Knowledge, wisdom and motivation are all things we wish we had infinite access to, especially on those days when training is a little more difficult. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re a seasoned cyclist, there are some instances where we could all do with a little help. Need to improve your overall cycling? Want to overcome your pre-race anxiety? Keen to recover from a dodgy knee? No matter what your Achilles heel is, there’s a coach for that.
HOW CAN A COACH HELP YOU IMPROVE?
Depending on which areas you need to improve on, there are a number of different types of coaches. We spoke to Dr Mark Bellamy, a performance psychologist and coach, lead cycling and Olympic training coach at Performance United, Andy Sparks, and Ricky Berry, strength and conditioning coach at RB-5, to find out why a coach is so important, whatever area you’re trying to improve.
“The importance of having a personal coach is going to mean different things to different people,” explains Andy. “If I had to make a list of universals, I think most folks’ goals include improving, progressing, and just simply getting better at their given pursuit. To identify your individual areas for improvement most athletes need an objective perspective and this is the primary thing a coach can provide.”
Whilst we all like to think we know at least a little about our chosen training methods or disciplines, it is unlikely that we would have got to where we’re already at without borrowing tips or listening to those more experienced than ourselves. “Everything that you have become efficient in, in everyday life [comes from] having been taught or coached by somebody who has mastered this skill, from tying your shoes to cycling your first century,” says Ricky. “A good coach teaches you the basics well until they become second nature and you master them. See [having a coach] as a shortcut to success and mastery.”
For Mark, it’s all about the passing down of knowledge. “I occasionally joke with my athletes that the purpose of coaching is to soak up the knowledge and wisdom that a coach has whilst [the athlete] still has the body to make use of it,” adds Mark.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES A COACH HAVE?
Having any type of coach comes with a number of benefits. On it’s most obvious level, a coach can help you overcome the obstacles you’re struggling with. “[Whatever the issue] a coach has seen this time and time again. By working with a coach what seems impossible becomes possible very quickly,” says Ricky.
On another level, a coach can help you to create balance in your training. Andy explains: “A coach can benefit you by looking at the data and your psychological state and decide when is the best time to ‘push’ and when the best time to recover is. Most athletes do not have trouble pushing themselves but they can benefit from being held back a bit and having it explained to them that recovery is an important part of the equation.” So- whether you’re having trouble motivating yourself, or need help reigning yourself in to avoid overtraining, a coach can help you do that.
From a sports psychology point of view, Mark has some things to add. “Athletes need guidance, they need support, they need to reflect on failures. They need direction, someone who understands them and an eye watching them that knows the difference between adequate and amazing. They need to have someone to help put the brakes on and to ensure the peaking skills are in place when they need the performance of a lifetime, to know that they can make their anxiety work for them and they need to learn to cope with the stresses of life whilst all this is going on.
“In effect, a coach needs to be someone who shares their vision of greatness and has the time, knowledge, and resources to help them attain that. Coaching, therefore, is much more than simply programming and the development of technical skills and tactical awareness. It’s much more than just providing instruction as it involves the development of the whole person and not just the skills required to perform.”
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR IN A COACH?
For a lot of us, putting your training into the hands of someone else is quite a nerve-wracking experience. Mark advises that if you are thinking about taking on a coach to spend some time considering what you think you want from that relationship, write that down and before you commit, spend some time talking to potential coaches.
“I would suggest that you make sure at least three things are in place before pressing the button on taking on a coach for a long period. Do you like that person? Do you trust that person? Is there evidence that this person can do the job for you?
“At the end of the day, you are making an investment so as you would in any major investment, do a little research and due diligence. If your potential coach is credible, they will appreciate this as they can see that you are taking this relationship seriously.”
Ricky also stresses the importance of working with a coach that takes the time to factor your lifestyle into your coaching programme. “In short [you should be looking for] past results and a personal approach to your training and lifestyle.
“Too many coaches regurgitate information from a book without taking a client's lifestyle into the plan. We understand that fitness can be difficult to fit around work and family commitments, however there is always a way of tailoring a plan to your needs.”
Andy Sparks agrees. “There are so many great and qualified options in the coaching world today that my suggestion is simply to try to find the best fit for you. Meet with a lot of people and decide on someone who you feel you have the best connection to. My personal feeling is that the best fit is someone who can see you in person for training and lives locally, but some people might feel differently about that.
“I feel that the ideal coaching relationship should be a partnership with the coach as the advisor and mentor but also as a ‘listener’ who understands not only the science but also human psychology. The best plan in the universe will never work unless the athlete’s mind believes in the plan and has confidence in it.”
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD YOU ASK YOURSELF BEFORE HIRING A COACH?
Alongside Mark’s tips mentioned above, Andy recommends some more general questions to ask your prospective coach.
He suggests some good general questions, such as:
· Do you have experience and success in guiding individuals to reach similar goals as mine?
· How many athletes do you currently coach?
· How much access will I have to you and how much feedback will you be able to provide to me?
· Are you familiar with working with power and outlining racing and training demands?
These questions should help to build up a picture of the person’s coaching style and availability, and help you to decide whether or not you feel they will match your training needs.
