This time of year resolutions bring more people into the gym or out to train for sports than possibly any other. Many of those people, like you, consider hiring a coach for the first time but how do you know who is right to train with and why? My advice is based on a new acronym (the fitness industry seems to love them) which I’m calling RUTTE principles. All will become clear as my experience over a decade of new years stampedes sheds light on why some coaches are worth every penny, and why some people never achieve what they set out to.
Do the letters after my name mean anything to you? I mean that both figuratively and literally. Do you know what they stand for? Does it matter to you either way? It should matter, I think, that some professionals take the time and show the passion to become well qualified and accredited by national governing bodies. Personal relationships matter too. Few people spend as much concentrated time with anyone as much as with their coach/trainer. Choosing a coach simply because you get on well with them is not always the best thing for your athletic development. Truth be told, you don’t really need to like the coach much at all but I’ll come to why a little later on.
Getting back to researching… Take some time to figure out what the proposed coach is actually qualified in. The fitness industry is full of weekend courses and tick box certificates that fill out a CV impressively. Unless you can distinguish between someone with degree level education, years of professional development and a proven track record* from a good sales-person who recently did a 6 week course with a 50% pass mark, you could be in for a shock. The saying “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur” could not be more true. Your body and your health deserve the best, most attentive and experienced coach you can find and afford. Prices will be different, of course and a high price doesn't always guarantee quality. Importantly, sometimes new developing coaches are also very good and there should be more to your decision than a CV and letters after a name.
*achieving goals like yours with clients not just themselves!
It is said that people will buy from people that seem to understand them and offer something to meet those needs/wants/desires. You need to be understood by your coach. What drives you? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What is it you really want from your coach and your training? Why? Take a second to answer those questions now. After all, you should know the answers before your coach does!
If your coach sells you something that you didn't really want, was it in your interest or theirs? A good coach can educate you and change your mind but only after understanding you. To do that they need to ask questions, take time, let you answer without interruption. Coaching is seen as a bit of an art because often it’s what you don't say that is more effective.
Your sport could be long distance running or it could be ultimate frisbee. A good coach will be able to go away and do their own research, hopefully based on legitimate scientific principles, and have an in-depth understanding of your sport, what you require and how you can improve your performance most efficiently.
Once you’ve made a decision to hire a coach you will need to trust their advice and recommendations in order to succeed. This doesn't happen straight away obviously and the more different their information is to your past experience, the harder it is to fully trust it. Luckily there are ways to speed this process up, which if unsuccessful can help terminate a negative relationship before it’s really begun. Trust can be ‘passed on’ in a sort of vicarious way. Testimonials from clients like you who have had the same experiences and achieved what you are hoping for can help you feel more confident in the coach’s process. If you can’t find any, don’t be afraid to ask. Most coaches with a track record can’t wait to regale you with their success stories but be sure to see some evidence! Better still, if you’re unsure ask to speak to existing athletes/clients and see what they have to say.
My ‘strongest’ type of new athlete is one who has been personally referred by an existing client. People trust their friends, who in turn will trust their friends coach if the research and understanding have already been done.
Never forget the reason you started training. Whether for sports performance (measurable) or to increase self-confidence (subjective and intangible) you are paying for someone to help you reach those goals. Now, there are several caveats here, most notably that even the best coaches in the world can’t achieve results for you. You have to do the work. The coach should advise, support and possibly motivate you to improve but the bulk of the responsibility is yours. Money can’t buy speed, power, strength, muscle mass* or turn you into Usain Bolt.
Coaches are employed to know whether you’re getting better or not, and to understand why/why not and adjust things accordingly. To do this they must track things, measure things and test things. The ‘things’ in question will differ depending on your goals but they must be able to show you improvement over time. You in turn must trust that it is a process that WILL take time. You can start to see why understanding and trust are so important. You needn't second guess a good coach that has a wealth of knowledge and proven track record unless you aren't seeing any results in the time frame that makes sense according to biological and physiological principles. Testing should provide evidence of the effectiveness of training and reinforce your trust. Keep the bigger picture in mind here. You can’t endlessly improve all things at all times so maintain perspective.
*excluding the use of performance enhancing drugs which I am certainly not recommending!
Does your coach want you to learn? Would they be happy if you became more independent - less dependent on them? Do they care that you understand why you train the way you do? Why you run those intervals, why you lift weights that way, why the programme hasn't changed in 4 weeks?
A good coach takes the time to explain things and give reasoning. Not always there and then, that can be counter-productive to learning movements. Over time, during the coaching process as a whole and as an athlete becomes more mature, learning why you do what you do begins to matter. This ties back into building trust. Coaches can provide a solid rationale for their programmes and teaching methods to enhance an athletes buy in and belief in the system. Both parties win from this kind of relationship.
Remember these RUTTE principles when selecting and working with a new trainer/coach. Do your research, ensure you are understood, build trust and trust the process when you see results, and always learn why. All athletes want to get better. All coaches want the same.
Guest Author: Alex Adams BSc, ASCC, CSCS
Alex has worked in the fitness industry for 11 years, working with clients ranging from elite athletes to general population. Currently based at Performance Pro in London, Alex coaches olympic weightlifting and strength and conditioning as well as presenting and tutoring on both subjects.