Episode #119 – When Should You Make a Coaching Switch?

Episode #119 – When Should You Make a Coaching Switch?

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If your current coach’s plan seem to work and you have a good rapport, why would you make such a radical change? If your after performance gains and have an appetite for knowledge, then a new coach can serve you well.

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This was all sparked by an email I received from cyclist and listener John, and also conversations and experiences I’ve had as a coach and athlete.As an athlete I’ve been handed off to higher level coaches, only to return to my original coach. I’ve gone from self-coached to coached and back again, and I’ve ended two coaching relationships of my own accord.

As a coach I’ve taken on riders switching from other coaches, but I’ve never had a rider switch me out for a new coach…yet. And recently I had a conversation with a potential client that’s looking to switch to their 4th coach in 2 years.

It’s not always so clear though. The reasons for making a switch can be varied from ruthless performance gains and voracious knowledge gathering to plain neglect and disinterest. We’ll get to those in a moment, but for now though – here’s the email from John.

Email:

I’m a cat 2 cyclist in Wisconsin, USA who is nearly to cat 1.

During your Phil G. interview, he talks about switching coaches partway through his career because he didn’t want to spent his entire pro life with the same coach. This got me thinking.

I’ve worked hard and made gains in the past year with my current coach and I expect to continue making gains in the coming year. I take my training seriously and am committed to putting in the work to keep getting better. For an elite cyclist, when should they consider making a coaching switch?

This isn’t a simple thing for a lot of reasons. My current coach’s plan seems to work, we have a good rapport, but I’m not cycling for him, I’m trying to make myself better. I’m hesitant to make such a radical change without looking at it from as many angles as possible but I’d like to know what someone like you thinks about this. The relationship an athlete has with a coach is really important given the amount of time and money is being spent and I wonder if there are things the athlete can do to make the most of their coaching. Common questions to ask, etc etc.

In a separate email he goes on to say that:

The stakes here are for sure higher than a beginner who is looking for a coach to give fundamental guidance.

Why fix it if it isn’t broken comes to mind, but it doesn’t need to be broken to make a switch a possibility. I’m sure that Phil didn’t make a coaching switch due to a state of frustration and lackluster performance. It was likely a well thought out decision at the time.

It is a big deal John, and yes just like you’re experiencing now, not something to take lightly after the hard gains you’ve made over the past few years.

Before I get to the question though, a little background…John referenced an interview I did with Phil Gaimon found here: http://semiprocycling.com/phil @ 35:33.

From listening to it again, there doesn’t sound like there’s any particular angst behind Gaimon’s decision, but on the same hand it doesn’t gives us any clues about exactly why he made the switch.

After I conducted this interview with Gaimon, I got Colby Pearce on the show. While I was doing research for that interview I came across Peirce’s Coaching philosophies which are listed on his website.

This is the first one listed:

A coaching relationship is finite: cycling is a complex, ideological, intricate sport. Your coach paints a picture of this landscape through his perspective, which guides your training and other aspects of event preparation. This perspective will influence how you think in the sport in many ways. However, after a period of time, you will have learned most or all of what you will from a particular coach. Sometimes, an athlete will grow and learn more in their long term career if they change coaches every so often.

The period of optimal productivity may be as few as one or many seasons. Thus, it is possible there will be a period of time where one or both of us feels that it is appropriate for you to move on to other coaching. This will be a normal and healthy part of the evolution of our relationship.

As a coach I see this is as a great way to educate riders about being active in their own development. To see a coach as a finite knowledge source, and to use a coach as a resource to better yourself. Something which you state John – “I’m not cycling for him, I’m trying to make myself better”.

I also can’t help feeling that understanding was at least, implicitly built into the relationship Gaimon and Pearce had. A genuine understanding that at a certain point it will be time to move on, and at that point – no hard feelings and all the best.

Gaimon’s ambition has always been huge – and a theme you will pick up in the interview is how hungry he is for knowledge. It’s worthwhile here to mention the places he looks for this knowledge. From people that are where he wants to be. Riders that are doing the work at the level he wants to be. He talks about learning how to get serious from Jeremy Powell, and how to train for climbs with Tom Danielson.

In some ways he might have outgrown Pearce’s knowledge base. Pearce is now more experienced at World Tour level training, but at the time may have been lacking in the specific knowledge he needed to make the jump to a World Tour.

