Over the past 15 years there has been an incredible growth in the number of coaching choices available to athletes, with the development of the internet and technologies that bring people closer together. Coupled with the growth of uploadable technologies including powermeters, heart rate monitors and GPS; communication tools like Skype and Face time, and website to upload and analyze video biomechanics such as Upmygame.com or Coach’s Eye, the ability to coach athletes effectively at a distance has never been as effective as now, and myself and many of my coaching peers are coaching world class athletes across the globe.

Historically, athletes were forced to assess what they could find for professional advice in their home town. Athletes read what they could, and perhaps blended a little bit of advice from the local swim, bike, and run coaches. In some cases there were access to qualified coaches, and at other times serious athletes were forced to relocate. The internet now provides a number of excellent coaching choices, regardless of whether you live in Alaska or Alabama. With greater choice and visibility of the coaching industry in general, many age group athletes, from beginner to advanced, are starting to realize that really good coaching is not just for professional athletes. As there are many options out there, finding the right coach for your goals and budget means having a game plan when you start your research.

One common concern about online coaching is, “if your coach can’t see you regularly, how do they know how you are doing?” Quite frankly, if you have access to a great coach in your local community that can work hands on with you, personalize your training, and doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, then that is a fantastic solution! If this isn’t the case, there are some very good options an experienced online coach can provide. A good online coach will integrate what resources you do have in your community and integrate the “hands-on” coaching into your overall program, without letting you get pulled away from your developmental needs and keying up for your primary event.

Skype, FaceTime (online live video communication tools) and Video analysis is another great way to bridge the gap. I am sure many of you have received video clips of family events or other activities via email. Why not upload a video and email your coach your 400m swim time trial, or put it on YouTube? With Skype a coach can demonstrate, or sit in one a key indoor session with the athlete. By filming different angles, the coach is able to freeze frame and gives written and verbal feedback, along with video captures, to point out areas for improvement. This feedback can also door training session, or have a good old fashioned face to face meeting with you. After speaking with an athlete on Skype, I often feel I have had a visit with them and could read their body language.

Online training calendars such as TrainingPeaks make a great interface for posting an athlete’s personal calendar, and an interface where they can upload their training technologies including bicycle power meters, power, heart rate monitors and GPS for pace, elevation changes and distance. It is useful to be able to view and athlete’s planned session, feedback, and uploaded data and graphs all on one screen. Current software is quite user friendly. Once you embrace the technology, it is quite fun and you will learn a lot about yourself and your body.

The service of coaching is another benefit. It is convenient and reassuring to have someone qualified to take the time to plan it all out for you, as periodizing three sports composed of various energy systems, skills, and addressing individual strengths and weaknesses is a complex puzzle. If you are busy, it is nice to be able to just focus on your sessions, relay your feedback, and see the progress. Training for Ironman may entail 10-20 hour training weeks, so it is reassuring to know that when you are out on your 5-6 hour ride, that you are actually doing the right thing! A good program will take into account your life schedule and life stresses, such as irregular work hours, family trips, timeline to key events, and availability of any local community practices that would work with your schedule.

Create a game plan for choosing the best online coach for you.

A good coach is your teammate and supporter, technician and trainer, mentor, and friend. One role of the modern coach is to help manage your support network, advise you when to get massage or consult a nutritionist, get your blood checked, plan an altitude camp, integrate the ideas of you local masters swim coach, tell you when to take a break, make sure your specific physiological needs are being met, and help you find out what your true potential is!

Create a list of questions when you interview your prospective coach. Here are some points to consider, depending on what is important to you:

  • Do you connect? Can the coach communicate well? These are key for delivering ideas and support from a distance. If you can’t relate to your coach, it won’t work. Having a sense of connection build trust, and makes it more fun.
  • Find out how often you will email, talk on the phone and make modifications to your program according to your needs.
  • Track record of the coach: how long have they coached, and to what level of success?
  • Has the coach worked with athletes in your age bracket or with similar goals? How many? Think about what you want to get out of the coach-athlete experience.
  • Ask how detail oriented your program will be.
  • University Education of the coach: A degree in sport science or related field is a big benefit to understanding the core elements of sport and human performance.
  • Coaching Certification: are they NCCP, USAT certified or similar? This will be one indicator of experience.
  • What additional certifications does the coach have: nutrition, strength and conditioning, psychology, etc.
  • Where are they located? More that 3-4 time zones can make communication more challenging. A short plane ride or driving distance means more opportunity to meet for camps and races.  
  • Experience coaching athletes live and in person – this where a coach acquires their technical coaching skills, and understanding of the finer points of triathlon biomechanics and physical adaptation to a training program.
  • Experience level delivering online coaching, which is a learned skill, separate from time on deck or at the track.
  • Does your coach have much triathlon racing experience, and do they train themselves? Experience competing and training, specifically in triathlon, affects the coach’s innate sense or understanding of what the athlete goes through.
  • Ask what the coach’s athlete roster size is. A quality coach may charge more, but work with a smaller athlete base number, ensuring more attention to the details of your needs. As with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for. Coaching rates vary from $29/month to $2500/month.
  • Do reference checks: talk to other athletes the coach has worked with about the above points.

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to tackle your first IRONMAN or to perform at a higher level.