It's been quite a year in our household. Looking back on my goals from a year ago made for interesting reading for me - although not much of it was triathlon specific. They were mainly focussed on family illness and building financial security - nothing performance related at all, in fact. With redundancy from my teaching job looming, and my wife's father in the last stages of his fight with cancer, these had to be my focus. Starting oxygenaddict.com was my way of trying to build some financial security for my family while doing something that I loved, and something where I was my own boss. The idea of redundancy terrified me - I had always seen teaching as 'a job for life', and the realisation that the 'illusion of security' was just that - an illusion - helped give me the impetus to start my own business and take some control over our financial security.
As things turned out, I was offered a new teaching contract at the end of the academic year, but by that time, oxygenaddict.com was up and running, and I was loving it. The challenge then became how to effectively keep both plates spinning. For a while I was struggling, and actually turning athletes away because I didn't feel I could offer them enough time. However, shifting to using Trainingpeaks has vastly reduced the amount of admin related to writing, sending and editing athlete's training plans, allowing me more time to actually 'coach' athletes - and allowing me to take on more athletes while still offering a quality service.
In these austere times, I think it is very difficult to make a living as a full time triathlon coach - discretionary spending on things like coaching being the first thing to get cut when times are tight. Those that are attempting to do it are charging serious money - and I've been tempted to follow suit several times over the past year. However, I'm glad I didn't. I'm happy with where I've ended up - working withn a small number of people that I understand - highly motivated, dedicated age group athletes with full time jobs and often families. They are highly competitive, and driven to perform well without compromising their core values.
It's been fantastic to watch my athletes develop over the past year. The biggest thing that has surprised me is how similar to teaching I find it - the pleasure in watching people develop, overcome, improve. When I first started the business, I felt pressure to personally 'race fast' - I felt that in order to have legitimacy as a coach, I needed to be performing to a high level personally. That, in part, was down to some of the people that I was working with at the time. If I'm honest, looking back, it's pretty clear that some of them were more bothered about their own performance than that of the people they were taking money off each month.
The flip side of that coin is that I watched several athletes sign up to be 'coached' by a faster guy with no coaching qualifications or experience - he told me 'XXX is faster than me - he knows what it takes to get good.' As the season went on, he was disappointed to find his training plan didn't contain any 'magic bullet', and the fast guy never answered his email or phone (probably because he was out training himself.)
It made me realise that I had to coach a different way.
Athletes really want, above all else, is their coach to be interested in them. They're really not interested if their coach is fast, as long as the coach can help them to get fast. Most of the good running coaches I worked with as a kid were old men who knew their stuff - I never stopped to wonder if they 'were fast.' It didn't matter. What mattered to me was that I trusted that they would get me faster. Some of the best coaches will be found standing at tracksides in the cold all winter, wrapped in wooly hats and staring intently at stopwatches as their athletes pass lap after lap.
Training plans are only a small part of coaching - after all, you can get a training plan for free from any magazine or internet site. Athletes want their coach to get inside their head and work out how to get the best performances from them. It's much easier to do this when you're working with athletes face to face, on pool deck or track side, or athletes that you know already and have trained with. You're unlikely to build a performance without first building a relationship. I feel like I'm finding my way, carving out a little niche within the coaching world.
Several of the athletes I've worked with over the last year - started the year considerably slower than I was, and are now considerably faster than me. That's good. As a coach, that's what I consider legitimacy.