Listening to John Cook’s interview (here) was an inspiration for me as a coach. John Cook is a real coach, he talks like a real coach and more importantly, he coaches like a real coach. On top of an impressive resume as a college track and field coach, he qualified 3 athletes for the Olympics and got one medal (Shalane Flanagan). You cannot get more real than this.
There are several reasons why listening to him was an inspiration. First of all, the way he talks is refreshing. He tells it like it is. There is no kissing ass, no bullshit. No look-at-me-I-am-so-good and by the way, buy my plans/book/dvd/clinics/camps. He is a professional coach, not an amateur marketing exec. Second, he is not afraid to assume his responsibility as a coach. During the interview, he admits that he regrets some decisions that he made that had direct impact on the performance of his athletes. And third, he is not afraid of telling the truth about the state of middle- and long-distance running in the US. One of the great quotes of the interview is when Cook describes the attitude of certain athletes and coaches as “trying to race Formula 1 with a NASCAR attitude”. The same could be said about the US elite triathlon scene.
Where are these real coaches I am talking about? Well, they are hard to find. Many of the best coaches in the world have no website and are relatively unknown. You don’t hear about them on Internet forums. With professionalism growing in Olympic sports, many of the best coaches in the world do not even work in the private sector. This is one of the problems for coaches in the US. The fact that coaches need to make a living steers them away from fully focusing on elite athletes, since there aren’t a lot of them, and most of them can’t afford coaching. This is especially true in triathlon. The US “system” of relying on commercial coaches to do high-level coaching fails because coaches are not focused on that niche “market”. The fact that anyone would be hard-pressed to name an American high-level triathlon coach makes USAT’s strategic decision not to have a National Coach very hard to understand.
One thing that makes me sad about the state of triathlon coaching is that I see very few people committed to real coaching. Years and years of anti-ITU attitude and focus in Ironman racing in the US are two of the culprits for the creation of the hack industry. Everyone is too busy trying to create a business, not in becoming coaches. So up-and-coming coaches go out and copy the successful hacks, mistaking them for the real coaches. So we have an army of aspiring hacks, when we should have an army of aspiring real coaches.