Finding Success as a Coach

Coaching isn't always easy, but when those moments of success come, the rewards are often deep and meaningful.


You have reached the end of The Craft of Coaching Module 9 // Coaching Endurance Athletes. Up next is Module 10 // Coaching Junior Athletes.

Video Transcript

Joe Friel  00:05

Have you got any real challenges you faced with an athlete, you were able to overcome it, and the athlete had a great success?

How to Overcome Challenges and Turn Them into Success

Alison Freeman  00:14

Yeah, so I’ve worked with a couple different athletes who came to me after they didn’t finish an Ironman distance race. Obviously, that’s heartbreaking, and they want redemption. Getting them across that finish line is such a high as a coach.

Alison Freeman  00:33

The first athlete that I helped with that I think is the one that always stands out the most to me, he’d not finished Chattanooga on a very hot day, and I worked with him the following year. There wasn’t anything super specific that had caused his day to go sideways beyond the heat. He’s not a fast athlete to begin with. It wasn’t like it would have been 12 hours otherwise, but we really just focused on making sure his fitness was there, making sure the fueling and the hydration, the whole plan was solid, and really understanding how the math adds up at an Ironman race, so he would have the confidence while he was going through it to get across that finish line.

Alison Freeman  01:17

I remember so distinctly, I was texting with his wife while he was on the course. I was obviously tracking him all day long, and doing math. I had a little spreadsheet set up so I could figure out exactly where he was on the course and what kind of buffers he was building. His wife and I agreed that I was going to keep in touch with her and let her know what to communicate to him once he was on the run course about what he needed to do. I think by the time he was on the run course, I was like, he’s totally fine, he’s great. He’s got this totally covered. I think he finished with 90 minutes to spare below the cut off. He was, he was so overjoyed. It was such a thrill to get to be a part of that for him.

Alison Freeman  02:03

For me, coaching is an interesting profession, because we get to really touch people’s lives, and allow them to achieve these personal accomplishments that are so meaningful to them. When I get to be a part of that, even if it’s, I feel like I’m more on the sidelines and is their accomplishment, but just to get to be a part of their journey is such a special thing.

Joe Friel  02:24

I know what you mean. It is a very special thing. That’s one of the joys of coaching, probably the pinnacle joy is having an athlete achieve at a level they weren’t sure they could do before by themselves and know you played a role in that.

Alison Freeman  02:39


Joe Friel  02:40

Still then, they did the work. But you were kind of like there to guide them and help them along the way. That feeling, we did this, it’s a team approach. It’s not just an individual doing this race all by themselves. As the coach, you have skin in the game. Ryan, how about you? Anything you’ve stepped back on and said this was one of my greatest successes in my coaching career?

Ryan Kohler’s Greatest Success as a Coach

Ryan Kohler  03:02

Yeah, I love that story because it does really speak to why we coach, and it’s that feeling that you get for them, and then that we get for helping them find that success. Mine is gonna go way back to my early coaching days where I was probably in my late 20s maybe and coaching an athlete that was only a few years older than me, so I didn’t know much. I thought I knew everything at the time, but I really didn’t know much. But I knew enough to work with him and he ended up winning cyclocross nationals in his age group. So it was a big success, and we felt great about it. That wasn’t it though, the really cool part, the success was relating back to Alison’s story, was about 12-15 years later, we ended up moving to the same town and reconnecting again. Then the junior mountain bike team I was coaching, it turns out both of his kids were in that program. Now I get to coach his kids and see that transition where he brought that passion, that love for the sport, partly from this coaching relationship and just feed it to that next generation. Now the success for me is, like, cool I get to coach your kids now. This is fantastic.

Joe Friel  04:08

Two generations.

Ryan Kohler  04:09

Yeah, exactly. That for me was a huge success in my career.

Joe Friel  04:12

I’ll bet, that’s a good story. Also, I love success stories. Talking to a coach and having them tell me what has really worked out well for them, it gives me joy. It’s kind of like, it’s just this feeling that in our profession we’re helping people do things that are important to them. If you were to give advice to a new coach, somebody just coming into the field, along the lines of things you think that might help them become a good coach, a better coach in the long term, what might you tell them? What advice would you give them as a coach starting out?

The Importance of Understanding Your Athlete

Alison Freeman  04:49

I think it’s important to really get to know your athlete and to understand the full picture of their life and the entire context outside of just the training and racing. Understand everything they’re juggling and where sport fits within their life so that you can meet them where they are, as opposed to asking them to rearrange their life to fit where you’d like to see them be with the sport and with the training.

Joe Friel  05:17

Helping them kind of like maneuver down this path they’re on is kind of like what coaching is all about, isn’t it? You’re just, we’re just working with one little narrow aspect of it. But it affects everything else in their life?

Alison Freeman  05:33

Well, and everything else also affects the training. So, if you don’t understand the interplay then you’re really missing the whole story.

Joe Friel  05:40

Good point. Ryan, what advice might you give to a new coach?

Always Ask Questions

Ryan Kohler  05:44

Yeah, so mine would be to ask a lot of questions, especially to the newer athletes. I think, oftentimes, as coaches, it’s easy to get caught into that feeling of like, oh, we need to have all the answers or be able to just give them answers. But I would definitely encourage newer coaches to ask as many questions as possible with the goal of progressively empowering those athletes to make more and more decisions on their own. They know that they have your guidance there to help get them toward an answer. But ultimately, in the end, we want them to come up with that answer, because that’s going to build the confidence, and they sort of have the safety net of their coach there. But if we can help encourage them to make those decisions, and they’re becoming more educated, more confident athletes and empowered athletes, I think, for me, that comes from just asking the right questions along the way and goes back to what Alison was saying is understanding the whole athlete and understanding what’s their family life, career, all this other stuff that makes them tick.

Joe Friel  06:40

Reminds me of being a father, actually. This kind of overlaps with your family, we do the same thing with our kids. We don’t want to tell them exactly what to do all the time. We want them to learn to make decisions, and so what you’re suggesting is good, ask questions.

Ryan Kohler  06:55

To that point, as I developed in my career, I’d find more comfort in silence with the athletes too. If they don’t know a question, sometimes it’s easy for us to fill that gap and just give them an answer. But let them sit with it for a while and be comfortable and not rush things.