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The Importance of the Athlete – Coach Relationship

As a cycling coach it is so easy to focus on the technical details such as speed, power and aerodynamics but an often overlooked and I would argue equally important aspect is the relationship that forms between coach and athlete.

In the modern world of remote coaching packages, it is often hard to understand how a good relationship can be formed. I think all of the cycling and triathlon coaches I work with would like to be standing at the side of the road cheering their athletes on or discussing the latest performance over a coffee but often, despite our best efforts, this isn’t always possible within the confines of remote coaching. However, I have found that it is still possible to build a strong relationship by communicating frequently, making time to listen and having empathy for the people I coach.

In my 4-5 years as a cycling coach I have always found that the people who engage with me are the ones that perform the best and achieve their goals. It is such as an important aspect and in my opinion, it is at least in part for the following reasons –

  • Accountability – when a good relationship is formed the coach and athlete become accountable to each other. Neither wants to let the other down and this drives both to do their best and perform well

  • Trust – When you are asking someone to put their athletic career in your hands, they need to develop trust. This is the athlete’s passion and often a significant financial and time investment. So, they want to trust that what you are asking them to do is the right thing. This only comes with the commitment to build the relationship through listening, reassurance and honesty. It works both ways too, the coach needs to trust that feedback provided by the athlete is accurate and truthful, or the training could be wrong!

  • Enjoyment – We all need to enjoy our sports, or what’s the point?! Having a good relationship between athlete and coach makes the process so much more enjoyable and If both are having fun, they will perform much better and be motivated to succeed. A little banter (or in some case, a lot) will help take the pressure off and lift the spirits.

I have established some strong and long-lasting relationships with the athletes I coach but it doesn’t always work out. I would say that it is such an important part of coaching that when you don’t click with an athlete it is worth them moving on to a different coach, so they are more likely to achieve their goals. There isn’t a lot of point in struggling on without achieving the accountability, trust and enjoyment parts of coaching.

If you are an athlete or a coach and you are wondering how you can help to build a good coaching relationship here are a few tips –

  • Respect their time – coaches and athletes need down time away from training and numbers!

  • Be honest in your feedback – its always better to voice any doubts, health concerns or areas for improvement than to press on in silence

  • Say thank you – I always try to thank my athletes for their hard work and its nice when they thank me back!

  • Be adaptable – Sometimes people need more support, sometimes they need less and its ok to adapt your approach depending on what is going in their training and personal lives

  • Ask questions – none of us are mind readers so its important to ask questions if you have any doubt, for example, ‘why am I doing this session?’, ‘how can I do it better?’, ‘how are you feeling?’ and ‘anything I can help with?’ etc.

Hopefully this has provided a few ideas and got you thinking about the important of the coaching relationship. It takes time, it takes effort, but even with remote coaching it is possible and well worth it. Often, it could be the vital part that’s missing…

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