The Athlete vs. the Coach
by Russ Cox
It is reasonable to say that my recent sporting performances have not lived up to past standards. While I could give many reasons for this, at its heart is the quality of my preparation: I am not training sufficiently to achieve peak performances. It reflects changes happening in my life that mean, at this time, my own triathlon performance is not a priority. Inevitably there are periods in life when sport takes a back seat and we focus our attention elsewhere, but when triathlon is also your business it raises the question: How important is a coach's personal performance to his athletes?
Fundamentally a coach's race results shouldn't matter. There are many successful coaches who simply cannot perform the sport they train others in; it's what they achieve with the athletes they work with that counts. Let's not forget that for age group athletes, achievement often means more than race results -- it can be about a healthy balance of triathlon in our lives. A coach should be selected on his or her ability to develop and nurture athletes and how the coach’s approach fits with an athlete.
Realistically, in a sport where many coaches are also athletes, personal performance can, and does, come into play. I'll admit if I'm browsing another coach's website and he or she have a personal results page, I look. So if I am not performing as an athlete, it's not unreasonable that questions might be raised about my ability to coach; after all, if I don't know what works for me, can I really know what works for others? For some, the reassurance that a coach has been there before is important and there is an expectation that we embody our coaching philosophy.
The thing is, I don't embody my coaching philosophy; not at the moment anyway. If I'm honest, I occasionally feel a little hypocritical writing articles for Endurance Corner, knowing they reflect the athlete I was two years ago more than the athlete I am now. The danger is when I write about the athlete I am now it's assumed that this demonstrates my approach to coaching. There is a failure to distinguish between the athlete and the coach; the former is for fun, it's the latter that's business.
In the past I have been through a lot of what my athletes are going through -- I've done the Kona qualification and the age group podiums, but I'm not afraid to try something new either. If there's sufficient evidence I am willing to adapt my approach. Not only am I no longer the athlete I was two years ago, I'm no longer the same coach -- I am better through experience of coaching; something I would never have achieved with a focus on my own athletic pursuits. The problem is how to express this.
How do you communicate success as a coach? I could substitute my athletes' results for my own, a coaching CV to sell myself, a few podiums and Kona qualifications there would look good, but they would also only tell part of the story. What about the two year project taking a couch potato to a first ironman? The 14-hour finish time may not impress, but for the athlete in question the rewards are enormous and can be life changing. Perhaps the best approach is the one adopted here on Endurance Corner -- simply presenting an honest and open account of my philosophy and allowing the reader to be the judge.
Russ is a full-time triathlete and endurance coach who has raced and trained around the world. His Trains, Travels blog focuses on endurance triathlon training from an athlete's perspective, covering topics such as nutrition, training, psychological preparation and what to do during taper and recovery.