The Coachable Athlete?

I find it interesting that athletes will hire running & triathlon coaches, mental game coaches, massage therapists, etc. and not heed what they are told. Actually, it’s not all bad. I believe that there are at least three primary reasons for this.

1. You disagree with what you are being told.

This is actually understandable. If you don’t agree or don’t even believe what you are being advised to do of course the likelihood of following through is low. If this is the case it’s time to change coaches – change your advisors. Stop paying someone to tell you something you believe is wrong or somehow doesn’t apply to you. And, stop frustrating them by not following their advice.

2. Not all your coaches and support people are on the same page.

It is no small matter that you have consistency in your training world if you want optimal results. There is a plethora of coaches and almost as many approaches and philosophies. If your running coach advocates hill work and your massage therapist is telling you it’s damaging you or your chiropractor says it damages your joints; of course you will be conflicted. If your dietitian advocates low carbohydrates and the coach is telling you carbohydrate loading is necessary for fueling your long runs; you will be conflicted. if your massage therapist tells you that you must stretch every day and your coach does not advocate stretching; you will be conflicted.

The ideal world is that you have chosen your professional support with your beliefs in mind. they should predominantly be in sync. And if they aren’t you must have a final “authority” who you would defer to; who you believe will steer you in the right direction.

3. You are a Do-it-yourselfer who likes input and data gathering but reserve decisions and actions for yourself. You want to do it your way.

In general, runners are highly educated and seek information and resources to gain critical knowledge that they believe will ultimately improve their performances, keep them healthy, or prolong athletic life. It is common to find runners ready to question any professional’s advice or comments based on some recent article they read in Runner’s World or on the web (or whatever). This is one reason to again chose your professionals wisely. If you already know your predispositions, hire like thinking individuals. If you like debates on the efficacy of various elements of your performance perhaps purposely choose someone of a different ilk.

Now, in fairness however, to your professionals be clear on your intentions. If you want to debate – tell them up front. If you are in information-seeking mode; so you can take what you like and leave what you don’t then mold it the way you want – say so. If you seek actual guidance (being told what you should do based on this professional’s experience and knowledge) on your next course of action – say so.

These are different. Debating is a different mindset than sharing information or advising. Professionals can put the information sharing hat on (like being your living, breathing, interactive encyclopedia). Or they can put the giving advice hat on and tell you what you should do next based on their professional experience. It will also lessen the frustration the professional will experience in dealing with you when you don’t follow their advice and end up injured or over-trained for instance.

There are many runner-do-it-yourselfers. There are more un-coached runners than coached runners in the world. I enjoy discussing, debating and sharing training information with this group. I know however, they will decide for themselves what is best for them. They do not want a coach. I don’t put much stake in what actions they end up taking. They are more confident in their ability to learn from various resources – people, magazines, etc. They enjoy gaining knowledge and then applying it to their training. The caveat is that they are good at applying this knowledge to themselves NOT others. This was my approach many years ago. It led me to hundreds of hours of continued education and certifications and only then on to sharing with others.

Other runners prefer not to delve into the details of VO2max, interval pacing calculations, or how much is too much. They want a professional to do this for them. They want to be the athlete. The caveat is, if this is you, then follow the plan. I do put a stake in this. I want them to be successful and I’ll work with them to make it happen.

I analyze coaching successes and failures (both mine and others). Far more than half of the my coaching failures can be attributed to simply not following the plan: adding extra workouts because they didn’t think it was enough (ending up too tired to race well); going faster than the prescribed paces (and wondering why they got injured); eliminating workouts they didn’t like (and wondering why they weren’t improving); not communicating with me for weeks while following the plan like it was written in stone regardless of how they felt (and wondering why they were so worn and sore). You get the idea.

The ideal coachable runner is one who asks questions, volunteers information and feedback, communicates clearly and regularly with the coach, modifies a training plan with the coach’s knowledge and approval; and who follows a program outlined for him or her.

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