Roundtable: On Coaching Beginner Athletes Versus Veteran Athletes

Cycling coaches Melanie McQuaid, Grant Holicky, and Ryan Kohler discuss the differences, similarities, nuances, and challenges of coaching beginner athletes versus veteran amateurs. 

Cycling Coach Ryan Kohler Fast Talk Podcast

In today’s episode, we’ve assembled a fantastic group of coaches to discuss the differences, similarities, nuances, and challenges of coaching beginner athletes versus veteran amateurs.

 This episode is filled with myriad topics, all related to the coach-athlete relationship. And it starts by defining some terms. What constitutes a beginner, and a veteran? Can you be a beginner if you’ve ridden for 10 years but don’t know much about how to train? We’ll discuss.

 What should beginners focus on most? What should veterans focus on most? How does a good coach most effectively work to identify each athlete’s needs?

 How can an athlete get the most out of working with a coach, and how does that differ if you’re a beginner or a veteran? These questions and so many more, today on Fast Talk.

Our guest coaches today include Grant Holicky, someone you’ve heard many times before on Fast Talk; pro Ironman triathlete and XTERRA world champion turned coach, Melanie McQuaid, who appeared in episode 99; and Ryan Kohler.

Ryan is the former manager of the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center and—exciting news here—the new Head Coach here at Fast Talk Labs. With Ryan on board, we have exciting things coming, so don’t miss it – get our email newsletter by signing up at You’ll be first to know what Coach Kohler is up to.

Now, get ready to roundtable!

Let’s make you fast.

Episode Transcript

Chris Case  00:12

Hello, and welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of cycling performance. I’m your host, Chris Case. In today’s episode, we’ve assembled a fantastic group of coaches to discuss the differences, similarities, nuances, challenges of coaching beginner athletes versus veteran amateurs.

Chris Case  00:31

This episode is filled with myriad topics all related to the coach athlete relationship. And it starts by defining some terms. What constitutes a beginner or a veteran? Can you be a beginner if you’ve ridden for 10 years but don’t know much about how to train? We will discuss. What should beginners focus on most? What should veterans focus on most? How does a good coach most effectively work to identify each athletes needs? How can an athlete get the most out of working with a coach and how does that differ if you’re a beginner or a veteran? These questions and so many more, today on Fast Talk.

Chris Case  01:12

Our guest coaches today include Grant Holicky, someone you’ve heard many times before on Fast Talk; pro Ironman triathlete and XTERRA world champion turned coach, Melanie McQuaid, who appeared in episode 99; and Ryan Kohler.      Ryan is the former manager of the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center and—exciting news here—the new Head Coach here at Fast Talk Labs. With Ryan on board, we have exciting things coming, so don’t miss it – get our email newsletter by signing up at You’ll be first to know what Coach Kohler is up to.

Chris Case  01:49

Now, get ready to roundtable. Let’s make you fast.

Chris Case  01:58

Welcome everybody to another episode of Fast Talk, I’m your host Chris Case and we have a special new format for you today we’re going to try a roundtable with some great coaches. We want to talk about the differences, kind of compare and contrast the relationship you would have coaching a beginner athlete and the relationship you’d have with veteran athletes and amateurs on both sides of that equation. So we’ve got Ryan Kohler, former director of the University of Colorado SportsMedicine and Performance Center with us. Hey, Ryan.

Ryan Kohler  02:37

Hi, Chris.

Chris Case  02:38

We’ve got Grant Holicky, with Forever Endurance, somebody who’s been part of the Fast Talk Labs family now for a while. He’s got his Off Course podcast as well. Welcome Grant.

Grant Hollicky  02:51

Hey guys, how are you?

Chris Case  02:52

Thanks for being on the show. And we’ve got Melanie McQuaid, somebody who’s been on our show before, talked about triathlon that time. Melanie is – what are you a three time XTERRA World Champion, longtime coach, longtime pro athlete – Welcome to the program, Mel.

Melanie McQuaid  03:10

Thanks, Chris.

