Coach-Athlete Communication

Coach Melissa Mantak prioritizes communication with her athletes above all else, particularly in the onboarding process. Find out more about the different levels of coaching she offers at The Empowered Athlete, and how communication plays out.

“I write it into my agreements that I have with athletes—
two-way, honest, consistent communication is critical to their success and my ability to help them be successful.”

—Melissa mantak

Video Transcript

Intro to Melissa Mantak and The Empowered Athlete


For me, the the coach athlete communication is critical. It’s it’s a cornerstone to what we do. In fact, I write it into my agreements that I have with athletes—that two-way honest, consistent communication is critical to their success and my ability to help them be successful.

I started out as a coach working for another coaching company, Carmichael Training Systems, CTS. I learned an awful lot there, both what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do. When I was coming up with my own business, I was asking, What do I call my business, and what does my business do for people? I got down to the very basics of it, and decided that I empower the athlete within people. So, the name of my business is The Empowered Athlete.

Melissa’s coaching clients


I currently coach about 30 to 35 athletes, and that’s a balance of different levels of coaching based on how much time they want with me, basically. So, some people are more time intensive, some people are less, and so I can balance a larger group of people. This is what I do full time, this is all I do right now, for from my work.

I’ve coached athletes from around the world, so that remote coaching athlete relationship is a challenging relationship, especially that with the communication piece. It makes it even more critical to make sure that I understand what they’re doing, and they can tell me what they’re doing. It’s also important that I can see the data that meshes with what they are actually doing. I can help them move forward in an appropriate way with their training.

Coaching fee structure and communication


When I was putting my business together, I thought, “How do I charge people?” So I decided that it was going to be based on the amount of time that they had with me, whether it was in person, or just communication time. Although I prefer more communication, because I think we both get more out of the relationship, I do have athletes who don’t want a lot of communication, they don’t need a lot of oversight. They’re experienced athletes, they don’t need a lot, or it’s wintertime, and they just want to do some classes and do some different things a little bit with my supervision.

At the very Lowest Level, there’s less communication, the communication is literally once a month. The plan changes, and the communication is once a month. Hopefully that’s a phone call, I assess what they’ve done for one month, and then we figure out where they’re going for the next month. Then, we communicate once a month.

My Premium Level of coaching is unlimited communication, text, email, phone calls, whatever people need. I like to have them at least do one phone call a week so I know we have a communication point, and we set an appointment time. I hate playing phone tag with people, so we know that we’re going to have one conversation, one really good conversation per week minimally. People do get really busy, so it can be hard to get that communication in.

My highest level, my Premium Plus includes one-on-one sessions, and so that’s more of the in-person time. That’s when I look at their form, help them with their skill level, and just push them a little bit in ways that they might not know how to do. That also gives me a really good assessment of where they truly are. You cannot really substitute the in-person time with people.

You can do a lot for people. For example, I’ve coached people in the Bahamas, where there are no triathlon coaches, and so they get great coaching. But I don’t really get to see them very much, so I think there’s a limit to what a coach can do when you’re not in person with people.

Onboarding new athletes


So that startup process to me is a really critical time for us to get to know each other, the athletes are really motivated to get going, they will spend more time with me, they fill out the paperwork, I can tell that they’re eager, and ready to get going. For me, it’s really critical time to get to know them as they are in their daily lives. So, I have a requirement for all athletes that they start at my Premium Level, which is the unlimited communication, unlimited plan changes. I do this so I can really get to know them and understand where they really are, what level of training load they can handle, what frequency they can handle, because a lot of times people either over-assess themselves or under-assess themselves and this gives me a real idea of what they can do from day to day and that’s really important to their success.

Delivering value in 1-on-1 sessions


Improving your technique and sport-specific skills, I think the best example to use is swimming, because most triathletes come into swimming with no swimming background whatsoever. It’s the most challenging, it’s the most dangerous for people, even though it’s not the longest time, it’s definitely the most challenging. Seeing people swim in-person is very critical, and I use a lot of underwater cameras, television, slow motion, video clips of the drills, and examples of other swimmers. This is so they have an idea of what they might look like or what they’re doing or not doing. It’s just such a robust teaching environment, that they can learn what they’re doing wrong, how to make changes quickly. Then, I take what I learned from that one-on-one session, and I carry it all the way through their workouts. It builds their workouts for at least the next few months, making sure they’re doing the drills, right. Also, find the drills that they need to do, not just any drill, and making sure that drill is designed to work into the hole stroke. This is because there are concepts out there and coaches who don’t believe that drills work, and I can understand that because doing any drill for no reason whatsoever doesn’t work. But, if you know the drill you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’re always putting it into the hole stroke then. That’s very, very valuable. That one-on-one time also helps me to understand again, it gives me another level of where they really are with their training. Because I’ll often come to a session with all kinds of notes, and I’m ready, and this is what I think we’re going to do. Then, we have a conversation at the start, I take a look at what they’re doing, and I completely erase that. We end up doing something completely different just based on what they need that day.

Navigating training load and progression through individualization


Training load, and progression is a tricky one to to navigate. We learn tools as coaches, and I’ve taught these tools, I’ve learned much from Joe Friel, about this. The typical periodization. Then, as you get deeper into it, it’s more challenging. What does periodization really mean? Do athletes really understand what that means? It’s become more training load, training volume, training frequency, and I take that on a completely individual basis.

That is also the basis of my my coaching now, is working with people as individuals and not as a group or as a whole. Also getting that individual attention and making sure that they get what they need specifically in their lives. Especially for triathlon, you can come into it with a strong swimming background, but a weak running background or somebody comes with a strong cycling background, but never swam before. These people are in different places, you can’t put them in the same training program, if you want to progress them logically in an individual way. I assess, especially initially in that first month, we go week to week, and this is how I coached all my elite athletes for decades. It’s week to week and day to day. Once we get into a role, then we can start looking at monthly and bi-weekly progressions of their training.

I do use a lot of technology, like everybody’s using the watches, and power meters and all. But, I try to balance that out with conversations with people by understanding what’s going on in their lives, because even if you’re using a whoop strap or your HRV, or whatever you’re using to track all your metrics, it still doesn’t always give me this the whole picture of what’s going on in people’s lives.

Communication advice for new coaches


The advice I’d give to a new coach communicating with our athletes is first of all understand your communication style, your communication ability, and how that works best for you. Also, understand how that works best for other people. Is it by video? Is it by the written word? Are you doing blogs? Are you talking to people? Are you putting together standardized videos? What works best for you?

Learning how to make sure that you can convey what you’re saying to your athletes. I find that, you know, if you’re starting out, finding multiple lines of communication is probably the best way to go about getting started in making sure your athletes are doing what you’re asking them. But, if they’re not doing it, understand why and how can you make it better.