training to take root. If you are working towards a longer event like an Ironman, I’d suggest you want a good six months minimum to work up toward the longer distances.

Can I get a coach for one discipline?

Yes! Easily! Some coaches specialise in one sport – it might be that you contact a cycle specific coach, or someone swim specific etc.

Do I need to have a starter level of fitness?

You shouldn’t need to. It’s very much like learning a skill – whatever level of fitness you are when you choose your coach should be your starting point to build from. If you imagine someone going to see a PT or Nutritionist to help them lose weight, they will get far faster improvements if they go to see the specialist first than if they try to do it on their own (and potentially maintain motivation further!).

Should I refresh my programme?

That’s something for you to review on a regular basis. If you feel that you have a good relationship with your coach, it should be something you can discuss with them. I’ve had people that I have coached for 2-3 years and we have had discussions that have led to us parting ways. Not necessarily because things were bad but because the path we had taken had run its course. On the other hand I have a couple of athletes I’ve been coaching for 5 years – coaching relationships, like any other relationships, change and adapt.

Is it worth the money?

To a certain extent, only you can ever decide that! It depends on what value you place on the goals that you work towards. Some coaches cost more, whatever their reasons.  More “celebrity” coaches will charge more; they may have more experience in some respects but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can help you achieve your goals in a better way than other lesser known coaches. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the relationship that you build with the coach that you decide to work with.



John has been working as a triathlon coach for the last six years after competing internationally as a swimmer and age group athlete. He coaches a number of clubs, amateur and professional athletes including Paralympic gold medallist Andy Lewis, with whom he is currently coaching winter training camps in Lanzarote. Tri Coaching offer a range of services including coaching programmes for individuals and club, as well as one-to-one video analysis technique sessions.

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