Chris Case  03:12

And we’ve got our dear coach Connor

Trevor Connor  03:15

I was fully expecting you when you said “we’ve got some great coaches here” to then go “and we’ve got, Trevor”

Chris Case  03:22

I missed that chance.

Trevor Connor  03:23

You really missed out on that one.

Chris Case  03:25

I did. Coach Connor, you’ve been coaching people for a while too, right?

Trevor Connor  03:30

Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of things for a while. It’s what happens when you get old.

Chris Case  03:35

So everybody’s been introduced. I kind of want to set the stage here by talking a little about just briefly with each of you on the range of athletes you’ve worked with. So let’s start with you, Trevor. I know your coaching background is extensive, but give us just a hint of the broad range of athletes you’ve worked with.

Trevor Connor  03:56

Like Mel I’ve actually started up in Victoria at the the center. So my first experience was really working with athletes that were either pro or about to go pro. And then really switched over towards working with more athletes that were doing this for fun working with Masters athletes, and that’s kind of the space I’m in right now.

Chris Case  04:18

Mm hmm. Great. And, Ryan, I know you have had a pretty diverse background as well. You started with Carmichael Training Systems, if I’m not mistaken. You’ve been at the Performance Center. You’ve coached individual athletes. Tell us a little bit more about that range of range of athletes.

Ryan Kohler  04:35

Yeah, over the years, started with Carmichael, like he said, and I remember when I first started, yeah, coaching was quite a bit different than and I think my athlete load at one time was over 200 athletes per month that I was quote unquote, coaching and things have really evolved since then. So that was an interesting way to start. But yeah, over the years has been able to coach I’d say the vast majority are amateur beginners and then have had some really, you know, really cool experiences along the way and worked with some higher level athletes. You know, definitely mostly cycling, triathlon, the endurance world. And then I had some cool experiences working with athletes and I had a snowboarder that I worked with that was qualifying for Olympic Trials, had a mountianear that was doing a speed ascent of Denali. So there were some really cool higher level athletes over the years that have sort of helped to shape. You know how I approach things with everyone but primarily, the amateur was the athlete.

Chris Case  05:39

Yeah, great. Grant, I know your background. You’ve been coaching amateurs, you’ve coached triathletes, a lot of swimming coaching in your background, you’ve coached some national champions on the U23 side, give us a little bit more of a glimpse into your range of athletes you’ve worked with.

Grant Hollicky  06:03

I got my start coaching in swimming back when I was a teenager. So everybody I coach in swimming has been an amateur with only a couple of exceptions because there’s not a lot of professional swimmers. But kind of by nature swimming involves a lot of beginners. They come to the sport late or they you know, you’re coaching young ages. And then I moved on and I’ve been coaching cyclists and triathletes and honestly, just a little bit of everything, I’ve had the good fortune to coach a Paralympic World Champion on the bike. So the range is – still I I have someone I work with now who’s in their 70s and they’re just training for cycling tours in Europe. And then I have professional cyclists and triathletes I’m working with as well.

Chris Case  06:56

Great. And and Mel, tell us a little bit more about your Coaching

Melanie McQuaid  07:00

My coaching business is Mel Ride Multi Sport. And largely because so much of that program is online, the athletes that I coach are either professional or veteran amateur down to about intermediate. Like I actually expect athletes that are part of my actual coaching program to have a few years of experience, and we can talk about what that means later, because I only actually accept beginners to my camps. So I have a Try the Dirt camp which is an in-person condensed weekend of sort of xTara coaching. And then I do Mel Ride Multi Sport, in person coaching weekends as well. And that’s the only time actually worked with beginners because I don’t feel like my online program is as effective for a complete beginner. Because I feel like especially in triathlon or in cycling in general, it’s better to have a relationship with a coach in person. So my program has professional veteran and intermediate athletes, but generally doesn’t have any beginners.

