My entire running career I have had a coach. Even at the time I began coaching, I still had my own coaches. A coach can nurture a young talent, guide the less talented to achieving the most out themselves, and advice even the most veteran runners. I have witnessed all three occur. Reading through Dr. Joe Vigil’s “Road to the top,” I came across a section on his thoughts regarding the properties of a good coach. I think that all athletes and coaches should take example from the following points.
Joe Vigil’s properties of coaching:
- Everyone needs a coach. I certainly agree with this. As mentioned, I have had a coach from junior high through my professional career. Most elite athletes I have had the opportunity to compete against have coaches. As we are beginning, we need to have someone to educate and answer a lot of questions. Think of it as laying the foundation for our house. Without it, we tend to learn the wrong habits and our structure is not as strong as it could be. As we become more advanced in our abilities, that constant guidance should naturally transition towards more of an advisor role. However, the coach is still present in the process.
- A coach should be thoughtful and imaginative. I certainly think that there should be a belief system with each coach. If you don’t then a lot of times a coach will end up contradicting themselves. For example, Tom Izzo coaches his basketball teams with a certain philosophy, it’s how he does it. However, there should always be the idea that knowing what works for one person, may not work for another. So, by still keeping that belief system, there should always be enough leeway to allow for variance.
- The coach will initially act as a tutor, then allow the athlete to introduce their ideas. This goes with the above. The athlete needs to be first introduced to the belief system and taught that system before they have enough experience to interject with their ideas. I struggle with this at times. Sometimes, an athlete will ask me to coach them because what they have been doing isn’t working. So, I write them a training program based on what I believe they should be doing. Sometimes, the athlete will just revert back to their old ways because my schedule was different from what they had been accustomed to. If that’s the case, why hire me? You have to put a certain amount of faith into a training program and allow the coach to help before making a decision. On the other side, I have athletes who have been with me for years and we now come to training decisions together and make plans based on each other input, because we are on the same page philosophically.
- The coach should have a good technical and practical knowledge in all aspects of training. This seems like a no brainer. When beginning the actual company (Hanson’s Coaching Services), I researched online running coaches and it amazed me how many people were doing it. Not only that, but how many people that were doing it without any real credentials. They must have a heck of a personality, but I have wondered what their knowledge base regarding training is? Anyone can take a beginning runner, increase their mileage from 20 to 30 miles per week and the runner will be better. Can the coach explain what they are doing and why? If not, they may not be the right person.
- The coach should be able to communicate this knowledge and experience to the athlete. This goes in line with number 4. Is the coach a runner, themselves? What is their experience? Even if they are and have experience, how well do they convey that to you? It really comes down to the coach having a rhyme and reason to what they are doing with your training.
- The athlete and coach eventually become a team and share in all aspects of training and proper direction of living. This may be more for those coaches working with junior high to college runners, but it certainly can be the case with elite athletes and recreational runners just trying to improve. It may also be the other way around. Many athletes I have worked with have taught me as much about life as I have taught them about proper training.
- A coach must be able to assess the ability and determine the athlete’s potential. I would take that a step further and state that the coach needs to be honest about what that potential really is. I try to never tell someone that it’s just not possible, because if someone said “no” to me, then who knows where I would be in life. However, I see a lot of times that people want something and they want it right now. The honesty comes from guiding the runner into realistic expectations and the concept that true potential is sometimes not realized for several years.
- A coach should inspire, motivate and lead the athlete in training and competition. A coach certainly serves as a mobile cheerleading squad at times, and as a competitive runner, it certainly helps having that. One thing I have noticed with good coaches is that they are truly happy to see a runner progress and succeed. I myself now get the same feeling of satisfaction from an athlete’s success as I do with my own successful race! My hope is to get every one of my athletes to realize what they can do.
- A coach must never use athletes to further their reputation. Especially since, if you coach enough people, you’ll have some relationships that just plain don’t work out. I see this with a lot of online coaching athlete testimonials. I also see it with a few professional runners. The coaches certainly exploit their athletes to further their own coaching career.
- A coach must be honest to the athlete, so that the athlete can rely on the coach’s decision. Honesty between athlete and coach is important for so many reasons. It is irresponsible for a coach to, if not lie, at least be misguided towards an athlete. That athlete then cannot trust what the coach is telling them about fitness levels, training, and racing decisions. While the coach may not be well liked for being honest with some things (especially when it comes to ability), but the athlete will know exactly where they are at.
- The coach must respect the athlete’s ability and determination. While a coach should know when to hold an athlete back, they should also know that both the ability and determination is what has allowed the runner to excel in the sport.
- The coach and athlete must get along well, both on and off the track. I tend to lean away from this one a little bit. I feel that as long as there is a mutual respect between athlete and coach, then the relationship can work. On the other hand, I feel that the runner’s who stay with me for any significant period of time, are usually people that I enjoy. I have a feeling that this sort of selection just occurs naturally.
- A coach should be a guide, philosopher, and friend. I think this goes along with number twelve. The runners and coaches that stay together for a long time usually have this type of relationship.
- A coach must be enthusiastic and easy to talk to. I certainly agree that if a coach doesn’t like what they do and doesn’t become enthusiastic over a runner’s progression, then they are probably not doing what they really enjoy.
- Above all, remember that if a good coach can stimulate an athlete, then an athlete can stimulate good coaching. That is very true, and not in the sense that a fast runner will simulate good coaching. Personally, a runner who wants to improve, is loyal to the coach, and listens to the coach’s advice will stimulate the best coaching from their coach. I have worked with a few “fast” runners who did whatever they wanted and that really just shuts me down from willing to sacrifice my time and effort for that person. On the other hand, I have several athletes who are great students who inspire me to make sure they get the best they can from me.
It becomes pretty clear that a coach, a good coach, is more than someone providing workouts and holding a stop watch. They really end up being a guide, mentor, and friend along the way. It is these points that I take into my own coaching so that I may be the best I can be in my profession. They are also points that a runner should keep in mind when seeking out their own coach.