“Arete” is a Greek word that has no direct translation into English. To me, it means "excellence for the simple sake of being excellent." This notion of excellence is intertwined into fulfillment of one’s life purpose: the act of living up to one's full potential.
As I dive further into the coaching world, I find that there’s a big difference between “someone who prescribes workouts,” and a “coach.” A true coach who cares wants to elevate and teach an athlete more than just how to get faster, or race better… but wants to help that person enhance all aspects of their life (perhaps through athletics and a strong mindset regarding personal challenge). A coach wants to see an athlete better themselves as a person. In a thriving coach/athlete relationship there is a burden on both parties to facilitate this enhancement.
There needs to be a lot more to the relationship than the coach writing a workout program and an athlete completing the workout
This kind of relationship can work for a short period, and the athlete might see some gains physically in the process, but it likely won’t be a sustained process with “big picture” in mind. A good coach/athlete combination is like a bad or good marriage; a good relationship is going to elevate both parties. And one of the biggest keys to finding the right match between coach and athlete is establishing a relationship where an open and honest line of communication can thrive.
Through open and honest communication, it’s the coach’s job to find out what drives the athlete and what the athlete really wants out of endurance athletics or the challenge that they have decided to take on. Endurance training is a wild journey and wildly unique for every person who embarks on their own challenge. Everyone who starts out on an athletic endeavor has their own “Why?”
There is a lot to maintaining open communication and dialog. And there is as much of a burden on the athlete to provide feedback as there is on the coach to figure out what works best. Both coach and athlete must be confident enough to know there are more than one way to accomplish goals; honest feedback drives things in the direction that works for the long term. Most of the time it is just a quick note ensuring everything is going well⏤ and if not, then something (either major or minor) needs to get changed up. But an unresponsive athlete makes for just as bad as a relationship as a coach that just writes cookie cutter workouts and doesn’t check in.
A coach is not a boss⏤ a coach is a teacher.
Understanding this “why” as a coach is crucial to making specific things work for the short term⏤ and the long term⏤ that will coincide with the athlete’s big picture. It will be different from one athlete to the next with specific workout structure, weekly schedule, and the racing year. There is more to it than just prescribing the same workout regimen to a wide variety of people with different goals and expecting them all to respond to it well. There is more than one way to prepare for an event⏤ it is not a copy/paste type of situation. There is no cookie cutter approach.
After all, the day-to-day/week-to-week workout type stuff is just 10%… the other 90% is the interaction. The love. The special sauce. The part of actually caring. The things that can’t be put down on the calendar or training plan.
A good coach doesn’t have to be the best athlete, or fastest racer⏤ these are not the same. And maybe an athlete's goals aren’t actually to get faster.
And on the flipside, I’ve heard people say, “I'm not that fast. I don't need a coach.” Which is the wrong mentality. The vast majority of us will never be pro athletes, so the right questions are, “Do I want to get better?” and, “Do I want to invest in myself to get better?” Any level of athlete can benefit from the right coach. Human performance is human performance.
And getting better will come because the athlete will avoid making mistakes that the coach has already made. So don’t sell yourself short; if you want to get better, get what you deserve. And to do that you’ve got to pick the right coach.
Picking a coach is more like dating than picking a car.
Some things to look for right off the bat: knowledge, similar experiences, understanding life challenges, understanding how training fits in to your overall big picture, willingness to collaborate, a good cheerleader, a good friend, trust (trust when things are going crumby, and trust when things are going well and a trust that the coach is looking out for you and your best interests all the time), and a lack of ego. I think understanding and communicating and adjusting things is more important than forcing someone to follow a set plan (most of the time).
Conversations that go beyond workouts, watts, heart rate, times, and races will help both the coach and athlete understand each other better as people. Understanding motivations, where an athlete is trying to go, what their goals are… and WHY their goals mean so much to them is an essential part to ensuring someone’s success. Training plans and workout structure is a FOUNDATION. The base of cake. But the way the athlete/coach intertwines everything into their lives is the crucial part, the icing⏤ what makes the cake spectacular versus just a chocolate cake.
Of course, a coach will be knowledgeable and look at workout data, splits, and paces⏤ but also looking beyond the data and not sacrificing an athletes mental well-being to get the data that coach wants to see is what provides a healthy, long-term, process for constant improvement.
A good coach has a lot on their plate. They have got to do work and learn basic training techniques and implement them; they need to know the physiology, and how to instigate physical change through workout and a training routine…
But I also believe that it is necessary to learn the individual, how they adapt and work best, what makes them smile, what makes them tick, to play psychologist a little bit (obviously not diagnosing serious issues).
A good coach has got to know when someone needs a pat on the back and when they need a kick in the butt.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a coach to take all of this on wholeheartedly. And I think to be a good coach, one needs to be a good and genuine friend first. There really is no other way to approach the subject of improving someone’s life and inspiring wholistic change than to look at the big picture like this.
Otherwise, the coach/athlete relationship with fall victim to the blind men/elephant parable.
There is a benefit to having someone see the whole picture for you. I’ve also found that most of the time I am telling people, as a coach, NOT to do things rather than DO things⏤ it’s really easy to get in your own way and try to do too much, and wind up burned out.
The good coaches can mesh all of this together for each athlete. And they are sincere about it. They mean it. There are plenty of people who call themselves “coaches” but do nothing more than prescribe workouts to people (and sometimes that is all the person wants at the time… but again, the key is establishing that sort of relationship at the start).
And self coaching can work, if you are willing to make the time investment in yourself… but that’s the key… TIME! It’s A LOT to balance family, work, social life, and other obligations and on top of it all plan an athletic season, set up workouts, complete them, then evaluate them without bias/ego, and they go forth and figure out what works and doesn’t work for yourself.
There is a lot of value in having a coach completely remove the “thinking aspect” of workout out plans and scheduling. There’s value in having it all made out for you, having someone there for you evaluating it, and most of all holding you accountable to get the workout in in the first place.
A coach does the research for you, keeps a training log, evaluates it without bias, gives you a sounding board, then mixes the results into your life accordingly.
The best coaches bring out the best in athletes⏤ in all areas of life. Realizing the the goals of the athletes are for the athlete and that they are very individual. A good coach inspires pure confidence in an athlete, giving them the confidence both physically through the workouts⏤ and mentally through mental prep and pep talks.
The right coach will use athletics to inspire all aspects of your life.
The right coach will take you to levels you don’t even know are possible.