The Self-Coached Athlete Silo


Posted by Coach Mark Turner

To Be Self-coached Or Truly Coached, That Is the Question!


Every athlete, no matter what their level of talent or resources, faces these kinds of questions: "Do I seek out a coach to help me reach my goals, or do I work this out on my own?" "Do I trust someone else, or do I trust my own sense of progress and achievement?"

Recently, Ryan Hall, the great American endurance runner, has been in the news, retiring due to plaguing injuries and burnout. These are hallmark results of over-training and over-reaching in goals and training. As a coach who has been both self-coached and is now currently being coached by Coach Mark Sortino of Team MPI, I have something of a perspective on this paradigm. To borrow from Shakespeare: to be self-coached or be truly coached, that is the question.

Obviously Ryan Hall has been, and is, not just a good guy but also a gifted athlete. During his career he spent a lot of time self-coached and my sense from reading about him and his on again/off again coaching relationships with some of running's best coaches is that even when he tried being coached it was probably so ingrained in him to be self-coached that he remained basically self-coached. In other words, he remained in a "silo" of his own perspective. And that is the primary disadvantage for the self-coached athlete: even gifted athletes operating in their own "silo" face the significant challenge of myopic perspective. Even the naturally gifted age group triathlete who lacks training and knowledge, regardless of desire to achieve, faces a two-fold challenge when self-coached. The athlete lives in the "silo" of his/her own perspective which creates a limit against full achievement.

So what is the problem with the "silo"? The problem is that in the silo you have little perspective on what is really going on with your training. There is no real objective input. There are two main problems created by the silo of the self-coached athlete: (1) being too positive and conversely (2) being too self-critical.

The athlete who is overly self congratulatory always sees his or her training and race results through the proverbial "rose-colored lenses". The primary reason for this isn't simply accepting less than optimal results but more often it is simply the result of setting the bar low for training and race result goals. Conversely, the athlete who is too self-critical risks never being satisfied with training and race results. The result is that they risk burnout and over reaching in their training. Both lead to giving up the sport they love, simply because they lack someone speaking into their life, their training, and their goals. And that is exactly what good coaches do: they learn about and speak into the hearts of their athletes.


So what about the self-coached athlete? What are the primary benefits of self-coaching? The obvious number one advantage is the cost of a coach. Coaches work for the athlete and they charge a coaching fee that varies in price range relative to the ability and experience of the coach. When an athlete chooses to coach themselves, or simply forego coaching altogether, they can save money. They run the risk of the old lawyer axiom - someone who serves as their own lawyer has a fool for a client. Or, perhaps worse, they approach most or all of their training/plans on a random basis. Which looks and sounds a lot like, "Well, today I kind of feel like doing __________."

Self-coaching can result in overreaching, over training, or worse -- just remaining! Remaining means living in your training in the "comfortably-uncomfortable zone." And training in that zone means you never really improve because you are never really challenged. You may be considered a beast at your local tri club or swim group but your best potential remains untapped.

So now what? Let's say that you are interested in coaching help but simply lack the financial resources to contract with a coach. What you need to know is that there are resources for you as well. Coaching teams like Team MPI have resources that are available to you through information streams like the Team MPI Newsletter and Blog. In addition, online resources, like Endurance Films Training Institute, which partners with great coaches and coaching teams like Team MPI, to offer athletes the opportunity to tap into great information on training.

So even if you are going to remain basically self-coached due to finances or personal philosophy. Don't live in a silo. Let your training live outside of your own head to optimize your chance for reaching your fullest potential.

~Coach MarkT

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