Officer, Victoria, Australia

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Why pay for a good coach?

Why pay for a good coach?

So I am sitting here like I do every Friday afternoon reviewing my athlete’s data for the week of training they have just completed, and looking over this data helps me plan their training for the next week. I sit here often for up to an hour per athlete, depends on what they have coming up, if they are training for long course or just fitness, or even checking up on athletes that are currently taking a break because they aren’t sure what comes next.

It makes me wonder, after a situation I have been put in a few times this week, why people expect their coaches to do all this for free. Or even seem shocked when they are given a portion of the information, and the price for the rest of the work. Many situations have arisen where people chat to be about needing a coach, but as soon as the subject of money comes up, the athlete literally disappears.

I know a lot of coaches who do coach for free, and they are brilliant coaches. Brian Vernon at MPTC is one of those, and he also helped me when I was gaining my level 2 with experience and coaching hours and borrowing his athletes to punish at run sessions. He is a saint, and a rarity.

The ladies that did the Performance Coaching Course at the AIS

A few years ago I had a particularly interesting experience with another professional person, who was offended that I would not, in fact, coach him for free. He could not understand why I would not share the knowledge that I had with the club that I was working for at the time, for nothing. What he didn’t realise that every time he came to a training session, I WAS sharing that knowledge with him, for the small sum of $5 which paid the club for the session. What he was offended about was that I wouldn’t go through the programming process with him for nothing, and let him annoy me at any time of day.

I do offer a certain amount of services for free. I guess you could call it a version of a sales pipeline, but I will sit down and chat with people about their races and give them an idea of what they should be doing AROUND those races (without specific session planning) without a cost or commitment. It’s then up to them what they do with the information.

My current performance data… starting all over again

Coaches are often athletes as well. A lot of us train with our athletes, have families, and in my case, I have a day job. I limit the amount of athletes I work with for this very reason, because if I were to coach endless athletes I don’t believe they would all have a great experience as they do when my numbers are limited.

I liken it to any professional, and I am going to compare it to an architect. No one would expect them to design a house for free, just because it costs them nothing to run CAD on their computer. It seems insane to me that those who are asking us to coach them for free are basically doing the same thing. I am slightly different as I have a “day job” but there are other coaches that do this full time and still get the same scenario!

My journey to the coach that I am started when I was 17; when I first became an AustSWIM instructor. I moved to coaching small swim squads, to gaining higher qualifications as a swim coach, to progressing (as an athlete) into triathlon. When I realised that three sports was MUCH more fun than one, I became a Level 1 coach. So probably up until this point you’re wondering why this is relevant.

To become an Aust SWIM accredited teacher, is about $400 and a weekend course. To keep your accreditation you must do professional development hours as well as teaching hours each year, and every three years you pay to renew your licence. I still hold this qualification.

To become a level 1 coach is similar, you spend a weekend with tri vic coaches, for around the same cost. You must complete coaching hours and a log book, with a lot of program writing and case studies. Every year, to remain a Triathlon Australia endorsed coach, we must complete a certain number of coaching hours and be a member of Triathlon Victoria (in my case) to remain insured.

After a couple of years of using spreadsheets and dropbox to communicate with my athletes, I started using training peaks. Instantaneous feedback, data analysis tools… the most powerful tool I now use as a coach. But it doesn’t come cheap! Training Peaks is basically my industry specific software package that I can pass out to my athletes to use.

Then I applied to go to the AIS to become a Level 2 (now Performance) coach. Of course that’s not local to me, so I took a week off my job, paid for flights and bike and the fees to be boarded while we were there, taxi fares etc. I think for the week it was nothing short of 3k for the course, and then there was the 12 months work to do before the official accreditation.

I travelled quite a long way to spend time with other Level 2 coaches because there were none in my area. I went from Brighton to Mentone to Frankston…. And I live 50 minutes (with no traffic) from Frankston. I coached local teams for nothing to get my “hours up”. I supported an athlete to their first Ironman so that I could use them for my assignments, and I DID coach him for free.

Now though, I travel to 90% of my athletes races. I most certainly attend all their A races. So far this season I have been to Ballarat, and I will be at Geelong in Feb, Port Macquarie in May, and Busselton in December. Chances are I will also be at Challenge Melbourne in April (even though that’s closer to home).

My athletes call me, text me, email me whenever they feel the need. Some text me up to 30 times a day (yes, I know) and others email me once a week. I have any variation in between, and sometimes it does get pretty intense. Questions about sessions, question about what to do in a missed sessions, questions about what an acronym means… And the same goes the other way sometimes, I will find some interesting data that I email and draw their attention to, or wonder what happened in a session, or how they are feeling. It’s completely endless.

And for about $25 a month, it’s a pretty good deal to get a triathlon coach, a counsellor and everything in between!

What we do doesn’t cost us “nothing”. We’ve spent years accumulating knowledge, gaining formal qualifications, paying insurance and registration fees and travel and phone bills so that we can support our athletes. Most of us give up an awful lot for free, we blog and post on social media, we chat to people after group sessions. Every single coach does. We also don’t want to work 24/7 for nothing, in our down time we want to spend time training, with our family or enjoying our lives, just like everyone else.

But when people expect us to write programs for free, there is a line. You can get a 20 week program for Ironman for free on the internet and that’s fine, but you can’t expect us to do the same thing. I won’t write a program and offer it for $30 for a generic program, I don’t believe in that in the slightest. Every program needs to be tailored for you; you are not going to adapt the same way as your best mate or your wife/husband or your training buddy. Or the person who wrote the program in the first place!

Coaching is normally the last thing a triathlete explores. It’s seen as such a dramatic expense, and they think the coach does nothing to earn that money. They will easily spend $10k on a bike, but $500 for a well-structured 20 week Ironman program is seen as ridiculous.

Let me tell you right here and now, your coach spends much more time working on your program than you pay them for. And in the end, a good coach is going to be the difference that is most important on race day. There is only so fast your expensive bike can do if the engine isn’t big enough!

If you want to work with a coach who is not free but definitely gives a shit about you, you can contact me below.

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