Thursday, August 28, 2008

The meaning of words I

client (plural clients)

1. A customer or receiver of services.
2. (computing) The role of a computer application or system that requests and/or consumes the services provided by another having the role of server.
3. Person who receives help or advice from a professional person (ex. a lawyer, an accountant, a social worker, a psychiatrist, etc).

athlete (plural athletes)

1. A person who actively participates in physical sports, possibly highly skilled in sports.

Let's get one thing straight. Whores and lawyers have clients, coaches have ATHLETES.

As you were...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Can I borrow a bit of your credibility, please?

It seems that when it comes to triathlon coaching, name dropping is not just a bad habit, it’s a whole way of doing business. I have gmail, and those that have gmail know that it picks up on the keywords of the emails you get. So because I get lots of emails with the words “triathlon” and “coaching”, I also get a lot of sponsored links about triathlon coaching. I usually follow some of those links, because well, I am curious by nature. The other day, I followed one of those links that took me to a triathlon coaching website that I had never heard of before. Clicking on the “About Us” link got me to a page with a list of the coaches. Each coach had a small bio about themselves and their coaching philosophy. And next to the bios, they each had pictures of themselves next to a triathlon celebrity. One of them was with Mark Allen, another with Greg Welch, Dave Scott, etc. It was pretty obvious that the coaches didn’t have anything to do with those triathlon celebrities, they were just trying to cash in on the credibility that being next to the celebrities gave them.

Some coaches get their credibility from having studied under a famous coach. It’s like the triathlon version of the martial arts world. However, in the martial arts world, this usually means that someone spent years working with a master before going on his own. The triathlon version of this is that a coach goes and spends a weekend with a known coach, exchanges some emails occasionally and suddenly… he’s a disciple. Some former athletes of famous coaches also try to capitalize on the credibility of their former coach. However, the only thing they learned from the coach was what workouts to do, not why they had to do them. So in the end, they have a pretty good collection of workouts, without much knowledge on how to apply them to athletes other than themselves.

There are also those that pay to achieve that credibility. I am sure most readers are aware of the huge percentage (more that 50%) the large coaching outfits charge to their associate coaches. But there are also instances where coaches pay top athletes to just use their name. A couple of years ago, I heard the story of a triathlon coach that paid a multiple World Champion $10,000/year just to say that he was coaching the said athlete.

These examples illustrate a whole way of doing business. Instead of building a practice through hard work and most importantly, results, it seems most aspiring triathlon coaches go for the easy way. They think that, by name dropping, by using somebody else’s credibility as their own, they can quickly achieve the status of expert coach, without the knowledge and the experience to support that perception. All this at the expense of athletes of all levels.

Monday, August 4, 2008

All aboard the BS bandwagon!

After Chrissie Wellington’s spectacular win at Ironman Hawaii last October (Veni, vidi, vici, for all you Asterix fans out there), it seems that a lot of people in the triathlon community are scrambling to get on the newest bandwagon: the Brett Sutton bandwagon. This bandwagon has been around for a while now, but before it was basically composed of those that merely model themselves after the master, but lack BS’ experience and, more importantly, results. Now there’s a mob of people trying to hop on the BS bandwagon.

Last week I was with some friends, and one of them had this month’s editions of the two tri-rags. They both had stories about BS, about his “secrets”, what makes him so special. The Inside Triathlon piece is the one that goes into more depth. In that piece, the writer noted that Chrissie Wellington was riding with a very low cadence, that might be the secret right there, let’s make a note of that! What surprised me more was that, some things that I assume that every coach would know, are presented as novelties, as secrets. I also had a coach friend of mine email me, asking about what I knew about BS’ approach. He wanted to know what swim workouts he prescribed, how a typical week was structured. Slowtwitch is publishing a two-part interview with BS (it’s got to be in two parts, there’s so much to learn!). Stay tuned for the second part, they’re going to talk about training! Hope everyone has their pencil and notebook ready!

What is funny about all this interest in BS is that here is a guy that’s been a high level triathlon coach for close to 20 years. Here’s the coach that produced such amazing athletes as Greg Bennett, Joanne King, Siri Lindley, Lorretta Harrop, Emma Snowsill and now Chrissie Wellington. And for the Kona-centered triathlon industry, because he coaches the current Ironman champion, it’s like he just arrived to the scene.

Even with all this interest in BS’ methods, the real question here is: All those that are jumping on the bandwagon, are they learning anything from the man? Are they going to go to a remote location and focus solely on training? Are they going to do the 50-60k swim weeks full of paddles and band swimming? Are they going to throw away the powermeters and GPS’? Are they going to remove the small chainring in their bike? It seems to me that they want the success, they want to hang out with Chrissie, Belinda and Erika, without having to put in the work and go through the sacrifices that are the reason for their success.

I have been a triathlon coach for close to 12 years now. I have learned a lot in these years, and many of the things I have learned are the same I was reading on that IT piece: The importance of squad training, of having little distractions outside training. The importance of strong leadership and trust in the work you’re doing. The importance of understanding the psychological makeover of each and every athlete you work with. I wrote about some of these things on this blog before. The things that make the true core of what coaching is.

When you’re solely interested in performance, in being the best you can be, the things that are the basis of BS’ approach are the things you need to focus on. And these are the things you learn as a coach when all it matters is to bring out the absolute best out of your athlete. These are the sort of things you learn when you coach athletes, not clients. These are the things you learn when you’re interested in performance, not keeping everyone happy and paying the monthly fee.

So what’s the downside of this approach? The downside is that everyone likes success, but very few are prepared to deal with failure. And when you search for absolute success, you have to have the abyss staring at you. You have to take risks and walk a fine line. And this makes for a terrible triathlon coaching business plan. And this is the reason why we have very few coaches like BS, but a lot of bs coaches.