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January 26, 2012 | Triathlon Training Blog

Finding “Mr. or Mrs. Right”

If you’re looking for a triathlon coach to guide you this upcoming triathlon season, you will find no shortage of suitors.

With the sport of triathlon exploding with newcomers, triathlon coaching has become an even bigger business.

In San Diego, a triathlon mecca, triathletes can train side-by-side with the biggest names in the sport and be coached under the wings of former Olympians, world-class Professionals and elites—provided they can afford their coaching fees.

There is also no shortage of online coaches, including accomplished triathletes, who woo you with promises of “customized workouts,” “peak performances,” “unlimited personal emails and phone calls,” and ways to analyze and track nearly everything.

It all sounds so great, you end up signing up for six months, all paid in advance. Then you find out that your plan doesn’t seem so customized after all, your communication just isn’t flowing and you aren’t getting the attention you were promised.

Your coach is dating too many others and you want out of this relationship.

But now you’re stuck till the end of your big race do you part. Ok, so the bright side is that even in bad relationships, there is something to be learned.

But sometimes it pays asking the hard questions upfront to see if Mr. or Mrs. Right is truly right for you—at least for this triathlon season.

It’s definitely a plus to be able to look your coach in the eye when you’re asking these questions, but many triathletes have had great success with online coaching as well.

Not having grown up with the Internet, I still prefer the face-to-face time with my coach, Sergio Borges. I like it that he provides constructive criticism and watches my running form every Thursday morning. He has known me for a few years now, so he can tell just by looking at me when I’m tired.

Everyone has their list of priorities of what’s important to them in a coach, but there are definitely some items you don’t want to ignore when shopping around.  

Here is my list of what to ask upfront and hopefully this will help you too:

A solid combination of first-hand experience and education

Your coach should have a solid understanding of training phases, basic biomechanics (preferably have access to an expert consult like a physical therapist), and be able to suggest drills and exercises to improve upon technique in all three sports.

A USAT certification

If not USAT-certified, a coach should have an exercise science background or degree in exercise science or physical education, or have earned a certification from a nationally accredited organization such as the American Council on Exercise.

Time for You

Your coach’s client list should leave room for individualized attention. Your questions should be answered in a timely manner (24-hour period) and you shouldn't feel like you're not getting your money's worth.

Training Philosophy

Gain a solid understanding of the coach’s training philosophy, training plans and fees. Make sure the plan fits your specific needs, time to train, and personal expectations and budget.


Some coaches are very scientific and technology-oriented; others believe in training clients “by feel.” If you’re the type of person who enjoys analyzing each bike ride, run and swim using computerized gadgets, your coach’s philosophy should reflect that.

Love at First Sight

You should be able to connect with your coach. If you can’t build trust and communicate well, you won’t be happy.

Meet Your Needs

Your coach should meet your needs. If you’re the type of person who wants a coach/psychologist who will comfort you when training isn’t going well or you had a bad race, you need to find a coach with a personality to reflect that. If the coaching style doesn’t match your personality style, your relationship will suffer.


If you don’t think your coach has enough knowledge to create desirable outcomes and enhance your performance, find someone who can.

Athlete’s roster

Some coaches have achieved great results with gifted athletes. Find a coach you can communicate with and your experience will shape your results.


Your goals should be established early on to create realistic and achievable outcomes.

Now what are you waiting on?

The Right Coach is waiting! Next week, I'll introduce my coach, Sergio Borges, and what's behind his training philosophy. Stay tuned!

By Marion Webb
Marion Webb

Marion Webb is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Webb has worked as a longtime award-winning business journalist, covering fitness, small business, health care and biotech issues. A competitive age-group triathlete and two-time ITU Long Distance World Championship qualifier, Webb competes mostly in the Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and (140.6 miles) Ironman distances.

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