The primary differences between working with beginner and veteran amateur athletes

Chris Case  08:04

And that brings up maybe a good question to set the stage for each coach’s philosophy or at least a glimpse into that philosophy about what is the primary difference here between a beginner and a veteran amateur athlete. And Mel you know, you mentioned wanting to see those beginners, have them in person, is that just because rapport is so fundamental to the relationship when you’re talking about a beginner whereas a veteran should, you know, have maybe a broader understanding of some of the physiological concepts and training concepts down already.

Melanie McQuaid  08:45

The most important thing between a coach and an athlete is communication. And I think that you can be a let’s say, somebody is coming from NCAA, you know, athletics and they decide that they want to be a triathlete. But they actually, like, been quite accomplished as an athlete, as a runner, and now they want to turn to cycling or something like that. That athlete has experience communicating how their body is feeling, how they’re responding to training and, and they have a little bit more experience with the training process. Whereas a complete beginner is learning all this stuff from scratch. And I think that my experience very often is like, like older athletes that find triathalon later in life, and some of these athletes don’t have any, you know, basic physical literacy. So for me to be programming training around physiology, when really these athletes would benefit really well from some one on one work with a coach learning how to move their body effectively, that’s where I think that they’re better off with a coach who can watch them more often. And so, I qualify a beginner and a veteran based on, you know, not necessarily having, you know, excellent physical literacy but just some experience with training that they then become better at communicating how they’re feeling. And and very often This doesn’t mean that veteran athletes aren’t prone to like hiding what’s really happening it doesn’t mean that they’re, they’re excellent at being honest. It just means that they like by giving them you know, jargon or workouts or whatever just even like the the fundamentals of a warm up a main set and a cool down for some beginners they’ve never experienced even that and so when I have a program that is like three camps a year in person and then the rest of its online, I think that the program can be overwhelming to a beginner to be able to read and understand what I’m delivering and they’ll just get less out of it than somebody who has experienced this before and knows what to expect and what to communicate that in that kind of way.

Chris Case  11:07

I would want to hear from Ryan here next: you said at one point you were coaching up to 200 people through Carmichael Training Systems, I would assume some of those are beginners, and that was mostly in an online setting, right? That you’re not meeting with these people in person. So that broader question here, what do you see, in that context, what do you see as the biggest difference between beginner and veteran athletes?

Ryan Kohler  11:35

Yeah, at that time when I had over 200 people I didn’t know where they were. I didn’t know if they were beginners or pros or what? I look at it as you know, from a kind of, yeah, this knowledge and understanding standpoint of just anything, you know, Mel bringing up the physical side of it is, is a perfect example because we see it with you know, I’ve been coaching Junior athletes for a long time and some of them may have These vo2max valleys are through the roof. But then you watch them do a squat. And you just it pains me to watch, you know, when they when they move and they just, you know, they just don’t move athletically. So yeah, there’s, there’s that that difference of they may be really fit or they may know a lot, but then the other side of it, they may be missing so so then they can still be very much a beginner but but it’s, you know, it sort of almost, yeah, just a sliding scale in a way where they’ve got certain attributes of high physical fitness, certain attributes of maturity, certain attributes of how they move. So I think it’s, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but I tried to take in a few different variables like that, and, you know, to kind of see where they’re starting

Chris Case  12:47

Yeah, it doesn’t sound like it’s you’re in one bucket or the other you within this spectrum, you could fall into the veteran category in some ways and the beginner category in other ways. Trevor, would you agree with that?

Trevor Connor  13:02

Listening to both Mel and Ryan, really trying to think about how I would define new – veteran versus beginner. And I really see it as two things I completely agree with Mel is there’s that self awareness side. Every athlete that I work with, I give them this little talk of my goal as your coach is to get you to the point where you’re so self aware, you don’t need me anymore, and then hopefully you keep paying me because you like me. To me, that’s one of the differences. Somebody can be, I’ve been training for five years, and if they don’t have that self awareness, you still have to coach them like they’re a beginner. Where I see a veteran athlete as somebody who really is aware of themselves and what’s effective for them.

