The Scientist vs The Artist


Posted by Coach Mark Sortino

Photo credit: Tommy Zaferes / World Triathlon


My ongoing development as a Coach has been super interesting. I can sum it up in four phases:


Inaugural phase: After my first certification and then athlete, “Holy #$%@! Someone is paying me?!”

Expert phase: Dozens of months passed with dozens and dozens of athletes, “Heck, I’m a GREAT Coach! Look at me!”

Stupid phase: First time with real expert and experienced coaches, “Ah…crap. I really don’t know anything.”

Awakening phase: Continuing education and sharing of knowledge, but trusting my experience and creativity with each individual athlete, “I know this is not how it’s normally done, but let’s try this!”


As I’ve written in the past, I’ve often struggled with two opposing forces in coaching: formal education and practical application. If you have an abundance of education but little experience as a coach “in the real world”, you will ultimately fail the vast majority of the athletes you work for in providing the guidance that’s unique for them. On the other side, if you have little or no education and a ton of experience, chances are you will be “stuck” with one philosophy, yours, and be frozen in time as innovation and growth pass you by - again failing to provide athletes you work for with customized guidance that works.

In the four phases of coaching, the Inaugural Phase is built entirely on education. "Someone taught me how to do it, so this is how you do it.” The Expert Phase introduces application, but only as it applies to the initial education. The Stupid Phase highlights the power of application through the example of much more educated and experienced peers. But it’s the fourth phase, the Awakening Phase, that finds the balance between education and application. This phase is filled with ideas that highlight both the importance and value of continuing education while at the same time becoming aware and appreciative of the essential dynamic of application and the endless permutations of paths to follow to reach a goal.

The “Scientist," although it requires commitment to learning in a structured environment, is the easiest and typically the most common type of Coach. The “Artist” is a bit rarer but can be provincial and egocentric as this type of Coach only knows their own ways. It’s the Coach who has found a balance between both worlds - Scientist and Artist - that will continue to thrive, learn and grow and ultimately better serve all athletes across the entire spectrum.

It’s the awakening phase that I hope to stay in.


Coach Mark Sortino is a USA Triathlon Level III Coach, USA Cycling Level II Coach, USAT Paratriathlon Certified Coach, F.I.S.T. certified bike fitter and certified USAT Race Director who is also the co-founder and CEO of Team MPI. Mark has been the Head Coach of Team USA Paratriathlon since 2012 and has coached Paralympic Triathletes and Cyclist, Ironman 70.3 and Ironman World Championship qualifiers along with National and World Champion ITU Paratriathletes. Mark is also a US Veteran having served 20 years in the US Navy as a Naval Flight Officer and is graduate of the US Naval Academy. Contact him at

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