So a couple of higher level questions to tie it back to you John.

  • Have you learned most or all of what you will from your current coach?

Will training be more of the same? Are you happy with that? Are you running out of questions for your coach?

  • Does your current coach posses the knowledge of exactly where you want to be?

 
This may not be as important to you as it is to Gaimon. If it is though, has your coach been a Cat 1 in the US? Do they specialise in the type of races you want to do well in?

These two questions will give you a good starting point to think about it some more. I don’t know you well enough to understand your motivation for riding, but if you’re after ruthless performance gains and have a voracious appetite for knowledge, then a fresh pool of knowledge that a coach can bring will serve you well.

Like I mentioned at the top of the show, I made the switch when I was a junior to a higher level – in terms of position – coach. I didn’t know any better and was handed off by my original coach as part of the development process. When you’re in a development program things like this are taken care for you.

A word of warning from this experience though. Once I was handed off to another coach it lead me to being bumped around from coach to coach in certain situations. State coach at these events and training camps, National coach at other events and training camps, and no coaching at certain times.

Where my first coach was heavily committed in my success, and would of at least consulted with these other coaches rather than a blind handover. It was then actually my original coach that came back on board – and got me on the bike again after effectively retiring at 18.

So it doesn’t always work out for the best. So you have to think of whether the risk is worth it. Which also makes the process of filtering the prospects before you get a coach all the more important.

I’ve already suggested this to John, but going back and listening to episode 28 will also help. It’s called 15 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Go Coach Hunting.

The first question of that episode is…

1. Why do you want a coach?

If you are changing coaches: What are/were the reasons for the change? It is important you clearly understand why you are looking to change and what contributed to this (positive and negative)

Personal

  • Misunderstandings between you and the coach?
    • Difference of opinion, expectations, etc.
    • Were your expectations realistic?
  • Did you do the work needed to achieve the goals you had both set?

Professional

  • The coach lacked the skills and knowledge to help you meet your goals
  • Doesn’t use the technology you want to incorporate into training

I hope that helps you John. I’m going to take a bit of a detour here, but in part two next week I’ll cover things the athlete can do to make the most of their coaching.

OK, so if you’ve gone through all of that and decided to make the switch, what’s next? The logistics of switching.

How to Switch Coaches

While I was sniffing around the internet trying to find Gaimon’s current coach, which I think is Matt Koschara. I came across an interesting – on topic – post on NYVelocity.com called coach break-up argument.

Coach Break-up Argument

Racers can be fickle, even promiscuous sometimes, when it comes to coaches. And now is the time of year when racers reflect upon the past year and quantify their successes—or failures—and assign credit, or more likely, start looking for someone to blame. It’s the time of year for the “coach break up”. How have you broken up with your coach? With a short email? With a phone call? Do you take them out to dinner in a crowded restaurant? With a long, drawn out tearful discussion? Please let us know.

Well no matter whether you do it in person or via email there are a couple of must dos.

Steps to Switching Coaches

1. Inform your coach of your intentions to change coaches.

I know it sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how difficult it is for some people just to be straight up. From a coaches perspective, even if your coach doesn’t know it’s coming, they it’s coming eventually. They know it’s part of the job and will be cool with it.

2. When you do let your coach know, explain clear reasons for the change.

This will help you ease the blow, and give the coach feedback to help them with their coaching and business. Get acknowledgment from the coach that they understand the reasons for change..

3. Finalise the financial details.

Pay what you owe, and be done with it. If you don’t want to be coached to the last day of your agreement, then just walk away. If it’s a couple of days there’s no need to be a jackass. Leave on good terms. Also, you don’t have to go as far as signing an agreement but make it clear with your Present Coach that you have paid in full all outstanding bills.

4. Organise your data and collect your personal information.

This includes the logistics of the coaching software you are using, and whether your new coach is going to use the same program. It also includes knowing what happens with the software after you have ended the relationship. Has the coach been paying for your software, what happens when you stop? Do you need to start paying? Can you take your data out of the software? How do you move your data into another software option? Your new coach can help with this process.

Personal information is another area. Ask the coach to give you everything they have, and destroy all data they keep on you.

Hope this answers your first question John.

 

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