Trevor Connor  13:49

Physiologically, I would actually define it a little bit differently in that if you’re new, just getting on the bike or going out for a run, you’re going to get fitter. You don’t need a complex – So Mel, was just saying, you know, her whole program would overwhelm a beginner and I agree with that. When I give a beginner, a true beginner, like just starting to train, a training plan, it’s real simple. It’s just, I just want you doing time, right. More of it is don’t go do something stupid that’s going to kill you. It’s when they’re a veteran, and they’re getting much closer, hopefully to their peak level, that you have to start looking for these little things that’s going to give them that little bit more.

Chris Case  14:37

Grant, anything to add to this discussion about the differences here between beginners and veterans?

Grant Hollicky  14:44

Well, I think I think some of what we have to talk about and I think Mel alluded to it a little bit is when you start talking about something like triathlon to you have technical components to the sports, right? So I can take somebody who has an unbelievably great background in running or mountain biking or, or, you know, whatever, and we’re gonna bring them to the sport of triathlon, gotta teach them how to swim. So and and swimming is not a sport, and I’m a little biased, but it’s not a sport where you can just throw more volume at somebody and they’re going to get better, they don’t get efficient that way, they have to learn certain things. And unless you can have somebody one on one, that’s tough to do. I do think that that the day and age that we’ve seen, the progression in coaching certainly allows us to do more with beginners because we can see wattage or we can see heart rate or we can see all these things in uploaded workouts, whereas in the past, we’re working completely on perceived effort. And if again, as Melanie noted, if somebody does not have a history in sport, they’re truly a beginner to sport. They’re going to struggle with an idea of perceived effort and what that means. So, you know, this day and age, you know, it’s something like triathlon, and Trevor was kind of mentioning this, you can be both a beginner and a veteran, you can be an incredibly veteran athlete with lots of accolades and high level achievements, but never have swum before. So if you’re trying to come to triathlon you’re both beginner and veteran, so, understanding, you know, we’ll say it a lot on this, but understanding the individual athlete is crucial. And yeah, you can’t you can’t pigeonhole them and you can’t just dump them in simple buckets. It’s going to be different for every athlete.

Trevor Connor  16:40

I can speak to that I did the Fort Collins triathlon a few years ago and embarrass-

Grant Hollicky  16:44

I can only imagine that

Trevor Connor  16:48

I embarrassingly discovered halfway through that I could walk faster along the bottom of the pool than I could swim.

Chris Case  16:56

And you did so

Trevor Connor  16:57

I did

Grant Hollicky  17:00

I think it’s a great except like Melanie and I when we started racing XTERRA almost at the same time, she could probably, well not probably, she did lap me most of the mountain bike courses, but, you know, the swimming was my background. So that was the thing that you know, I could excel at. So when we started our careers at the same time, hers was a bit better than mine, if anybody could see you know, our accolades, but everybody we had to work on our own beginning aspects of what we were doing.

Melanie McQuaid  17:34

Yeah, that’s true. And and I do like that idea that you were talking about with a but I think I just wanted to touch one more thing on your beginners, like taking a cyclist and teaching them to swim, I still think that you have two different sort of buckets of people that have been an athlete before versus not been an athlete before. So that’s the only thing like, there’s a total beginner to athletics, which is one of the coolest things, like one of the things I’m seeing is ladies in their 50s deciding that they want to do a granfondo, but they essentially have never done anything athletic in their entire lives. So that’s a beginner taking on something big and scary and awesome. Right And so, versus like, if you had a woman who was a pole vaulter in university, who then decides she wants to race granfondos like when her kids go off to college, that’s totally different. Right? Like that person is like has a different level of athleticism. And, you know, it’s different – well, I mean, pole vaulting is kind of a bad example, but let’s say they did something endurance, where they did something endurance in college where they actually have some mitochondria, that person probably needs less of what like Trevor was saying, which is true, you know, if you just take a random beginner has never done anything. All you have to do is like, create some mitochondria for probably five years. And the rest of it will take care of itself. So you don’t need a complicated program.

