Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Recently, we ran a series of blog posts about how to choose the right endurance coach to help you accomplish your goals.
Now that you’ve got a stellar coach and you’re ready to jump in and get to work, the next step in getting the most out of your coach-athlete relationship is to learn how to communicate well. Sounds easy, right? The reality is that lack of the right kind of communication between an athlete and coach can lead to anything from poor training to injury. At the very least, poor communication is often cited as the top reason athletes don’t get the full benefit of working with their coach.
As online or virtual coaching becomes the norm, geographic location is no longer a limiting factor. Most interactions between athletes and coaches now happen via email, text, video conferencing, phone calls, and notifications on training platforms (like Final Surge or Training Peaks). This means clear communication is more important than ever!
We polled some top endurance coaches to get their opinions about how to communicate most effectively with your coach. Here’s their top feedback, suggestions, and requests!
1. Be clear about communication preferences.
At the risk of sounding too obvious, start by clearly outlining your preferences about communication frequency, method, etc. If you don’t let your coach know that you never check your email, they can’t adjust accordingly!
If you don’t communicate your preferences and expectations, you’re likely to start the coaching relationship off on the wrong foot and get frustrated. Let your coach know what you need and want. Choose the communication methods that work best for you and stay consistent.
2. Say it, don’t assume it.
This one goes for both athletes and coaches. We’ve probably all heard different sayings about what happens when we assume things--they’re kinda funny because they’re actually true! Especially early on in your athlete-coach relationship, it’s best to communicate everything rather than assume anything is known or understood.
Unless you ask questions and communicate how you’re feeling, your coach will likely assume everything is going well and that you’re doing great (until the training data says otherwise). It’s better to ask and clarify than to assume and take risks.
This goes for everything from making sure you understand each workout to communicating specific goals, how you’re feeling, how you’re doing with each training session, and how your training fits into your everyday life.
3. Log your workouts consistently and in a timely manner.
If you want to get credit for your hard work, make sure to log your workouts! Coaches cannot overemphasize how important it is to log your workouts on whatever platform you use in a timely manner and consistently. Adding comments about how you felt during the workout or any other relevant information is also critical to share.
Thankfully, most devices now upload training data directly to training platforms, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. But it’s still important to log in and write notes about how the workout went, how you felt, and other details to paint a clear picture for your coach.
Coaches use this data and feedback to create or adjust future workouts. After all, each workout or training block feeds into the next. Not receiving information about one piece of the puzzle leaves the coach working with outdated or limited data.
4. Let your coach know what you’re feeling--good and bad!
If you’re nursing an injury (old or new), feeling sick, run-down, or over-trained, communicate this with your coach as clearly and consistently as possible!
On the flip side, when you’re feeling strong, confident, and generally unchallenged by your workouts, this is essential information for your coach to know as well!
Great coaches create workout plans to help you hit the sweet spot of the right kinds of stressors to strengthen your body. Too much stress or workouts that are too challenging will lead to overtraining, injury, and other problems. Workouts that aren’t challenging enough won’t produce results or help you reach your goals. Be honest with yourself and with your coach about how you’re feeling--even on your rest days!
5. Be honest and realistic about your schedule and training load.
Everyone’s got jobs, families, and other demands on time and energy. One benefit of a coach is that they can help you make the most of the time you have to train. But the key is, to be honest with yourself and your coach about time restraints and other commitments that will impact your training schedule.
Similarly, every coach understands that things come up (unless you’re a professional athlete). Workouts need to be shifted, adjusted, or even skipped. When this happens, it’s best to communicate this quickly and accurately so your coach can help you adapt and overcome these challenges.
6. Find the communication sweet-spot.
You’ve heard the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears. The very short version is Goldilocks breaks into the home of three bears (let’s be honest about these fairy tales here). Throughout the tale, one bowl is too big, one is too small, and one is just right—the same with the chairs and the beds.
I can’t begin to tell you what the real moral of the Goldilocks fairy tale is (other than don’t break into the home of bears), but I can tell you this applies to a great coach-athlete relationship. Just like there’s such a thing as too little communication with your coach, there’s also too much communication! The goal is to find that sweet “just right” spot--and that will look different in every coach-athlete relationship!
As an athlete, it’s helpful to remember that your coach has a personal life and other athletes to care for. So, honor their boundaries as best as possible. Establish early on in your relationship the best forms and frequency of communication and expectations--and stick to them!
Your coach is also human. They know sometimes you’ll need to reach out at an unusual time… just don’t let that “unusual time” become the “usual.” You get the picture.
7. Listen. Your coach cares about you!
As in any healthy relationship, the key to success is communication--the part of communication that often goes overlooked is the listening part. Yes, it’s critical for you to share openly with your coach. It’s equally essential for you to listen to what your coach has to say!
It may not always feel this way, but your coach cares deeply about you as a whole person. They want to help you thrive and accomplish your athletic goals in the healthiest way possible.
Sometimes they may need to tell you something you don’t want to hear. Even if it’s “hard truth,” be humble and teachable enough to listen and feel free to ask questions to understand why.
As with any relationship, clear and consistent communication is the key to getting the most out of your investment in endurance coaching. The great news is that your coach is on your team and very committed to your overall growth and success. They understand it can take a bit of time to hit your communication stride together, so there’s no reason to worry or be concerned! By taking these steps, before you know it, you and your coach will be working together like a well-oiled machine.
Gregg Edelstein is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, an IRONMAN University Certified Coach and a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach based in the greater Boston area. Gregg offers his athletes insight on the principles of exercise, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention, working to make them well-rounded and engaged athletes that share his passion for sport. Gregg can be reached at Greg@TeamMPI.com