Coaches Need Coaching Too

Coaches Need Coaching Too

Endurance coaching can be an awesome gig. Whenever I feel blue, I just remind myself that people pay me to ride my bike (alongside them). How many professionals can claim that?!

Many coaches in our sport came up through the pro athlete pipeline. They have a wealth of firsthand experience through participation and – perhaps more importantly – through being coached by some of the best in the business. I am not a former pro.

My path to triathlon coaching was a little more roundabout: a degree in engineering, five or so years in related fields, a dissatisfaction with my career, and a passion for the sport. A couple of tough I-don’t-know-how-I’m-paying-rent years, a super supportive partner, and a make-the-leap-and-figure-out-details-later attitude. Five years in, the X3 Team boasts a steady year-round roster, we have a great home base slash indoor training studio in the Lab, and I’m living the dream.

The more my knowledge of the physiology, the nutrition, the craft of coaching grows, however, the more I understand just how much more there is to know! Not having taken the traditional route to this career, I am mostly self-taught. I learn well from books and videos and lectures. My applied science background certainly comes in handy. I am proud of how far I have come. Still, I have sometimes felt the lack of influence and guidance of others in the profession – specifically those with a greater depth of knowledge and experience than me.

So it happened that I heard David Tilbury-Davis on Mikael Eriksson’s excellent ‘That Triathlon Show’ podcast. Episode 53, if you want to have a listen. I had of course heard of David. He is, after all, a coach who has worked with two of Canada’s brightest long-course stars: Lionel Sanders and Cody Beals. This was, however, the first time I had the opportunity to hear him speak. I liked what I heard.

David talked about splicing workouts and cognitive loads and the “overtorqued chassis”. I was aware of all of these concepts. But as I heard him explain the nuances, I began to appreciate that there were gaps in my knowledge. I didn’t love that. I took notes. Then David said something that really resonated. He spoke of the need for a professional in any field to have a mentor, a colleague (of similar ability), and a mentee. I could think of a few folks who fit the latter two categories, but I lacked a mentor.

Luckily, David and I share a mutual friend in Claire Duncan of Triathlon Magazine Canada. It often feels like Claire knows everyone in the sport! She was kind enough to make the introduction.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve been working with David now for two months. At the beginning of each month, I send him three questions. He comes back with evidence led articles, names of sport scientists to research, and – only towards the end of our back-and-forth once I have had a chance formulate my own views – his own opinion on the matter such that we can then debate the matters at hand. I really dig this approach it is like a litmus test for “Am I learning?” versus regurgitating information. Having to do some work for the knowledge makes that learning stick.

Most of my questions for him so far have had to do with exercise physiology: on topics ranging from the utility of running biomechanics intervention, to swim skill acquisition, to bike performance testing. Thanks to David, the team now asks smart questions about the interplay between their CP and their W’, and most are more than happy to never have to suffer through another 20-minute FTP test!

That knowledge acquisition piece is absolutely valuable. Yet, equally as important is the belief that by working with David I am becoming a better coach. This resonates. I often speak to our coached athletes about the importance of ‘better’. Better is measurable. Better is more reasonable than best. I like better.

I have many more questions to ask David. Brace yourself!

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