blog post 2023 04 12T103557.080

There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Coached Athlete

I learned recently that only 9 percent of triathletes have a coach. This struck me as a very small number—until I learned that just 5 percent of runners have a coach. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I think this means that 91 percent of triathletes and 95 percent of runners are self-coached.

Or does it?

To some extent this question is one of semantics. But to the extent it’s not, I would argue that in fact there is no such thing as a self-coached athlete. And if I’m right, then 91 percent of triathletes and 95 percent of runners have no coach.

There are some things coaches do for athletes that athletes can do for themselves. These things include creating training plans, analyzing workouts, and learning about the sport. But there are others things coaches do for athletes that athletes cannot do for themselves—at least not as effectively. These include having the athlete’s back during difficulties, calling out the athlete’s self-deceptions, and inspiring trust.

You might have noticed that the list of coaching responsibilities that athletes can handle for themselves (though not always very well) are all technical in nature, whereas the areas in which the coach is irreplaceable are relational. Any great coach will tell you that the technical part of coaching is the least important part. Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, for example, has stated that “coaching is 90 percent creating an environment and 10 percent strategy.”

I myself am not a great coach, but for what it’s worth I agree with Kerr, and I coach in a manner that is consistent with this belief. Within just the past week I had three separate athlete interactions that illustrate my “90/10” approach to my craft. Each of these three athletes was engaging in a different form of self-sabotage. Namely: overtraining, poor adherence to pace and intensity targets, and choking. In all three cases, I concluded, the problem was rooted in a psychological blind spot within the individual. Hence, even though the problems were superficially training-specific, I focused on the underlying psychology in my efforts to help the athletes work through them.

This sort of thing is exceedingly difficult for an athlete to do on their own. And that is why I say there is no such thing as a self-coached athlete. Either you have a coach who inhabits a separate body and helps you in ways you can’t help yourself or you go it alone and miss out on the most important services that a good coach provides.

It might sound self-serving of me to state the opinion that more athletes should have coaches, but understand that I have a full client roster plus a waiting list. I’m not looking for clients. The reason I hold the opinion that more athletes should have coaches is simply that I want athletes I will never coach to enjoy the rewards and benefits of coaching. But how? What can be done to improve the statistics cited at the top of this post, doubling 9 percent to 18 percent (at least) and tripling 5 percent to 15 percent (for starters)?

80/20 Endurance is in a good position to function as the driving force of the growth I envision. We are the hub of a global community of athletes that numbers in the tens of thousands, and our reach continues to expand every day. The vast majority of these athletes have no coach, which is precisely why they’ve come to us; we are their coach, effectively. But there’s a big difference between a readymade training plan and an actual coach. Our plans are great, don’t get me wrong, but even with the supplemental resources attached to them, they can’t do most of the nontechnical 90 percent of coaching.

This is why we’ve launched our new Platinum Subscription service. It’s a natural evolution of our existing offerings, hence an easy way to level up athletes who perhaps have never worked with a coach to a light version of coaching. One of the major barriers to hiring a coach is cost, a barrier that Platinum removes with its $99/month pricing, for which athletes get access to our entire libraries of training plans and workouts, a free TrainingPeaks premium subscription, and a coach, who provides help with onboarding, plan selection, and plan customization, as well as weekly monitoring of training and as-needed check-ins. Perhaps only a handful of existing 80/20 athletes will make the leap to Platinum initially, but when athletes value something they talk, so it’s only a matter of time before Platinum subscribers represent 30 percent or more of our ever-expanding subscriber base.

We’re also working from the top down to make coaching available to more athletes. Late last year we rolled out the 80/20 Endurance Coaching Certification Course, and as I was beginning to write this piece the first students to have completed the course received their certificates. Nearly 200 students are currently enrolled in the course, but this is only the beginning. We intend to use our platform to create opportunities for 80/20 Endurance-certified coaches, going beyond educating them to provide meaningful support throughout their coaching journeys. Proof that we mean it can be found in the fact that we hired one newly certified coach, Steph Christiansen, to manage our Platinum Subscription service. Our hope is that exposing our athletes to lots of coaching options will help many of them overcome whatever resistance they might have to working with a coach and begin to enjoy the rewards and benefits of this unique type of relationship.

More to come!