It’s important to take this question literally and have a good think about it. Part of getting the most out of any coach is being clear on what you want to achieve and what motivates you best.
People looking for a coach have usually reached some sort of limit to what they can do on their own. Maybe you get injured too often. Or you struggle with consistency. Perhaps you have an ambitious goal that you don’t think you will reach without assistance.
There are some basics that your coach should have to maximise your chances of success:
If you have set your sights on running a faster road marathon, you want a coach who is competitive in that sport. Same if you want to run an off-road event, etc. They don’t need to be on the podium all the time, but they should be putting in consistent results.
This is for a variety of reasons. It demonstrates they have a passion for the activity and all the little details of what makes a successful athlete in each discipline. And each discipline is different. You need race specific training. If your coach has never done the race you are aiming for, or anything like it, then this is unlikely to happen.
For endurance events you need someone with the personal experience of coping with extreme fatigue. Without that all your training is likely to fall to bits when you first hit a potential crisis point.
A coach who competes is connected to the events scene. They can advise on event selection and timing, logistics, equipment, route, nutrition hydration and more with an accuracy you only get from recent personal experience.
A solid knowledge of human biomechanics
Basic sports training qualifications should provide a coach with enough knowledge to stop you doing stupid things that cause injury. Taking your movement safely to its limits requires more in depth and specific expertise.
Running coaching is all about giving rise to the ideal form for each runner. That can only be done with a solid knowledge of what should be happening under the skin from one moment to the next.
Think of it like a car. Your local mechanic will keep it running. But they won’t necessarily be the person you want if you are going racing. Chiropractors, and other health care providers, who also run and coach running, are able to provide that.
If in doubt, check your coach’s form when they run (not their speed). If it’s poor, then their coaching will likely be similar.
A focus on your lifelong well-being
If you get a coach that is gung-ho enough to push you for any and every event you desire you will have plenty of time off running to regret that decision.
Good coaches must put safety first as part of the responsibility that comes with the trust you place in them. It’s also the only way to get consistent progress and results.
That said, the focus should remain on what you want to get out of running. Maybe a particular event is not realistic for you. But you should be heading in the direction of your choosing, not theirs. Check this is understood from the outset.
For all those reasons it’s also worth avoiding any coach with a ‘standard’ programme. It’s more likely to be a ‘one-size-fits nobody’ programme. You need something designed for you.
Flexible, but not too flexible
Life is complex and so are people. A good coach is able to adjust a programme to the point where you are most able to progress. That might mean not rigidly following the programme as originally laid out.
But unless you have remarkable self-discipline there will be times when you will benefit from a coach who holds the line for you. You don't want someone who let's you alter the plan on a whim. Tough love is always part of the picture.
Finally, you will probably want someone whose company you enjoy. You are going to be spending a fair bit of time together, some of it challenging, so it helps if you get along.
Send me an email or leave a comment below with any other factors you think are important when looking for a coach? Click here if you are interested in finding out more about coaching from James Kuegler Coaching.