Why Endurance Athletes Need Coaching Year Round
After a long season of training and racing, endurance athletes tend to take a coaching break. Looking back on my former athletic careers, however, I never stopped being coached. After my final gymnastics meet of the year, I made it to the gym the next week. My coaches changed the focus of practice. Instead of time spent nailing specific routines, we had fun attempting new skills. We also worked on getting stronger with pull-up and wall-sit competitions. After my final tennis tournament of the year, I still showed up to practice the next week. We played hockey on the tennis courts, and hit the beach for a 20 minute run in exchange for slamming backhands down the line. I spent my private lesson analyzing my matches and how I could improve my future performances. I welcomed the fun, creative changes to the daily training load.
Coaching, no matter the sport, is all about helping the athlete make consistent gains year after year. It does not stop once you cross your final finish line of the season. My gymnastic and tennis coaches would not allow me back to the gym or on the courts if I told them I was just going to take a break for a couple months. Likewise, my endurance coach, Elliot Basset, feels the same way, "Coaching an athlete who takes a 1 to 3 month break from coaching is difficult. An athlete’s training, or lack thereof, has already begun when they resume training with their coach. This doesn't leave anytime to go back and revamp the training layout if the original design was poor."
Endurance coaching goes far beyond crafting a twenty-week training program to peak on race day. A coach brings perspective, wisdom, analysis, accountability, structure and support that cannot be limited to a specific block of time. So what exactly can a coach provide once the season ends?
First off, structure, which may actually mean not having structure. A non-structured training plan provides athletes with flexible guidelines. If the weather is beautiful then biking may be training of choice. If an early morning masters class does not sound appealing, but sleeping in does, that can be okay during the off-season.
Type-A endurance athletes can feel lost if they login to a blank TrainingPeaks with no daily goals. Continuing to set goals, albeit very different then race season goals, helps to keep some focus. Weekly goals can include trying new activities like snowshoe running, hiking, or hot yoga. Another weekly goal could be emailing your coach races that spark an interest and why. Goals provide focus. Focus can provide purpose. Purpose is needed during both race season and off season.
During the transitional period, my schedule still includes weekly goals while putting limits on what I can or cannot do. A week may resemble this:
Swim 0-2 times, no more then 2.5k
Bike 0-1 times to a local bakery
Don’t run every day
Hit the gym with single leg exercises
Secondly, a proper off-season can set you up for a successful season ahead. A coach can initially require rest and time away from the specific sport. Rest, along with specific training, takes coaching. Sometimes it can be more difficult to mandate rest then doing a painful VO2 max intervals on the bike. An athlete without guidance can easily enter into an overtraining state. This could lead to early season burn out and underperformance race day.
On the other side of a spectrum, you could lose virtually all fitness by taking too long of a break and not using the off season to make proper gains. The off season can be a great time to focus on limiters, but so often athletes prefer doing their strengths. If my coach did not guide me during the off-season, I would neglect swimming and biking and solely run!
The off season is also a great time for coaches to devise more frequent strength training, while working on correcting imbalances. Additionally, time can be spent developing a strong base and a better aerobic engine. What an athlete does or does not do can have a huge effect on the next season’s performance. A coach will provide the athlete with proper balance between recovery, exercise, and training.
Finally, an in-depth analysis of the year is crucial for making consistent progress. At the end of the season, you and your coach are left with a blank canvas. You can spend time going back to the drawing board and begin the construction of a beautiful piece of art. To help the construction of a great season ahead, completing an end of the season questionnaire provides valuable feedback for the coach and athlete. Example questions include:
What worked well?
What changes can be made?
What workouts did you enjoy the most?
What kills your motivation?
What are your short and long term goals in and out of sport?
After completing the questionnaire, you and your coach can learn a lot in a short period of time. The season review can help the coach begin the planning process for the upcoming season. This season planning does not happen in ten minutes or with little thought. A schedule with multiple races requires proper balance and expectation management. It may take numerous phone calls to solidify the season’s race schedule and goals.
With the help of a balanced plan, solid foundation and powerful questioning, you can be set up for a successful season ahead.