Thursday, February 16, 2012

Coaching and a Coach's Athletic Success

An anonymous poster to the blog (called himself "Ralph") questioned if a coach who hasn't won races him/her self is a "good coach."  I put the question to my Facebook friends, many of whom are gold medalists at various competitions, NCAA champions, and hard core, bad ass MFers.

Great coaches - in my opinion - get their people ready for races physically and mentally.  Additionally, they get their folks ready for "the experience".  There are some coaches who are world champions: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Karen Smyers, Tim DeBoom, Luc van Lierde, Jimmy Riccitello, Siri Lindley and Peter Reid - just to name a few.  So, if that is your benchmark for a "good coach" those folks are out there for you.

Here is what I stated/asked....
Interesting comment from a blog reader asking if someone who isn't in the front of the pack (FOP) should be coaching. By that logic, Lou Holtz never should have coached football at Notre Dame at 5'6" and 130# and I don't see them giving back their national title any time soon. How many of any of us are FOP in our field?

Here are their responses: 
Nate:  The best at anything tend not to make the best coaches, anyway. Sure, some do. But, leading/mentoring/coaching is a 180-degree mindset compared to being the best individual contributor. The majority of the best coaches were categorically not the best players. But they were typically the best students of the game.  

Nate is a multiple time NCAA Div. III Champion, has won the Chicago Triathlon (fastest amateur) and raced as a pro triathlete before turning to pro cycling events.

Mike J:  What a naive thing to say. Being an athlete and being a coach are very different disciplines. Success in one is no predictor of success in the other.

Mike is a successful business owner and finisher of a staged cycling event that was as follows 100km, 200km, 300km, 400km, 500km.

Jay A: The best coaches know how to inspire and get the most out of the talent they are working with and how the competition will perform at the event. Those at the front of pack had a coach, most likely the a high caliber one, not the best at the performing in the sport.

Jay is a successful business person and rapidly improving amateur cyclist. 

Laura D:  To be a coach implies a selfless act: you are putting aside energy that could be spent on your own athletic pursuits, instead you give that energy and direction to others . It is the highest form of athletic achievement.

Bob, I wouldn't have had any success at Ironman had it not been for the coaching expertise I got from Mike McCormack, Gordo Byrne and your swimming and running knowledge. Now, 10 years later, I am struggling with the effects of menopause and age and I realize that impartial guidance will help me achieve modest athletic goals . That requires coaching. Your blogger obviously lacks the ability to see that talent in coaching requires more than a podium place at a random moment in time.

Laura is a multiple Ironman finisher including New Zealand, Lake Placid, Canada and Kona - and I'm sure others that I'm forgetting.  

Omar A: You'd be a great coach, Rob, I hate an idiot that says good athletes should be the only coaches. I hate Internet trolls.

Omar is a professor and former teammate of mine at the Univ. of Missouri.  

Brian M:  ...ask your Blog reader to name one FOP athlete now coach and he will have an answer his question. Of all the Olympic coaches I have met I don't recall one of them being an FOP athlete...above average and even really good some but not one FOP I should say successful coach.

"Brian" is world class swimmer.  His records at the high school he went to stand 30 years later - and are in no danger any time soon.  He was nearly on several Olympic swimming teams, meaning he was one of the best swimmers in the world.

Tamirra S:  Coach Bob became my coach after a pro triathlete, who shall remain nameless, gave up on me. He/She was a pro and yet a very poor coach. Coach Bob, however, coached me right after that when I was right on the edge of giving up on myself. I figured if a pro doesn't believe in me, I must not be any good. BUT through Coach Bob's support, I stayed in triathlon and have since finished three Ironman races. I will say that as many times as I need to. Pros do not necessarily make good coaches.  Oops. Not to toot my own horn but I finished four, not three, Ironman races. I swear I'm not correcting this to be narcissistic; I'm just a copy editor. Going on five in three weeks!! Yikes!! No bike crashes, eh Coach?

My own results: 

For my own results, I feel I should respond to dispel any misinformation.

For the record, (we'll just look at Ironman races for the ease of data) my finishes at Ironman races have been pretty good.  So, I'm not sure if the swipe at MOP finishing coaches is at me or not.  But, if it is... here are some facts... courtesy of  #1 = Ironman Canada, #2 = Ironman USA Lake Placid, #3 = Ironman Wisconsin, #4 Ironman Triathlon World Championship

My finishes at Ironman races (the one missing from this graph was Great Floridian where I was 138th overall in a real "learning experience" Ironman.  That graph is below.  I went off course and ran a few extra miles on the marathon.  My fault.  I knew which way to go and didn't question the volunteer when guided onto the 1/2 IM course.) The red represents who I was behind.  The blue - who I "beat".  Ironman #4 here is Kona.  Where I was housed - reader's note - this was my first Ironman and first marathon.  

In triathlon, I qualified for the Inaugural Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, FL.

In swimming, I've won open water races of 1 mile, 2 miles, 6 miles and 9.5 miles.  I had the 1 mile record at Lake in the Hills at one time.  (Probably was beaten the following year.) 

Here is a view of just St. Croix 1/2 Ironman (now 70.3) finishes... St. Croix is a race LOADED with Ironman hopefuls from the USA, South America and Europe.  It is a truly difficult race in conditions and 
competition.  How did I do?

In cycling, I've never won anything, but I've done pretty well in some time trials and two man time trials against hard core cyclists.  Still...

Hardly MOP. 

Since 2006, I really haven't worked out with any regularity.  I've been coaching and working too much.  Life requires balance.  I haven't had that for at least six years.  Arguably, since 2003.  It's easy to get lazy.

Lastly, I know that some coaches "taper" for every race as they are worried about their "reputation" as a racer.  Personally, I don't give a shit.  I train for my most important race and other races are truly "training races".  I'd rather put it all into one race and have heavy legs in other events.  Winning the local 5k or Olympic distance triathlon isn't that important to me.  

In my opinion, 

#1 is the health of my athlete, 
#2 is that they had a great experience (as well as their family/friends), 
#3 they learned something, 
#4 results.  

I know I'm not the coach for every athlete.  I'm good with that.  My athletes and alumni athletes refer a ton of business to me, so I must be doing something right.  Find the right coach for you.


  1. There is a need for every level of coach.
    It's up to the athlete to seek the master of their own path...

  2. I was drinking the kool-aid until the part about you going to Missouri... ;)

  3. Ryan - that's ok. Had several friends go to KU. One guy was a swimmer, at Big 8s his goggles broke and I threw him mine. (just like at home - same club team) Got all kinds of dirty looks. I told everyone in the crowd from KU who was glaring at me, "Back off. We are both from Chicago." Later in that meet, we ran out of "motion lotion" if you remember that stuff. He handed me the bottle from KU right out of their medical kit. KU coach who was right there said, "Well... he helped you. OK."