What to Look for in a Coach


Posted by Coach Mark Sortino

What should you look for in a coach? Whether you’re doing a triathlon, a mountain bike race, an ultra run, a long course open water swim or your first 5K race, here are some keys to think about when selecting the right coach for you.


Experience. While I don’t believe this is a requirement, it sure does help. A good coach learns from all of their experiences working for athletes - both good and bad. This body of knowledge increases exponentially from year to year.

Attitude. How they treat you and their role as your coach is key. For example, would they be a good “teammate” of yours? Are they excited to work for you? Are they willing to work around your schedule as best they can? Remember that a coach works for you - not the other way around. This should be understood by the coach.

Communication. A good coach shouldn’t be hard to get a hold of. Additionally a good coach should make the communication policy clear prior to you hiring them. And, quite honestly, any major restrictions to communication should be a warning flag to you as an athlete. “Remote” coaching only works with open communication.

Active Athlete. Not a requirement but provides a level of compassion, knowledge and empathy that otherwise may not be there for coaches who aren’t active. The insights from coaches who know what it feels like to wake up at 4am for a swim at 5am go a long way…

Reputation. I recommend you ask for athlete references when deciding on a coach. Additionally, find out how they run their coaching business. Are they by themselves, part of a coaching group, part time or full time? What do other athletes think and how was their experience with this coach? A coach’s reputation can give you some great insight into finding the answers to a lot of these traits.

Thirst for Knowledge. A good coach should be interested in new ideas, new techniques and new methods. He/she may choose not to use them, but it builds their overall knowledge which then helps them as they work for you. This may include continued education with advanced certifications or attending symposiums for continue learning. This thirst also includes working well with other coaches as this often is the number one way for a coach to learn. An open mind with some humility are great traits for this.

Listens. A good coach knows how to listen and actively tries to listen to the athletes they work for. This is a trait tied to many others on this list.

Ego. A good coach listens, doesn’t mind being questioned, understands they don’t know everything, and understands that they don’t “own” “their” athlete. This is all part of controlling the ego by the good coach. This includes being OK when an athlete wants a change or wishes to end the coaching contract.

Personality that YOU like. This is not a requirement, but it sure does make the entire process a lot more fun. You should feel comfortable communicating with your coach. When the personalities match, it tends to work better and for longer periods.

So take your time and interview more than one coach before making your final decision. Do you need a coach? Maybe or maybe not. Can you benefit from a coach? If you've read to the end of this then you most likely can!

If you think you want to work with a coach, hiring the right coach to be a teammate of yours on your journey can be the difference in you changing your life in a positive way through joy and fulfillment versus having a negative experience.


Coach Mark Sortino is a USA Triathlon Level III Coach, USA Cycling Level II 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. He can be reached at mark@teamMPI.com. Read more about Coach Mark. 

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