Coaching professionals offer an array of skills and knowledge to help athletes reach their goals. Sure, understanding the latest science and how workouts produce specific stimuli is absolutely the key for athlete improvement, but a close second is how you communicate with your athletes.
Clear and consistent communication between an athlete and a coach is essential to a successful relationship, and will ultimately lead to better performance. Your job is more than designing productive workouts. You should be holding an athlete accountable for their workouts, their goals, and their preparation. When a coach can clearly define what they need from the athlete and the athlete hears this message repeatedly, there is a stronger probability for success. Are you making it happen?
Use these tips to make sure you’re prepared for your next meeting with your athlete:
1. Get to know your athlete
At the start of each weekly session, whether in person or on the phone, invest some of your time asking about the athlete, their life, and any other facets that make the athlete whole. You will pick up a few keys into why the workouts are going well or not going well.
Don’t underestimate this “small talk” because you will get to know your athlete better and be able to shape their training accordingly.
2. Start with the basics
When looking over stats, start with the basics. How is sleep going? Does the athlete have a lot of unhappy faces after workouts on TrainingPeaks? What do the overall weekly hours look like? From there, take a look at the Performance Management Chart (PMC). Is their Training Stress Balance (TSB) positive over the last 30 days? If it’s been positive for weeks, is the athlete missing workouts or going too easy when completing the workouts?
Using simple metrics, you will be able to piece together the story of your athlete’s performance far better than focusing on just a few.
3. Then, get into the details
When you get into the details of a single workout, take all the metrics into account. Let’s use cycling as an example. What does the power or heart rate file tell you? Did the athlete complete the workout as written? Does the projected Training Stress Score (TSS) equal the actual TSS? Is the cadence in the range you want the athlete to be in? How about the Variability Index (VI) and Intensity Factor (IF)—are they in the acceptable range? I typically go “by the book” on these metrics with cadences in the 88 to 92 RPM range, while the VI should be under 1.10 and closer to 1.02 for a flatter course.
Here is your chance to be an expert, and you should be the expert! Know the subject and have evidence and data to defend your points.
4. Don’t wing it
Have a plan for each conversation you have with your athlete. Prepare! What did you see in the TrainingPeaks notes? What stands out to you? What do you think the athlete can do better? If the athlete seems like they have reached a plateau talk about how you’ll help them break through. Let the athlete know the game plan; be open and honest about what the training will look like over the next week, ten days, or even month to help them achieve their goals. Spell out long-term goals for swim paces, bike power, and heart rate goals for specific sessions, and lay out the same details for run paces and heart rates.
Communicate clearly what the goals are and how to approach the next week of training.
5. Focus on the positive
Finally, remember to emphasize the positive as you discuss areas for improvement. Always begin a comment with a positive statement: “The workouts look like they went well. You really hit the paces as you should have and I’m impressed given how tired you are from the recent workload.” Even if you are really focused on the fact the cadence wasn’t where you want that to be, bring that up second: “One easy thing to work on over the next few weeks is bringing that cadence up. Once you do that, you’ll see the pace will be even quicker.”
Giving positive feedback and then following up with something that the athlete can work on will go a long way toward the athlete staying motivated and keeping your conversations efficient and effective over the course of a season.
As I mentioned, understanding the science of the sport is essential to properly design an athlete’s workouts, however, the art of coaching comes into play as you manage communication with your athletes. It’s the “one-two power punch!” Following these five pointers will help you develop a solid coach-athlete partnership yielding results the athlete hired you to help them achieve.