The Coaching Change
Over the past 2 years, I have been trying to “make it” as a professional triathlete. I have been extremely fortunate to have the support of Matt Dixon, one of the best coaches in the business, top pro triathletes as mentors, amazing sponsors, friends, and family. Unfortunately my pro career hasn’t panned out quite as I had hoped – or had expected. After every bad race (there have been quite a few) I try to figure out what I can do to turn things around. I have overhauled my diet, focused more on strength, cut my hours at my “real” job, and started going to bed before 8:30 almost every night (my poor husband). All of those changes SHOULD have helped me see progress, but after DNFing at Ironman Mont Tremblant this year I realized there was something I was missing. I had been sick a few weeks before so it wasn’t super surprising that I didn’t feel like I had the endurance, but it was more than that. I KNEW I didn’t have the endurance to RACE Ironman, at least not at the pro level. I was heavier than when I was racing as an amateur and although I tried to stay positive, I just knew my fitness wasn’t where it should have been. My head wasn’t either.
Drive to Tahoe to cheer on Ironman!
It took me awhile to realize, but what I finally figured out I needed was a major overhaul – not of my diet, but of my triathlon experience. I realized I was going to races with the baggage of all the bad performances, even if I tried to convince myself I was upbeat and ready to go. If I’m completely honest I can’t remember the last time I lined up on a start line and felt like I was 100% ready to RACE. To really change I had to eliminate all the aspects of my training and racing that were associated with any negativity, starting with my coach.
Time to indulge in Tahoe with some hot chocolate and of course whipped cream!
When I signed on with Matt hundreds of athletes were requesting his coaching services. To be honest I was a little surprised he wanted to work with me – I mean this guy was coaching Meredith Kessler and Linsey Corbin! Normally I’m much more of a sandbagger by nature, but in 2010, with fewer than 10 triathlons on my race resume, when Matt asked me what I wanted in this sport, I boldly answered I wanted to be the next Meredith Kessler. I think he saw a spark in me and thought he could get me to realize that dream.
Team Sheeper Pumpkin ride - 2,000ft climb with these babies on my back
Things started well and I had great results my first year working with him. Then I went pro and things changed. I had a few bad races early and struggled with illness – trying to train like a pro and work full time wasn’t happening. We kept tweaking the plan, but as time went on,it seemed nothing worked. I was losing fitness and I felt like I was a disappointment. By the time this summer ended I was actually thinking, “I wonder if Matt will just tell me he can’t work with me anymore”. I definitely was NOT the next Meredith Kessler, and I knew he had lost confidence that I ever would be. All I could think about was how I was the black mark on his otherwise stellar coaching resume. Now Matt never told me he didn’t think I could succeed, and the idea that he no longer believed in me was probably more of my projecting my loss in confidence on him. However, once you feel like your coach has lost the faith, even if it’s not true, how can you possibly be successful staying in that environment?
view from my 2nd coast Ride ever - can't wait to do another one in January
Luckily my fix was just around the corner. An amazing teammate of mine, Mike Osmond (remember him from VIP#5) knew I was struggling physically and mentally. He spotted when I hit the crossroad and pulled me in a new, more positive direction. He convinced Tim Sheeper (former pro triathlete, current Kona qualifier, Xterra Age Group World Champion, soon to be Ultraman finisher, etc….) and Ian Hursey (also Kona Qualifier and MAJOR data head) to work together to be my coaching collaboration. Now instead of 1 coach, I have 3. All 3 of my new coaches want nothing more than to see me succeed. There are no expectations, just belief that, with their help, I can accomplish my goals.
In Portland to promote the amazing women's endurance brand, Coeur!
It was an extremely hard decision to leave Matt – partly because I’ve retained some of that Midwestern loyalty and partly because I was worried that if I couldn’t succeed with Matt, I might not be able to succeed at all (which might be the case, but I want to find out for sure :)). Once the decision was made and we had “the talk” I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. All of a sudden I wasn’t a disappointment anymore. I was just another pro triathlete trying to work hard and do my best.
Please understand my intention is NOT to give you a bad impression of Matt AT ALL. He’s an AMAZING coach, and I learned so much in the 2 ½ years I worked with him. In the end he just wasn’t the right coach for ME. During this transition I have thought a lot about the coach athlete relationship and what things should be considered when choosing the person who can best guide you to reach your athletic goals, whatever they might be. I made a list of the top 5 most important things (in my opinion) to consider (or not to consider) when finding a coach or getting the most from the one you already have.
Don’t fixate on the winner’s coach – You see who is performing well, or maybe who has made the most progress and you want their secret. I think that’s natural, and often it is because at the heart of the progress is a really great coach.. However, as I have learned even the best coaches aren’t necessarily the best option for everyone. My point is not that you shouldn’t work with the winner’s coaches, just that you shouldn’t think you have to in order to be successful.
Find someone local – I’m not saying it won't work to work with a long distance coach– for some people a local coach isn't an option. However, if you really want a hands on coaching experience, you need to work with someone who can see you regularly. Now I train 2-3 times per week with my three coaches and meet with them in person once a week. They see how I’m performing, when I look tired, or when I can handle more. This gives me so much more confidence in my program because I know THEY KNOW what’s going on with me. Sometimes e-mails just aren’t enough.
Talk to the coach’s former athletes – it’s almost more informative to find out why people DON’T work with a coach anymore. Did they have a negative experience or did they love it and just decide to move on? Does the coach have too many athletes? How much personal communication was there? Having this knowledge might help you to have a more productive and successful relationship with this coach.
Don’t be a passive participant – your coach is really only as good as the feedback you provide. This is actually one of the reasons it works better for me to have a coach (or coaching collaboration) I see regularly. I don’t like to be a nuisance or “bother’ my coach with lots of e-mails and questions. If I see my coach regularly, he doesn’t have to guess at how I’m feeling, it’s right in front of his face. Although I trained with Matt once a week, we rarely had time for a conversation. I’d try to send him a weekly recap or drop a line when workouts either went really poorly or really well, but that’s not enough.
Trust your instincts – if you feel like something isn’t going right with the plan – speak up! Ask for changes that will help your schedule. As one of my new coaches said, “you have to be your own advocate”. If things don’t work, don’t be afraid of a change. Staying with the wrong coach is like dating the wrong person. If you hang on because you are afraid of being alone or don’t want to hurt the other person, you aren’t doing yourself or them any favors. Free yourself to find the one who is best suited for you. And free your coach to find the athlete who needs the program
My VIP for this blog of course has to be Matt Dixon. Here I am with coach after winning the 2011 70.3 World Championships.
Even though I am moving on, I am so grateful to have been able to work with Matt of these past 2 years. I have learned so much about the sport, how to push myself, what kind of person I am, and what kind of person I need to be to succeed. Matt has built an incredible coaching business (www.purplepatchfitness.com) where he offers something for everyone. He has taken couch potatoes to athletes, mediocre age groupers to championship race qualifiers, and age groupers to top pros. There is no doubt the athletes he has now will see so much success in the future and I can't wait to continue cheering on my old coach and his team! Best of luck to Matt and all your athletes. Thank you for everything!
Buffalo Springs Lake - 7th
4/13/14 - Florida 70.3