Updated: Dec 15, 2020
by Laura Henry
As coaches in the endurance world, we often talk about what an athlete should consider as he or she is hiring a coach and what a healthy coach-athlete relationship looks like. It’s not often that we discuss the end of that path - what happens when it’s time for that coach-athlete relationship to end.
I’ve worked for a lot of athletes over the years. The very truth of the matter is that even though I am currently coaching many athletes one-on-one, I am not currently working for any of the athletes who I was working for at the end of 2016. Is this a bad thing? No, it is not. This turnover is very normal in this business, and I would argue that it’s actually quite healthy since it does allow coaches to work with a variety of athletes. It means that I have had the opportunity to work for dozens of unique athletes, and that each of them has helped shape me into the coach that I am today. Variety is what enables a coach to grow; it would be impossible for coaches to learn and grow if they always coached the same people with the same goals.
This benefit does not just exist on the coaching side of the equation. If the coach is able to constantly learn and grow by working for a variety of athletes, the athletes that they are working for benefit from the coach’s continuing education and growth. Athletes are seeking the coach’s knowledge and expertise when they hire him/her, so anything that helps foster the coach’s continued learning is absolutely a benefit to the athletes who they are working for.
The coach-athlete relationship can come to an end for a variety of reasons. In my experience, the ending of this relationship is usually initiated by the athlete, but it can be done by the coach. Some athletes might decide they need a different coach in order to help them reach different goals (i.e. switching from a coach who specializes in coaching running to a coach who specializes in coaching triathletes). Some athletes might want to take their athletic pursuits to the next level, and feel that they need a more experienced coach to get them there. Some athletes might hire a coach to help them through one goal race, and then decide to discontinue coaching once the goal race is over. In one of the saddest scenarios, the coach or athlete (or both) might realize that the match isn’t a good one, and that it’s best to sever it.
One of the best scenarios is when an athlete decides to discontinue coaching because he/she feels that she has learned all that he/she can from that coach. In my opinion, this is when a coach has done his/her job exceptionally well. A coach’s job is to pass on what he/she knows and to coach the athlete, not the sport. If the coach teaches the athlete what he/she knows and builds up the athlete to the point where the athlete feels confident in his/her abilities and that it is time to spread his/her wings and fly onto a new journey, then that is the best outcome a coach could possibly ask for. Of course, this situation is bittersweet, as many partings in life are, but in my experience, the sweet FAR outweighs the bitter. Coaches should embrace it when an athlete does spread his/her wings and flies. And while endings can be sad, they do open the door for new beginnings and new opportunities, which is what endurance sports - on both sides of the coach/athlete equation - are all about.
“We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all Masters.” -Jedi Master Yoda