Grant Hollicky  19:15

Well, and that’s a great point that Mel’s making too and she alluded to this earlier, that brand new athlete needs so much more support in terms of emotional support and helping them through those scary things and walking them along that path. That’s really a huge difference too.

Trevor Connor  19:38

I’m a believer that a lot of people try to get fit or try to get into sport with the best of intentions and they get thrown into it too quickly. They start getting these complex plans or they go to some gym and jump into a workout where they’re told to do all this stuff they’re not ready to do and it’s overwhelming for them. It’s scary. And that’s what encourages him to not continue.

Grant Hollicky  20:04

I think you nailed it, you know, I’m sure we’re going to get to this in a little bit, but that’s a great point. And when you’re working with a beginner athlete, one of the most important things you can do is understand the place that they’re coming from. And as a coach, and if we’ve worked with these really high level athletes, we turn to a beginner and we’re like, oh, yeah, they’re probably doing 10 hours a week. Now, you know, a beginner might be doing three to four hours a week, two to three hours a week, their goal might just be getting out the door, literally. So understanding and being able to have that ability to put yourself in their shoes, when maybe you’ve never even been there in your life. You know,I’ve been a competitive athlete since I was five, but I like to think I can take that step back and and say, Hey, okay, where are we coming from? What have you done? Tell me about you and then bring myself to that place and say, okay, what’s terrifying about this for them? And how do we how do we create the streak? Right? Because coaching an athlete is about a streak, how do we get them every day to do the workout, do the workout, do the workout, because that’s what creates this want to do more. If they start missing days, and if they look at a program and it seems overwhelming, they’re not going to do the workout at all. You know, a veteran athlete may look at a workout and go, Whoa, that’s too much. I’ll back it off a little bit. But a beginner very likely they’re going to look at something that’s over their head and just decide it’s over their head and not do it. So that understanding of a beginning athlete and what is going to challenge them what’s going to frighten them and truly understanding where they’re coming from is vital. And I had a coach couple years ago that said, we’ve had all these new athletes two or three or four new athletes and they coach him for about two weeks and then they ghost on me. And what we started to figure out was he was overwhelming them a little bit and they Got into this idea that oh, I think coaching is a bad idea. It’s not for me, this is too much. They think I’m something I’m not and they just kind of backed out. So really get that background and that understanding of what a beginner needs. And and you can do wonders with them. Like you said, Trevor, it’s incredibly fun to coach, you just have to give them something that they can handle because they’ll get way better, really fast.

The challenges and enjoyments of working with a beginner athlete

Chris Case  22:25

That was really the next line of questioning I had for all of you was what makes a beginner special, you know, what are the challenges you’re working with when you’re dealing with a beginner? What special needs Do they have, but also what makes it fun?

Ryan Kohler  22:40

Yeah, I think the exciting part with beginners is just the possibilities that are there and I think a lot of it is like they don’t know necessarily or they may have some some other idea, you know, and and it’s fun because you get to, you know, kind of explore that together with them. Like Grant said, you know, seeing what, what work, what they really what’s their vision, you know, finding out like, where do they want to be? And you know, is this like, what’s your one month plan? What’s your one year plan, your five year plan? Where do you see yourself and I remember years ago early in my coaching career, we had a phone call come in from a guy that was in his late 40s or right around 50. And he called in saying I want to win the yellow jersey at the tour – and no joke. And it was another colleague at the time took that phone call, but it was a very interesting discussion he had with them, you know, they just don’t know. And so yeah, getting on that journey together to see just trying to piece together what their vision is, I think is a pretty key component to it.

Chris Case  23:47

You get to be an architect in a way and craft something with that person is that

Ryan Kohler  23:52

Yeah, and yeah, and then it just becomes, you know, I really try to want to start off as  this partnership where you know, I’ve seen many beginner athletes, you know, come to the table and just say, Hey, give me a plan, tell me what to do. And that’s like my nightmare because I have no idea – I don’t want to tell you what to do. I want to know what you want. I want to then craft it around, you know what we come up with together? And yeah, some of the best coaching experiences that I’ve had over the years are ones where we’ve gone from beginner to you know, developing this this vision together. And then yeah, like Trevor said, it’s it’s ultimately coaching myself out of being a coach and at some point and more just becoming, you know, a guide and a friend and somebody like a resource for them.

