How to Choose the Right Running Coach
Hiring a professional running coach is a step that many runners take when looking to train for a race. The training process has many variables that a qualified coach can help an athlete navigate.
But, “qualified” is a concept that stands on shaky ground in this context. Coaching is an unregulated industry, and as such, there are no certified qualifications required to become a coach. So, unlike other professions such as financial analysis, law, or medicine, which require you to undertake specific training and pass exams to qualify professionally, there are none to become a coach.
This of course does not mean that there aren’t a lot of great coaches out there. It just means that you would need to set some parameters to find the right one.
Common misconceptions about coaching
Before we talk about how to select the right coach, let us address the two common misconceptions about coaching.
1. The fast/ elite factor
There is a common misconception that in order to train runners, a coach needs to be fast — or at least, faster than those they are coaching. The athletic ability of a coach has no bearing on their coaching ability. While having experience as a runner is helpful in the training process, one does not have to have an elite background as a runner to be an effective coach. It is a common practice for coaches to primarily advertise their qualifications via their race resume — the idea being that if they can run fast, they can get you to run fast as well. This is an erroneous and flawed proposition.
2. The me factor
Many coaches tend to devise training schedules on the basis of what works personally for them, rather than the requirements of the athlete. This is a common mistake. People respond differently to the same training stimulus as physiologies vary from one person to another. Workouts and training principles therefore, need to be tailored to the needs of the individual runner and not the coach.
How do you know if the running coach is right for you?
There are a few basic criteria that you need to consider before zeroing on to a coach.
1. Science factor
At the core of any running program should be science. This helps ensure that individual bias is minimized, and that the overall genesis of a program is rooted in valid and factual information. Additionally, new findings come out all the time, so part of being a quality coach is staying on top of the latest research and findings.
2. Fluidity factor
No matter how impactful a designed program is initially, a coach would need to modify it to account for changes in fitness, sickness/ injury, and schedule changes, to ensure continued effectiveness. A quality coach understands that programs are meant to be changed according to the circumstances.
3. Engagement factor
The more engaged an athlete is with the training process, the more they would want to understand the rationale behind their workouts. In fact, this would help them perform better. A competent coach should encourage all questions and establish easy communication with the runner.
4. Professionalism factor
There are a lot of coaches out there, but very few professional ones. What does professionalism entail?
- Punctuality for scheduled appointments — either in-person or virtually
- Stays up-to-date on the latest research and findings
- Clear communication and timely response to emails and phone calls
- Avoids delving into personal matters or areas outside coaching (say, religion or politics)
- Consults fellow experts in areas beyond their practice or knowledge
5. Focus factor
The primary and most important role of a coach is to develop a training program in tandem with the runner, which would help the latter realize their running goals. Nothing should distract a trainer from this objective.
6. Personality factor
A good rapport between an athlete and coach is essential. And like any personal relationship, some might not work out. No matter how great a coach is on paper, if they don’t gel with the athlete from a personality standpoint, it is likely that the athlete’s training would suffer. Both parties should be on the same page and enjoy working with each other.
7. Philosophy factor
Many coaches share their coaching philosophies on their website. A runner should inquire with a prospective coach about their coaching philosophy and overall thoughts on how they would be coached. This is very important because if a coach’s training philosophy is at odds with how an athlete wants to be coached, it would likely not be a positive experience for either.
Moreover, one fixed training approach generally does not achieve optimal goals beyond a point. Every individual is different, has different abilities, interests, and goals. So, opting for a coach with very specific and rigid training philosophy, might not be ideal.
For instance, a coach might believe that all runners should run with a midfoot strike, and therefore, converts all heel strike runners to their preferred running form. However, if an athlete doesn’t want to do this, this would not be a good coach match.
As you see, there are many aspects to selecting a running coach, and just because someone is right for one athlete does not mean that they would suit another. Do your own research, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to stop working with a coach you feel is not a good match.