The Craft of Coaching with Joe Friel logo

5 // Assembling a Winning Roster: Managing Athletes & Service Providers

Endurance sports coach Ryan Bolton talks with athletes on a butte overlooking the Arizona desert.
Courtesy Ryan Bolton

Every coaching business is comprised of relationships and the nature of those relationships is critical to the future of the business.

First and foremost, there’s the athletes. For coaches who are just starting out, it’s difficult to be choosy. But as with all relationships, compatibility matters. With each season of coaching, it becomes more clear what works and what doesn’t, and who you do and don’t work well with. As new clients approach you for coaching, you can better assess how they will fit into your program.

You’ll want your athletes to have the advantage of a team, like a reliable wind at their backs. You don’t have to be part of a coaching team to assemble a cadre of experts and services that your athletes can draw upon. The landscape of bike fitters, nutritionists, sports psychologists, and other professionals can be difficult for an athlete to navigate alone. Why not lead the way? Similarly, you might consider how business services would ease your own workload and indirectly benefit your athletes.

The bottom line: Everyone wins when your athletes feel supported.

The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Let’s take a closer look at how the athlete-coach relationship plays out, from the decision of whether or not to work with an athlete to the best practices for communication and time management as you move forward. Unfortunately, there’s not one formula for success—after all, there are real people involved! However, each challenge you encounter, such as the high-maintenance athlete that Joe Friel describes in the article that follows, is an opportunity to refine the process.

The Craft of Coaching - How to Avoid Difficult Relationships with Athletes

How to Avoid Difficult Relationships with Athletes

No one wants to “fire” an athlete. But there are times when the coach-athlete relationship is clearly not working. Coaches need to reflect on these difficult situations and athletes so they can identify problems before things get personal.

The time you invest in pre-screening prospective clients definitively pays off in the long run, both for you and the athlete. What questions do you need to be asking on the front-end of the relationship? What are the red flags you should be looking for? Coach Joe Friel shares the process behind his illustrious career.

Graphic showing compatible relationships

Establishing a Positive Coach-Athlete Relationship

For the coach-athlete relationship to be successful, it must be rooted in trust, and trust is earned or compromised from Day 1. Begin any new client relationship with the end in mind.

Your time is a valuable commodity: It dictates what an athlete pays for your services. Once that’s decided, it’s up to the coach to establish and maintain a consistent, open line of communication with the athlete. Coach Melissa Mantak is quick to admit that sometimes the biggest challenge is getting your athlete to take the time out of their busy schedule to actually sit down and talk with you.

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.

Ryan Bolton was an All-American runner before he pivoted to the sport of triathlon. He was coached by Joe Friel for the entirety of his pro career, which took him to the 2004 Olympic Games in Sydney and podium finishes in Olympic, half-Ironman, and Ironman races. As the founder of Bolton Endurance Sports Training, Ryan has an impressive line-up of international pro athletes, both runners and triathletes, in addition to his local age-group athletes. In the video podcast that follows, Ryan describes what goes on behind the scenes of his thriving business.

How to Protect Your Time

Managing athletes requires time management skills. Coach Ryan Bolton balances the needs of his pro athletes, age groupers, and a team of coaches. He talks with Joe Friel about his screening process and the groundwork that goes into a positive athlete-coach relationship.

Your roster of athletes inevitably changes from season to season, and the influx of new athletes can be part of what makes the job fun and fresh. But at the other extreme, supporting an athlete over the years is one of the most rewarding experiences the profession has to offer. In the video that follows Coach Melissa Mantak talks about her journey with two long-time athletes.

The Secret to Retaining Athletes

Client retention comes down to two things: 1) the athlete’s longevity in the sport, and 2) the coach’s ability to evolve with the athlete over time.

Coach Ryan Bolton shares his experience of being coached by Joe Friel. It’s another long-lasting coach-athlete relationship, this one spanning Ryan’s career as a pro triathlete. He describes a calculated approach to progression and a coach who believed in his ability and imparted that to his athlete.

Illustrated headshot of Joe Friel

What Was It Like to Be Coached by Joe Friel?

