Do You Need A Coach?


6 Reasons the Answer is Yes


Employing an expert to help you train smarter isn’t just for Olympic athletes—it can benefit anyone. Most of us are leading busy, goal-driven lives, and if athletic achievement is on your to-do list then you have to make the most of the time you have. No time for face-to-face sessions? New training devices and the Internet allow coaches and clients to connect from across the country. Here are six great reasons you should consider hiring a personal coach.

1. Objective Point of View

Let’s face it, none of us are capable of this all the time. Sometimes we let emotion, sleep deprivation, or competitive drive cloud our judgement. We sign up for too many races, or ramp up our training intensity too fast because we lack objectivity. A coach applies their expert knowledge to what they know about you—assessing your current level of fitness, how much time you have available, and what your goals are—to create a structured training program. When helping you plan a race schedule, they leave out the emotion of wanting to do that marathon in two weeks, just because your best friend is running it.

Left to your own devices you’re also more likely to do what you like, not what you need. Athletes like to do what they’re good at, but it’s more important to work on areas of weakness—also called your limiters. For example, long-distance runners may avoid high-intensity intervals, and a triathlete who swam in college might not spend enough time in the saddle. A good coach won’t allow you to get away with this. Working on “what you suck at” is the low-hanging fruit that will produce the biggest gains in performance.

2. Expertise

Doing it yourself can be great fun. However, you can fall prey to the Dunning–Kruger Effect in which, “unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.” Someone well versed in training and nutrition who’s worked with hundreds of other athletes is simply going to have more experience to draw from and knowledge to share.

I pay a tax expert to help me with my taxes. I don’t do this because it’s something I could never figure out on my own. On the contrary, I think if I dove into the topic I could grasp the basic principles of taxes well enough to manage. But my time is limited and I’m more interested in other things, so I let someone else do my taxes. In both taxes and athletic training, the return is greater when an expert is employed.

What’s more, doing it yourself is wrought with re-inventing the wheel. Having to relearn the lessons coaches have already been through is a waste of time. A good coach will act as a teacher, a mentor, and a sometime cheerleader; making the (often tough) experiences of training a learning experience.

3. Accountability

Knowing that someone has a vested interest in your workout is also a huge motivator to getting your training done. Having a coach, that you paid, and who’s checking in on your progress every day has a huge effect on whether you train that day or not. Sticking to the plan is made that much easier when someone is on your team rooting for you.

4. Customization

Sure, you can find a training plan online for just about anything. But these generalized plans don’t take you into consideration, and a training plan really doesn’t have much value if it isn’t designed specifically for the racer using it. Whether you have an injured shoulder or weak quads, a tailored plan will help you gain strength without aggravating old injuries or causing new ones. Plus, a static plan can’t take into consideration how fast you’re absorbing the training. Your regimen might need to be dialed back, or ratcheted up, and we all know that life never goes as planned. What if you get sick for a week, or life happens and you miss a few key workouts? A coach is there to respond to what’s actually happening in your training, not what was supposed to happen.

5. Structure

I recently started coaching a top ski mountaineer racer. He doesn’t lack motivation or genetics. He’s just tired of being able to do whatever he wants and needs structure. If his workouts are laid out for him, he’ll do it. Without structure and guidance, he just does what he feels like, which doesn’t help him progress as rapidly. Plus, he’s too busy working to contemplate creating an annual training schedule for himself. If this sounds like you, a guided, detailed training plan will increase your efficiency while challenging you and keeping you on track.

6. Intelligent Design

No, not that kind. Although the longer you’re at it, the more likely you are to have evolved your training knowledge—or worse (and more likely)—a lot of bad habits. Wallow in those bad habits for too long and you will stagnate as an athlete. Your training should change through the year: begin by laying a base, then work on skill and specific strength building, and end by sharpening for the big event.

For example, an athlete who does no peripheral strength training is more likely to get injured. A coach will help you figure out when to focus on strength, and when it’s time for specificity, based on hundreds of examples he’s coached over the years.

What to look for in a coach

There are three key ingredients to look for in a great coach:

  1. Practical Experience: Has this coach spent time in the trenches? Does he know what a saddle sore feels like? It takes more than book smarts to make a good coach.
  2. Studied: Book smarts are important though, and many sports have a certification path for coaches. The best way to assess this is to talk to the coach you want to work with. Figure out if he’s curious or someone who rests on his laurels. Physiology degrees or science backgrounds certainly help, but as Alberto Salazar (who coaches for Nike) demonstrates, they aren’t necessary.
  3. Coaching Experience: My learning curve as a coach was the steepest the first three years I started coaching—after the certifications and hours of studying. Nothing can replace the observations and wisdom a coach gains from years applying their craft.


Triathlon Coach: Triathlon coach and nutritionist, Ben Greenfield is probably the best in the business at coaching aspiring triathletes. He’s both schooled and an accomplished Ironman—the perfect combo.

Cycling Coach: Wenzel Coaching has a stable of coaches for any level of cycling goals from road to mountain biking.

Local Coaches: Prefer in-person coaching? Coach Lora Erickson, aka Blonde Runner, offers team triathlon and run training; fitness and nutrition courses; and private coaching programs for people in Davis County and the surrounding area.

A bicycle industry veteran of almost 20 years, Mark Deterline coaches top bike racers and endurance athletes in the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain regions. His clients include elite male and female cyclists, up-and-coming juniors, distance runners, triathletes, and cross-country skiers.

He specializes in customized training plans for athletes of all backgrounds and levels; bike fit and biomechanics; and functional power testing.,


About Author

Matt Hart owns and operates Coaching Endurance LLC, through which he’s helped hundreds of athletes reach a wide range of fitness and endurance goals. Initially USA Cycling Certified as a coach, Matt now works mostly with runners and multisport athletes. Matt resides in Utah and practices what he preaches as a professional ultrarunner for Mountain Hardwear and Montrail. For more information on Matt, follow him on Twitter @TheMattHart. To read more of Matt’s work pick up Trail Runner Magazine, where he writes the “Ask the Coach” column each issue.

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