Chris Case  24:35

Anybody else want to chime in here on this on this topic, the special needs but also the fun that that comes with working with a beginner

Melanie McQuaid  24:42

Ryan started talking about it how, like being a friend, I think early on in a coaching relationship one of the questions I always ask is what an athlete’s expectation of the coach athlete relationship even is and I think with with beginners, very often, just having, like total beginners, very often just having the community of a group is it like it feeds the identity and they learn, they’re sponges that learn from the people around them, so obviously, you want to pick a good group if you learn that way. So, very often the relationship that I have whether an athlete is a beginner or a veteran, sometimes they just want to have a person to talk about everything, you know, because because training always fits around your life. So whether your life is devoted to, you know, a World Championship or the Olympics, or it’s, you know, parsed out into work, family, training life having somebody that can help you navigate that stuff is, is a big part of this. So I think that with the beginner, having a coach to help you you know, understand that it’s okay. That sometimes you can’t get something done because you have other priorities in life or having a coach help you to prioritize the training because it’s important to keep it in your life. You know, sometimes you just need to have like, somebody help you manage your priorities and commitments and then obviously as a coach, you have to ask that athlete Okay, well how much of this do you want me to hold you accountable to, you know, if you have any sort of like major issues, you need a real counselor, but a coach is a counselor for a lot of this stuff, too. And then working with with beginners to help them – I think what I find very often, at least with some women is like just giving themselves permission to be athletes, even if it’s, you know, not there, even if they’re not pros. You know, I think taking that time and saying okay, I’m an athlete as well and I need to, like protect this time and protect my training and, you know, own this. I’m an athlete now and I need to do this stuff and not put other stuff above it.

Trevor Connor  27:02

I think that’s a really important point. I think that self perception that you are an athlete… that is definitely, when I start working with a beginner athlete, I often get that. Well, I’m not an athlete. I’m not an athlete like you, that sort of thing. I’m just a beginner and getting across to him, No, this is part of your identity. Yeah, you’re you’re not, can’t believe a beginner came and said, I want to win the yellow jersey, admire the ambition.

Chris Case  27:32

I’m assuming he didn’t.

Ryan Kohler  27:34

He did not.

Trevor Connor  27:37

But I am going to say that every, even as a beginner, you should be if you are training, swimming, running, whatever it is regularly, you should see yourself as an athlete. Don’t go I’m not their level, I’m not a real athlete. No, you’re a real athlete.

Chris Case  27:53

Embrace it. Trevor, was there something you wanted to add to this?

Trevor Connor  27:57

Yeah, so I’m going to – this is gonna get a little philosophic I hope I can explain this, but – going back to what you were saying about what are the fun parts of this? I think fun is really important. What I’m going to say is for beginners, it’s very important that it’s fun. For experienced, for veteran athletes, it’s very important they don’t forget the fun. So maybe best to explain this with an example. I have a couple college buddies that I’m getting on Zwift once a week with who are just getting into this, just getting into cycling. They’re having a ton of fun. I get on Zwift once or twice a week with them, they do practically everything wrong, in terms of their training, but they’re having fun. They’re getting stronger, they’re losing weight. So the worst thing I could do would be to start going you’re doing the wrong thing you should be doing this, you should be doing that, do these intervals, because that will strip the fun out of it. I look at as at some point they’re probably going to plateau stop  improving and at that point, they might ask me for some advice, and I’ll try to help them. But I think the most important thing right now is for them to have fun. And they’re now on Zwift power, they’re looking at all this gear for Zwift, they just, they’re loving it. Don’t, don’t let beginner lose that. Let them have the fun when it’s easy to improve. But I have seen in veteran athletes once they decide to get serious, they go, okay, now it’s hard training. Now I have to be out doing intervals. And all the rides stop being fun. And I’ve seen cases where athletes quit, because they lose that fun side. So when I am working with veteran athletes who are very motivated, very serious, sometimes I said, I’ve given them another interval workout, I’m like, go get on your mountain bike. Go have some fun. You know, just, I have to keep reminding them, keep this fun. Don’t forget that. Go do something stupid.

