How and why to hire a cycling coach
By Robert Annis
Cyclists are both gadget and performance obsessed; we all want the best and brightest new thing to help us on our never-ending quest to go faster. Listen to the chatter before your next group ride, and you’ll likely hear someone bragging about spending $2,000 or more on a new aero wheelset that promises to shave seconds off their 40K time-trial pace or pining for a new $4,000 carbon frame that’s a few ounces lighter than their current set up. But too few cyclists are willing to invest in something that’s practically guaranteed to help them improve.
Hiring a coach is arguably the best investment a cyclist can make, whether it’s a budding junior racer with professional ambitions, a weekend warrior looking to podium in the local crit or a masters competitor looking to out pedal Father Time for another season.
“Doctors don’t operate on themselves, and good lawyers don’t represent themselves in court,” said USA Cycling-certified coach John Singleton of ProMotion Fitness in Indianapolis. “The same goes for cyclists. If you want to excel, you need someone with a critical eye who can look at things more objectively than you can yourself. You can get bombarded with information and input from anyone and everywhere.”
Finding a coach is easy – particularly if you’re using the free “Find a Coach” function on USA Cycling’s website – but finding the right coach for you is a little harder.
Ask your fellow racers for their recommendations, but keep in mind their skill level and goals might be completely different from yours.
When searching the database, check out the coaches’ credentials -- level 1 coaches are more experienced and generally have more knowledge than a level 2 coach, who in turn, is more experienced than a level 3 coach. If you’re focused on a type of riding, such as mountain biking or track, it helps if your prospective coach has experience with that specific discipline.
Location is also a factor. Do you need a local coach who can routinely ride with you or watch you race or do you prefer someone who will simply create a personalized training plan and follow up once a week via e-mail?
One of the most important factors that’s often overlooked is personality type. Will the two of you mesh well together? Some racers prefer a coach with a drill sergeant-type demeanor, while others would prefer a more laid-back approach.
“It’s important to have a relationship with your coach,” said elite cyclo-cross racer Nicole Borem. “It’s more than just getting along. You need to be open with him about your life, about your training. I talk to my coach everyday during the season … that’s more than most people talk to their families.”
Borem has worked with two coaches over the past several years, Don Gallagher and Mark Fasczewski. A busy work schedule – Borem works up to 60 hours a week as an anesthesia nurse – means she often has as little as 10 hours a week to train. She credits proper coaching as the main reason she’s able to compete at a high level in the sport, most recently winning the Elite Women’s division in the Indiana CX Cup Series last December.
Before hiring a coach, be sure to talk to at least three, discussing your history in the sport as well as your future aspirations and any time or family obligations that might impact your training. Discuss their coaching style – what’s their approach to training, how much contact you’re expected to have -- and ask for references. Be as honest as possible and expect the same honesty in return.
“If I have a 6-foot, 120-pound 17-year-old kid who wants to someday ride the Tour de France, that could very well be a reasonable goal,” Singleton said. “But a 250-pound, 35-year-old person with the same goal isn’t realistic. A coach should help mold expectations and determine realistic goals.”
The more audacious the goal – such as winning a race series or capturing an elusive state or national championship – the sooner you need to be working with your coach, Singleton said.
If you do decide to hire a coach, realize that, ultimately, your fate is in your own hands.
“Your coach gives you a plan, but you’re responsible for your effort,” Borem said. “You can have the best coach in the world, but if you’re not putting in the work, you’re not going to see results.”
Of course, the opposite is true as well. Singleton warns most coaches actually pull constantly on the reins, trying to keep their racers from doing too much or too soon.
“A coach’s job is to see the entire forest, whereas most riders can only see trees or even limbs,” Singleton said.