Ryan Bolton was coached by Joe Friel for the duration of his career as a pro triathlete. He reflects on what made that relationship work and the lessons he took from it in establishing his own coaching business.

Building Out the Rest of Your Team

In putting together your winning roster, look for opportunities to incorporate experts and services that will better support your athletes and your business.

Athlete services

Coaches can’t possibly meet all of the needs of their athletes. But as a coach, you know what your athletes need and who might be able to help them. By making the effort to go beyond a basic referral and integrate other professionals and services with your own support of the athlete, you bring even more value to your clients, both now and in the future. In the rest of this module we will unpack how these partnerships and alliances help both coaches and experts reach more athletes and grow their businesses.

Business services

Module 4 // The Business of Coaching addressed how to build a successful business, whether you operate as a solo venture or lead a team of professionals. For many endurance coaches, adding employees or assistant coaches is not realistic. However, there are likely business services that can be contracted at a fee that is less than your own hourly rate. Coach Philip Hatzis expounds on that idea and more in his growth strategy for coaching businesses of any size—download our first Craft of Coaching Playbook here. Later in this module, we will take a look at how even a modest-sized coaching business can evolve to provide these services to a growing team of coaches.

Ultimately, the real impetus behind outsourcing services and creating new partnerships is to give you more bandwidth for coaching so your athletes reach their goals.

Over the course of his career, Fast Talk Labs Head Coach and USA Cycling Level 1 certified coach Ryan Kohler has regularly coached athletes (both on his own and as part of larger business or performance center), while at the same time working with other coaches’ athletes as a consultant in the areas of bike fit and nutrition. In the video that follows, he explains how to balance the interests and knowledge of both the coach and the service provider, and the various ways the two parties can work as a team.

How coaches can expand the services they offer to athletes

Expanding Your Coaching Services

More coaches are seeking partnerships with outside experts to better meet the needs of their athletes. Find out how these partnerships work best, giving even the “maverick” coach a competitive advantage.

From a coach’s perspective, services like bike fit, strength programs, sports psychology, and nutrition, have been considered a source of marginal gains. Facing an increasingly competitive landscape, coaches and pros know that these things are essential to performance. Furthermore, athletes can utilize mobility, physical therapy, and mental strength to extend their enjoyment and longevity in the sport. In the article that follows, Coach Grant Holicky talks about how to present options to your athletes and get their buy-in.

How Adding Athlete Services Leads to Maximal Gains

Coach Grant Holicky describes how athletes are impacted by the additional experts and services that coaches make available to them.

Fast Talk Laboratories can help extend your coaching business through new athlete services like sports nutrition, testing, data analysis, and more. Contact us for more info.

Many coaches find nutrition particularly difficult to navigate. With all of the misinformation and strong biases, it often seems easier to stand on the sidelines and triage problems as they arise. Coach Ryan Kohler talks with Joe Friel about how to find the right nutritionist to work with your athletes. In the video that follows, he also describes what athletes are typically hoping to get from a nutritionist so you can better assess which athletes would benefit most from this service.

A Roadmap for Working with Nutritionists

Coach Ryan Kohler talks with Joe Friel about how to help athletes navigate the misinformation around nutrition by partnering with the right experts.

Fast Talk Laboratories can help extend your coaching business through sports nutrition services. Contact us for more info.

What follows is a case study to show how athlete services can be integrated into your coaching business. As you watch this video about Boulder-based Forever Endurance, think about how you might be able to integrate similar client services in your own business.

One Team’s Strategy for Dynamic Athlete Services

With more ways to deliver individualized training, coaches are well-positioned to reach more athletes.

Fast Talk Laboratories can help extend your coaching business through new athlete services. Contact us for more info.

Extending this case study, let’s take a look at how even a modest-sized coaching company can go about providing business services to the coaches they bring onboard. In the video below, Joe Friel talks with Coach Grant Holicky about how Forever Endurance has evolved to provide business management and coach education for its growing team of coaches.

The Value of Business Services

Many coaches are happy to focus their energy on coaching, not running a business. Some coaches choose to outsource specific tasks through business services.

Learn a few basics about business services in our free downloadable Craft of Coaching Playbook, How to Grow Your Coaching Business by Coach Philip Hatzis.