Lessons Learned from a Self-Coached Coach
It goes without saying that I wholly believe in the power of a strong coach-athlete relationship. Most of the athletes I coach appreciate the freedom that comes with the structure I provide in their training plans. Freedom in structure? You bet! If all an athlete needs to focus on is executing workouts as provided in his or her Training Peaks calendar–knowing that results will follow–that takes a lot of stress off.
That said, I’ve been coaching myself for over a decade and I’ve been pretty happy with the results. Through that tenure, I’ve also learned when I am in situations where having a coach’s perspective to help me navigate training situations has been helpful (fortunately, I know a few coaches!). Following are examples that I’m sure you can relate to.
- Know the limitations of your knowledge … yes, you! One of the great benefits of hiring a coach or following a training plan is that you can be sure (at least with D3) that the plan was developed using principles, data, and feedback from professionals who keep their knowledge updated with continuing education. When you self-coach, your resources are more limited. Be honest with yourself about what you know and don’t know. Ask for help where you need it.
- Listen to your body…and separate your brain. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. You can always ask your coach for a day off or a harder workout depending on how you’re feeling and where you are in a training cycle. When you’re your own coach, there’s a split. The coach side of your brain might say “I should do what I had planned” while the athlete side might say “I’m just not feeling it”. Which side wins in this situation? The answer, of course, is it depends. The more honest you are with yourself about how your body is responding to the inputs, the better the result of coaching yourself.
- Use the metrics…but don’t live and die by them. The performance management chart and it’s associated metrics (TSS, CTL, ATL, TSB) in Training Peaks provides great input into how you’re doing as an athlete. But these metrics only tell part of the story. Same with body monitoring devices like Whoop, Oura, and Apple watches. Pay attention to what these tools are telling you but also keep in mind that they are only part of the picture. Remember that the formula for training load is volume + intensity + life. Be sure you account for the “life” variable in your self-programming.
- There are lots of geniuses on the internet … but they’re often needles in haystacks. It’s easy to fall into the trap of selecting for yourself the workouts that the pros post about or what some prolific poster on a triathlon-focused message board puts out to the world. In a recent conversation with a very high-achieving professional triathlete, I asked him what’s the worst question he gets asked in media interviews. Without missing a beat, he said, “What training advice would you give to age-groupers?” He feels pressure to share what he’s doing, knowing that it’s his job to train and race–and that his workouts and plan really aren’t applicable to the vast majority of age-group athletes. He doesn’t really know what age-group triathletes should be doing.
- Don’t wing it … there’s a difference between exercising and training. It’s easy just to do something physical every day and say that you’re training. But in most cases, this kind of approach results in a lot of exercise, and not a lot of training. Simply being active and breaking a sweat feels great and surely carries health benefits, but if your goal is to go fast on race day, simply working out is unlikely to take you to your best result on race day. Self-coaching doesn’t mean working without a plan.
I’m fortunate that I have a background and certifications in this profession and that makes my journey in self-coaching more robust and meaningful in the pursuit of my goals. I suppose it can be paralleled to any profession where you can consult on your own projects: real estate, accounting, legal, etc. At the end of the day, I’m never shy about asking for help or gaining perspective from my coaching colleagues, as I trust their expertise. You can certainly go it alone and coach yourself, but having a partner in the process can be highly valuable and rewarding.
Coach Dave Sheanin believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. I encourage you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.
Age groupers with busy schedules