Coach Tip Tuesday: Why coaching is valuable in the "off-season"
Photo Description: A photo of me cheering on athletes who I was coaching at a race a few years ago.
Happy Coach Tip Tuesday to all of you!!
This week’s coach tip might feel a little odd this particular year since it’s almost functioned like an eternal off-season for many of us, but the points I’m going to make here are still extremely valid, even though this year has been anything but “normal.”
I’ve been coaching full-time for many years now, and I’ve observed a pattern that happens each year: I have an influx of athletes seeking coaching during the “main season,” and then during the off-season, the number of athletes who I am working with reduces, sometimes dramatically.
There are a lot of reasons why this might happen. Finances might play a role for some, but for many athletes, they hire a coach for the main racing season when it “counts” and then they think that the off-season is an “easier” time to manage training, and therefore, coaching isn’t as valuable to them during this time period.
As we approach the time period when the traditional off-season typically begins, I wanted to offer some thoughts on why coaching is valuable all year long, not just when an athlete is in the “final” preparation for a key event.
The off-season, while it may feel unimportant, is actually quite important. This timeframe is the time when a lot of important foundational work can be completed that sets the stage for future stages of training. During the main season, there is quite a bit of specific work that needs to be completed as goal events draw near. As such, many athletes (especially those athletes who participate in endurance sports for fun, and not as a full-time job) either cannot or choose not to include some of the important “extras” that enhance their probability for success at their goals and reduce their chances of injury since they are already dedicating so much time to that specific work leading into the event.
During the off-season, focusing on the “little” things is an excellent strategy because addressing the “little” things is what leads to big gains later on. For instance: I am currently working on some of my bike handling skills. In addition to helping me be safer while I’m riding, better bike handling skills lead to increased confidence on the bike, and increased confidence yields “free” speed.
That’s just one example of something to work on, but I often encourage athletes to do some self-reflection, asking themselves questions such as:
“What did I do well this year??”
“What could I have done better this year??”
“What do I want to accomplish in the future??”
“What needs to be true for me to accomplish the goals that I have set for myself??”
This honest self-reflection can generate some really great insights, and enables one to hone in on what might be best to work on in the off-season. Some examples of off-season targets/goals are (but are not limited to):
Mental skills training
Dialing in daily nutrition
Incorporating more mobility and flexibility work into one’s training schedule
Setting some “smaller” speed goals (i.e. increasing pace for a shorter run distance or increasing the pace on the bike)
Focusing on swimming technique
Increasing bike handling skills
Finding what one needs to successfully make exercise a consistent, frequent part of one’s life (i.e. time budgeting)
Incorporating more strength training into one’s training schedule
Establishing a more firm base for longer-term goals
Doing something that would be helpful for one’s long-term goals, but that is also outside of one’s comfort zone
One of the main reasons athletes seek out the assistance of a professional coach is to help them hone in on the things that they cannot self-identify that will help lead to a successful completion of their goals. In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes that athletes make is waiting too long to seek out the assistance of a coach. There have been several times in my coaching career that an athlete has reached out to me without a sufficient enough lead time to truly thrive as they pursue their goal. When this happens, we have to have an honest conversation and aim for them to survive it, which is not optimal.
Generally speaking, longer lead times (to include doing work during the off-season) can increase the probability that an athlete will be successful at reaching their goal, and it also significantly increases their enjoyment of the event, which is incredibly important (especially when this is something that we do for fun!!).
About 45% of the athletes I’m currently working with have been coaching with me for one or more years. (Some of them have actually been with me for more than FIVE years at this point!!) Any of these athletes can share with you how the work that we do together in the off-season is what sets them up well for the goals that they set each main season. That consistency year-round helps them feel like they don’t need to “cram” for a goal that they’ve set.
Now, even though doing some specific work under the guidance of a coach during the off-season is a great idea, I don’t mean for this to sound like the off-season should be all work and no play. The off-season is a wonderful time period when athletes can explore some “fun” things, in addition to working on the things that will set them up for success in the coming season. The off-season is a great time to include “fun” events or activities. Many athletes might try a new form of physical activity (such as snowshoeing, fat biking, mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, or trail running) during this time period, and that is something that I highly encourage!!
As we enter this “off-season” (which is actually the off-season of the longest off-season most of us have ever had :) ) this year, I encourage you to consider how working with a professional coach could benefit you. If you decide that this might be something worth pursuing, I also encourage you to interview several coaches, find the one who you connect with most, and start that important relationship so you can be smashingly successful at reaching any and all goals you set for yourself in 2021. :)
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN U Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success. She can be reached at laura@teamMPI.com.