It's that time of the year where - if you are interested - it is time to be locking up a coaching prospect for the upcoming year of triathloning. In fact, at this point of the year, it's best if you've been talking to a couple of options.
What does a coach provide? That's a good question actually.
I remember back in 2010 (late 2010) when I was kind of on the "cusp" of a decision process. I had really wanted a coach for a while but hadn't yet found the right match between someone I wanted to coach me and someone that wanted to coach me. I had really wanted _____ to coach me and had made repeated efforts to get him to do it but he didn't seem that eager to coach anybody (despite advertising his coaching services online) and I wasn't willing to pay $450/month (what was being advertised). The desire to have accountability and an inherent trust in the process is what I WANTED. I trusted ____ and his knowledge (for better or for worse), but the desire didn't go both ways.
So later that year I started "looking" on Slowtwitch (both in the coach database and browsing the forums). I didn't really care that much in terms of location, to be honest. What I was looking for revolved more around "philosophy" and the way they expressed that philosophy. Basically, I wanted someone in whom I believed.
There were a couple of standouts initially. I would see a coach post and then check their previous posts in threads that seemed interesting and then go and peruse their written thoughts on the matter. I was looking for an alignment of goals. What I thought I wanted and what I felt was "right" lining up with what someone else thought was "right" and could help me get what I wanted.
At the end of the day you can do most of the work yourself. If you are consistent, accountable, and reasonably smart and you progressively overload you can reach your goals pretty well yourself. A coach helps you eke out that last percentage. You don't have to think about what workout you're going to do; it's already there and waiting on you.
After a bit of searching I had narrowed down my "decision" to two or three "candidates." So I shot off some emails explaining who I was, what I had accomplished to that point and where I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted, the question was going to be which answers I liked the best! In the end I started working with Brian Stover. Nobody outside of ST had really heard of him (in the questions like: do you have a coach? Yea. Who is he? Brian Stover from Tucson. Ohhh, ok...), but in the end that doesn't really matter. Brian is probably one of the best triathlon coaches in the US (non squad-style coaching). That's not really debatable. It's a fact.
Other coaches were maybe a little too brusque, a little too self-important, a little too "quality > quantity," a little too blah blah blah. At the end of the day there was what I believed in and there was what Brian believed in; those two things lined up quite nicely.
Each situation is unique and each person has their own sets of criteria. Time availability, responsibilities other than work, work schedule, travel schedule, etc etc. So it's important to express all of those things to the coaching possibility. What are YOUR goals? Not your friends' goals. Not your mom's goals, but YOUR goals. Do you want to sub 9 an Ironman? Do you want to finish your first IM? Do you want to learn to swim confidently and do your first sprint triathlon? There is a huge gamut of goals and personal achievements and having a coach who both understands and believes in all of those is an importance that cannot be overstated.
If your candidates are all local (vs national), talk to their other athletes. Do they personalize each athlete's training? Or do they cookie-cutter plans such that copy and pasting is the norm? Do they have restrictions on contact (i.e. 2 emails a week + 1 schedule change a month + 6 texts/week, etc) because that is not coaching. That is taking your money.
When you do decide on a coach, give constant feedback. A coach giving you workouts and you giving them nothing back is only half of the battle. Knowing how you are feeling, your emotions, your wants, your desires...wait what? Knowing what YOU are doing is important and informs what the coach will be doing.
It's a two way street. A relationship of symbiosis and harmony (hopefully). You should WANT to work with your coach and they should WANT to work with you.