my mentor houshang amiri

Choosing a coach

Choosing a coach

Choosing a triathlon coach is a process similar to a job interview. Finding the right triathlon coach is an important first step in working toward your goals.  If an athlete and a coach are well matched, it is certain that athlete can go on to reach potential.  However, even the greatest athletes and coaches can be mismatched and find their results together aren’t optimal. Knowing what you should ask potential coaches will help you find the right fit.

my mentor houshang amiri
I have learned a lot about coaching and training from Houshang Amiri, a brilliant cycling coach based in Victoria, BC and owner of Pacific Cycling Center.

Questions to ask when looking for a triathlon coach

Finding the right coach involves asking some important questions of yourself and the candidate.  I compiled a list of questions to ask yourself, and some to ask the coach, when you are looking for a coach to guide your training in the upcoming season.

  1. What do I need?

This is the first question to ask yourself.  A wide variety of training programs are available to athletes, ranging from cookie-cutter, computer generated plans to a hands-on, on-deck, full time coach.  Deciding what type of coaching relationship you want is your first decision.

Melanie McQuaid coaching junior elite triathletes
One on one with some junior triathletes. If you don’t get one on one time with a coach – it might be worth going to a camp to get some time.

Triathlon is a technical and aerobic sport.  I advise all new and beginner triathletes to join a triathlon group or club for at least a year, to learn some of the ins and outs of the sport from other triathletes.  There is so much you can learn from observing and participating in a club environment and less need for a specific program when you are in the early stages of training.

To start off in the sport, focus on creating technical skills, race knowledge, and general triathlon fitness.  A more generalized program in a group environment is great for beginners to learn all of these things, if it is available.  Another great place to get some one on one coaching in a group environment is a triathlon training camp.  Investing some vacation time and money into a camp is a great way to immerse yourself in the sport and cram a lot of knowledge into a few days.

melanie mcquaid coaching Penticton ITU Multisport Worlds Camp
Athletes at the ITU Multisport Worlds Camp in Penticton that Jeff and I coached had fun, learned a lot, and got fitter ūüôā
Intermediate to advanced triathletes

After a few years of building your aerobic base and knowledge, you may want to look at ways to optimize the time you have available.  At this point, you may need to look at a more personalized training program that maximizes your available training time to pursue your potential.  This is the time when a personal coach is most valuable, and worth the investment.

With some experience, you know what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Evaluate them, and use that information to make your coaching decision.  Think about what you need to change so that you can present your case to potential coaches, find out what they would do to improve your racing, and then decide whose approach you believe will work.

Keep in mind that swimming, biking, and running in a triathlon is different than racing in those pure sports.  A triathlon coach is going to be a better bet than working with a sport-specific coach without triathlon experience.

melanie mcquaid and kelly guest coach athlete relationship
I’m one on one with my coach Kelly Guest of Livefit Coaching.
  1. How am I motivated?

Some athletes are very intrinsically motivated with  little trouble motivating themselvesx.  Others are more extrinsically motivated and need to feed off the energy of a group to get themselves going.  Think about what you need to get the most out of yourself and use that in making your decision.

You may complete more workouts if you have a group to meet on certain days of the week.  In this case, even if the workout isn’t exactly tailored for you, that group option may be a better option.  A personalized training program that you can’t get motivated for is not going to work.  Choose what will be most effective for you when it is time to do the work.

  1. What kind of coaching style and personality do I like?

Interview any potential coach to see if you communicate well with him or her and if you think you will get along well with them.  There can be stressful times during a race season and knowing that you can work through problems with that person is important.


Find out how each prospective coach communicates. ¬†If you don’t understand the workouts and don’t complete them correctly, you aren’t getting specific coaching. ¬†You need a coach that communicates and explains what they want you to do in a manner you can understand completely.

Coaching style

Find out if your coach is a metrics driven coach or more of a process coach, and decide if that is what you want to do.  Some coaches like to deliver workouts using a variety of metrics to determine the workload and on the opposite end of the spectrum, others prefer to have athletes train without metrics and by feel.  Decide how much science and objective measurement you want in your training and whether you coach can deliver that to you.  Ultimately, great coaches can come from both ends of this spectrum, so it depends on what you can believe in.

training with power
Find out if you coach understands training with power on the bike.

Research the coach’s background.  How much education, years of experience, and what kind of experience does the coach have in your discipline of triathlon.  You can expect a much different coaching experience from a veteran of the sport versus someone who picked triathlon up three years ago and decided to start sharing their three years of experience.


Decide what kind of person you want to work with and what level of experience you expect.  Apply subjective factors to the equation because even if their CV is perfect, the coach/athlete relationship requires good chemistry or it will never work.  You need to appreciate your coach’s personality, or lack thereof.

  1. What commitment can I make and what commitment do I expect?

Outline your expectations of commitment to the program and that of your coach.  If you have ten other things more important than your daily workout every day, it is unreasonable to expect your coach to prioritize your training.  Commitment is ultimately a two-way street and generally both the athlete and the coach should agree on what level of commitment is expected and adhered to.

Melanie McQuaid Melrad Racing Coaching juniors
Spending a day with some talented juniors in New Brunswick

Choosing a triathlon coach is an important first step in creating the road map to your goals.  A great coach is a strong ally to help you make your dreams a reality.  Take your time, make a decision, and then make a strong commitment to working together over the long term.  Finding your potential in triathlon is not going to happen in one season.  A great coach is not only going to help you get the most out of yourself physically, that coach is a big part of your life while you work together.  Find someone that you feel is not only going to make your performances better but will contribute positively to your life.



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