10 questions to ask when employing a coach

10 questions to ask when employing a coach

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Knowledge Level: Intermediate

Andrew Gillott is one of the UK's top performance cycling coaches. He is employed by the UK’s key sports agency to increase the knowledge and support around elite athletes in all major sports. He is also a technical expert for the UCI and a British Cycling Mountain Bike Coach. In his latest article, Andrew looks at the process of selecting the right coach for you.

Choosing a coach is a difficult process, awakening feelings of self-doubt not dissimilar to those you feel when buying a second-hand car or something with lots of moving parts from an internet auction site. But asking the right questions before you take the plunge can help you to ensure that whoever you start working with has the right knowledge, experience and expertise to support you in achieving your goals. There are hundreds of coaches out there offering 1:1 support, many well-qualified and experienced, some not.


The first question is for yourself; it’s important that you know why you are employing a coach and what you want them to do for you. Being clear on this is essential. What are your limiters: skills; fitness; more than this? Not sure? This previous article discussed the differences between coaches and trainers, for instance and is worth a read. Often, people employ coaches because they need someone with the ability to coordinate the multitude of elements that make up a successful season. For example, my own business card reads “Puller Togetherer” and that is far more descriptive to me than simply “Coach”.


What qualifications does the coach have? How recently were these obtained? British Cycling has a world-leading coach education programme and develops nationally (and internationally) recognised qualifications for coaches of all disciplines. Choosing a Level 3 coach will ensure that you are working with someone with all the essential knowledge, insured by British Cycling and bound by a strict code of conduct. That’s a reassuring place to start! You can also be sure that their methods are derived from British Cycling’s world class coaching practice – look at the credits in any British Cycling coaching resource and it reads like a Who’s Who of the sport! Qualifications aren’t everything though...


How experienced is the coach? Time on the job and the tacit knowledge that this develops is the key to a great coach, so it’s important to you that they have sufficient experience to meet your needs. Have they coached someone with similar goals? Have they previously competed as an athlete? How involved are they in the sport? This is important stuff, so don’t go any further until you’re satisfied.


How are they maintaining their knowledge and experience? When was the last time the coach did some professional development, formal or informal? Good coaches are necessarily very curious people who love to learn new things. Like you, they enjoy working hard and pushing themselves to meet their goals. Doing lots of coaching isn’t enough – like simply doing lots of riding isn’t enough to make you a great rider.


Why is the coach coaching? It’s my experience that providing quality coaching support is hard work! It requires detailed planning and constant review. To do a great job, your coach needs to be committed to you and to becoming a better coach. Someone who is competing as a rider themselves and coaching for some extra cash may not be able to provide the amount of support that many riders need. This leads nicely on to...


How many riders is the coach working with? While it is clearly necessary for a coach to work with a number of riders to create a reasonable income for themselves, as numbers increase it can unfortunately be a case of diminishing returns for the riders. There is no ‘right’ amount but consider this carefully. Some years ago, I worked with a coach that had 35 riders on the books. I think that having such a huge volume of riders makes it impossible to spend the amount of time required on planning for the needs of each rider and it definitely impacts on...


... communication; how will the coach communicate with you, and how frequently? Some ‘coaches’ work exclusively via email and the internet (I would call them trainers). That probably keeps costs down but is it enough for you? How often would you like to chat? How important is talking to your coach, to your performance? What about when work and family life get in the way and you need to switch your training schedule around? How will you discuss that together? Who makes the phone calls? It’s so important that the communication between you and the coach is as you want it to be, but be prepared to pay more as the service becomes more personalised and the communication more frequent.


How will you receive your training schedule and how frequently? Many British Cycling qualified coaches use TrainingPeaks, a powerful online training planner and analysis tool which will also send sessions and reminders to your phone and inbox. This can also make last-minute changes very easy for both you and your coach. However, what’s most important is that whatever the format – TrainingPeaks, spreadsheet, verbal, or text message – it is right for you. That also goes for how frequently you receive training updates – make sure that your schedule is planned far enough ahead to allow you to make plans for work, family and everything else but not so far in advance that it becomes meaningless – how often has life gone exactly as you expected it to over the course of a month or more? What about a fortnight? No, thought not...


What does the coach expect of you? Yes, I’m looking at you. What feedback do they need you to provide after each training session? How often do they need you to check in with them? A coach cannot develop a programme that meets your needs without feedback on EVERY session from you. Whatever the requirements of the coach, be honest with yourself – can you give the coach what they need to do their job effectively?


Finally, it’s a dirty subject to discuss, but how much is it going to cost? After all, you’re doing this for the good of your health but they almost certainly are not. It seems an obvious question but I’ve put it in here because there is often confusion over the amount that one should pay for coaching. Cycle coaching in the UK is in its infancy compared to some other parts of the world, such as the USA and as such, it comes at a bargain price! Some of the most experienced coaches in the business who are working with amateur riders charge less than £150 per month and there are coaching packages available for around £70. Be wary of coaches offering 1:1 coaching for less than that – it’s about £2.25 per day, or half a posh baguette.


Yes, there’s an 11 – after all, great coaches always give you more than you anticipated, right? The final question is “When can we meet?” Don’t start working with a coach until you have met. You may have found the most experienced, qualified, expert, organised, challenging and value-for-money coach available, but if you don’t really get on, it’s not likely to be a positive long-term relationship. Start your journey at Coaching Directory and good luck.


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