What makes working with veteran athletes challenging and what makes working with them fun?

Chris Case  30:00

Yes. Very good. I like that. Let’s, let’s turn our attention now to some veteran athletes, some veteran amateur athletes. What makes them special? What are the challenges of working with veteran athletes? And what makes it fun to work with veteran athletes?

Grant Hollicky  30:21

Part of what makes veteran athletes fun is they they kind of know what they’re doing. Or they know themselves to an extent, right. They may not know themselves in the type of program you’re going to give them or maybe they’ve switched sports so they don’t know themselves yet in that sport, but they have an idea of what it is that they like, what they don’t like. And you know, we kind of alluded to this a little bit when we’re talking about the beginner athlete, but there’s a difference between a trainer and a coach. Right. You know, a coach is somebody who’s going to be there along the way. The coaches in the room here are coaches. We’d like to The interaction with those individuals. So understanding and being open and listening to what that veteran athlete is bringing to the table about what it is that they like, what it is that they’ve had success with what it is that they enjoy, and then creating a program that, you know, maybe you don’t agree with everything they’ve done in the past, and maybe you see a very obvious path of them improving. But how do you keep that touchstone for them so they feel comfortable? Is there something they’re bringing to the table that you can learn from as a coach? I think that’s some of the fun with a veteran athlete is that they, they have a lot to bring to the table and in and what we all can glean out of that is is really cool.

Trevor Connor  31:42

So this is a requirement every time we have you on the show to make fun of him. Is there anything fun about working with Maxx Chance?

Grant Hollicky  31:51

Well, I almost, well, no, I almost brought this up when you were talking about reminding professional, you know, veteran athletes to have fun. That’s a big piece to Maxx Chance. When he signed his first road contract to be a professional road rider that was something he lost. And I think he would really come back to that and say, yeah, I started trying to do too much, I started to only build my life around cycling, and I stopped enjoying the sport of cycling. So yeah, less about making fun of Maxx, but you know, almost exposing him here. He did win single speed World Championships and wear a speedo for a lap of fundraiser so exposing Maxx Chance is not something we have to worry about but I do think that he’s a great example of an athlete that has to have a smile on his face, almost has to have fun while he’s racing, and if he doesn’t, he’s not as good as who he would not as good as he could be.

Chris Case  32:53

I remember Hugh Grant actually saying much the same thing about you having to have fun, getting on a start line reminding yourself to have fun, talking with the guys that you regularly race with because that’s why you’re there. It’s about the camaraderie, the community, all of that. And so you’re having to do that with yourself. Is that correct?

Grant Hollicky  33:16

Yeah. And I think that’s a huge point that that maybe all of us should be switching back to the beginner line, keeping it fun for beginners as they start to train because that’s something that I lost when I was a swimmer growing up. Swimming is so black and white; if you go fast, you’re successful, you go slower on your best time, it’s unsuccessful. And I really carried that into everything that I did when I raced triathlons. I was stressed all the time when I raced triathlons. I would go to the line feeling like I had to, I had to, I had to, and I almost trained myself to get to this place where I remembered that when I went to the line, I went to the line to be around the people I was around. So I would envision the race and envision start and envision the things that made me smile. And a lot of times suffering makes me smile – like I’m a bit odd in that way I think a lot of athletes are – but what about it makes it that way. You know, I talked to some veteran athletes about remember to find your dog with your head out the window moment. And they’ll they’ll look at me like I’m crazy. And it’s just that moment where your heads hanging out the window, your tongues hanging out, your cheeks are flapping, and you’re just going “Yeahhhhhhh!” And usually that comes in the hardest part of the race, but that’s one of the best parts of racing.

