Photo courtesy of Kevin Mackinnon
by Jesse Kropelnicki
Ed. Note—today we have another piece from QT2 Systems founder and head coach, Jesse Kropelnicki, about an incredibly important topic: how do you establish trust between coach and athlete, when stakes are high and training resources seemingly limitless?
As the stakes in our sport have risen, and triathlon has become more and more competitive, there has been a commensurate increase in the number of athletes seeking coaching to help them achieve their goals. To meet this demand, the number of available coaches has also greatly increased. The number of possible coach/athlete relationships has grown exponentially, and it is therefore extremely important that these bonds are as strong as possible, to ensure that the athlete’s success is fully maximized.
In my mind, trust is the single most important concept in these coach/athlete relationships. When I, or one of my coaches, begin working with a new athlete, we always lay the groundwork for the following two-way relationship: 1) the athlete must have 100% trust that the program being provided will result in the achievement of the athlete’s goals, and 2) the coach has to trust that the athlete will execute the program, as planned, with the intended intensities and volumes. If there is any doubt, in either direction of the coach/athlete relationship, it is likely that the athlete will not make nearly as much progress as they could. Furthermore, both the coach and athlete will become frustrated with the relationship, and overall lack of progress. Regardless of the protocol used, in the end, the coach/athlete bond of trust will define the progress that the athlete will or will not make.
In my experience, I have found that many athletes have a very difficult time granting their trust completely, because real long-term progress is a slow (but rewarding) process. Many athletes are very impatient and want results too quickly. Typically, in this quest, athletes will undermine long-term progress, by doing inappropriate volumes and intensities, ending up injured and/or burnt out. I firmly believe, and advise athletes, that they should not pursue a coach unless they are ready and willing to give their coach full reign of their training: 100%. If not comfortable with this, then I would recommend either not using a coach, or finding a coach with whom that trust can be readily established. Here is a more detailed view of the two-way trust concept:
1) Athlete Trust: The athlete must have complete trust in the coach, and firmly believe that he or she is being given the most appropriate, and comprehensive, training program available. The athlete must believe that the coach is not holding anything back. That if the coach believed that there was a better way to do things, then that is what he or she would have the athlete do. Failure to allow this level of trust, leads to impatience, non-compliance to the intended training plan, and sub-par results.
2) Coach Trust: The coach must be able to trust that the athlete is completing the intended volume, no more no less, at the intended intensities, no harder no easier. When an athlete violates this trust, by doing the workouts at the wrong intensities, switching around workouts without telling the coach, or adding or subtracting volume, injuries or bad race performances come up, and the coach is left scratching his or her head trying to figure out what went wrong. It becomes very difficult to adapt the training program, as a coach, based on outputs if you don’t know what the inputs were (or how they were carried out by the athlete). At times it is significantly worse for a coach to think that they know what the inputs are, and be wrong, than to be aware of what the athlete has actually been doing, and how the developed training program has been utilized.
Out of all of the concepts involved in world class coaching, I think that this one is right at the top of the list. Regardless of the training protocol used or the coach chosen, this is a common but powerful concept that can be embraced by all athletes and coaches.