HOW CAN YOU ENSURE YOU ARE A GOOD FIT FOR EACH OTHER?
Locating a good sports coach is a task within itself, but you could have the best coach in the world and get nowhere if you’re not a good fit for each other. So, how do you know if the partnership will work? Ricky states that the initial consultation is essential. “A good coach will have a format and a set of guidelines that they work with. This should appeal to you, aid you on your journey towards your goal and match your ambitions.”
It’s worth tuning in to your first impressions, but you should also take the time to be realistic about how much coaching you will need, or how much contact you feel you will need with the coach, plus whether you think you will be able to work through any disagreements with this person. “I think the combination of having a good initial feeling once a coach outlines their coaching philosophy and their ability to spend adequate time and attention on their athletes is a great place to start,” says Andy. “I really do not understand how some professional coaches can successfully coach 50-100 athletes when a national team coach would rarely ever coach more than 10, but that is just my opinion. I also think the ability to work through disagreement is also an important part of a long-term coaching relationship. In sport (and life), there is stress by nature, so the ability to work beside each other without a break-down in communication is really a must.”
Matching coach to client works both ways, so it’s important to consider whether the coach will see you as a fitting client. Ricky shares what he looks for: “As a coach I look for coachable people, people that can take advice, criticism and a willingness to work at the stuff they hate or find hard.”
WHY IS A COACH FOR EVERYONE AND NOT JUST ATHLETES?
“When I worked at the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland my ID had my name and then the French word,Entraineur(trainer). I never mentioned this to anyone, but this translation always bothered me.” Andy says, “a coach is so much more than simply a trainer.
“In that position, my job was to train athletes from a variety of cultures and coach them in life and in sport and lead by example. In my opinion, this is what coaches choose to spend their lives pursuing – helping and serving others to become their best in sport and life. For many of the athletes that I have worked with, they will not retire rich from the sport but I am hopeful they can use the lessons, values, discipline and goal-setting that sport taught them to be successful in anything in life after sport. I think being a coach is a lot more about being a teacher than just a trainer.”
Mark firmly believes that coaching is for everyone. “My client base comes from a broad church, from young people in the early stages of development through to genuinely elite athletes, British Champions, World Champions and Olympic Medal winners as well as professionals sports-people. I can genuinely say the pleasure in working with these athletes and supporting them on their journey in this phase of their lives is very special. When an athlete wins a major title there is great pleasure and pride all around and I know this will be a memory that we will all share for the rest of our lives.
“Within that broad church is a group that is just as important, they are made up of age group athletes, those who want to see how far they can get in sports, those who wish to reach their potential from a variety of start points and who are simply enthused with their sport and want to really understand it. Within this group we see those who are being held back in some way, be that technically, or from an emotional or mental block or who simply wish to use their sporting development as the vehicle by which they understand themselves better.
“These athletes are no less interesting or valuable than those who are dedicating their lives to world-class performance. The terrain may be different, but we are still working to unlock potential, to better understand ourselves and to develop skills and strategies to move past blocks in our lives. What we know about being as good as possible about something is that it takes time and it takes adherence to a process. In effect, each time we train and then recover from that training we are creating the building blocks for how good we can become; we are building toward our potential.”
Finally, Ricky adds: “An athlete is no different to Joe Blogs hitting the treadmill in the gym. They both have the same goals: to become leaner, faster and stronger. However, the reason that an athlete has progressed to such a level that seems superhuman is purely down to hard work and being guided or coached.
“Athletes still encounter obstacles and problems, but turn to a coach to overcome them. [You can do] the same if you have been stuck at a certain weight or you can’t get past an 8-minute mile. A coach can help you overcome these things very quickly by looking at them with a different perspective.”
Dr Mark Bellamy, is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Mark has been active in supporting and developing Sports-people, the Military and many performance environments over the past 25 years.
Mark has also worked with UK-Athletics across three Olympic Games providing Psychological support to their Olympic athletes. Mark was the lead Psychologist for UK-Athletics across the 2012 Olympic Games and works with athletes from a broad spectrum of sports, ages and levels of performance.
Dr Mark Bellamy is available for a free 20 minute coaching consultation. Contact him on 0794 1040013.
Ricky has years of experience in the fitness industry, having worked in in a National training role for the UK’s biggest health club. This has helped him understand his clients needs by being able to adapt the program to be fun and very beneficial towards the end target.
Ricky has helped thousands of men and women drop bad habits and build a better relationship with food and exercise, cementing fitness as a key part of their lifestyle. He says the main thing that drives him to get out of bed in the morning is being able to transform somebody who walks in on their first day at RB5 shy, negative and nervous into somebody who swaps the phrase “I can’t do that” for “what’s next?”
Andy Sparks is head coach and chief motivator at Performance United, Colorado Springs, US. Andy has led three teams at the Olympic Games, worked with talented athletes and coaches from multiple countries and cultures, and is married to eight-time World Champion and four-time Olympic silver medalist, Sarah Hammer, with whom he launched Performance United with in 2009.
Along with their team of coaches, they have assisted in producing the first-ever Korean and African World Champions, the first-ever Turkish European Champion, and the first Irish World Champion in 200 years.