Ryan Kohler  34:37

Yeah, I think that that fun aspect is a pretty key thing to maintain. You know, we talked about it with beginners and then the but the veterans it almost seems like as they progress to become a veteran athlete, it’s it’s maintaining that. Yeah, I think you know, you look at some of the most elite athletes in the world and you know, they enjoy what they’re doing and like grant said, they enjoy that that competition and that they enjoy the pain, you know, And I remember a number of years ago, we were out in California Benelli for one of the Pro XCT races. And this was one of the years when everybody was excited because Nino Schurter was showing up to the line. So, you know, everyone, everyone wanted to race against him and see how long they could hang on before he laps them. But I remember that it stuck with me it was a particularly neat experience. Because I was coaching a team of juniors and U23’s at the time, and some of the kids that were racing in the pro field are really interested in this but you know, it’s interesting standing right on that line, and we’re waiting, you know, we’re in that the last 30 seconds before they, you know, send everybody off and of course Nina was right on the front and I remember looking at, you know, the nervousness and everybody’s gripping their bars and you can see some people are moving nervously and waiting for that go and it just it was really cool in the last three seconds. I remember looking at Nino’s face and this smirk popped across his face. And he was the only one on the front line that did it. And I was like, Oh, that’s you know right there I knew like he is gonna kill it today cuz he loves what he does obviously he’s gonna kill it but he was the only one on the front line like his level of readiness was so high but he was also there to enjoy himself and and of course he performed as expected but but the way he stood out was something that we were able to then you know talk about with the racers after and say hey like, pay attention to that because that’s a pretty key thing like you know, when you’re enjoying it that’s like that’s your heart and your passion that that you’re putting into it.

Trevor Connor  36:33

Most vivid example I’ve ever experienced this as a coach was I was coaching this when I was coaching CSU I was working with this one athlete there who got second at Road nationals collegiate road nationals. The following year, he was at Tour of the Gila, raced the amateur, so they have a pro race and then they have a cat one two amateur race, won the amateur race and two weeks Later quit cycling for good. And we had a talk about it. And he described to me standing on the podium at Gila looking around, all these pictures being taken and just said, This isn’t fun for me anymore. It’s too serious.

Chris Case  37:16

Well, that was a very good thing that he did quit this sport because why force it? Honestly, if he felt empty up there then why was he doing it you know, you spend a lot of time riding your bike to get to the level to win Gila, if that’s not fun, then probably not not good for you to do it.

Melanie McQuaid  37:31

The way that I described XTERRA versus, let’s say, like an Iron Man event, is that it’s first you against the course. And so it’s a little bit easier to dissociate yourself from the actual competition with other people because first you have to basically get yourself from start to finish and that’s a little more challenging, technically, and a little bit more unpredictable. From a weather and terrain standpoint, then potentially any road triathlon would be. And that and that is is a good way to keep your own focus on your own performance. So that, like I have, personally as an athlete, realized how XTERRA was really good for for focus management, because as soon as you start thinking about other people racing, you’re not thinking about the single track and you’re like riding off the course. Right?

Grant Hollicky  38:29

You’re on the ground.

Should coaches ever say “Here’s the plan, do it, don’t question it”?

Trevor Connor  38:31

But I actually have a question I want to ask all of you because I have heard coaches say or some coaches say that when you are dealing with new riders, that you just need to tell them what to do and tell them to shut up because they don’t know how to train so they need to be told how to train right. But I’ve also heard some coaches say that with veterans, they need to tell them what to do and tell them to shut up and just do it because as you’re pointing out, They probably been training a certain way for a long time, and they’re gonna go back to what they are used to. And it’s hard for them, some of them to change. So they just need to be given a plan and said, Don’t shut up, do this. How do all of you feel about that? Is there a point or at whether beginner or veteran where you, as a coach need to be telling the athlete? Here’s the plan, do it, don’t question it.

Grant Hollicky  39:24

You know, I personally have a hard time with that across the board. I don’t think there’s longevity in that, you know, I had an athlete Tell me recently when they were when we were talking about starting a relationship that, that they were told, yeah, I’ve kind of been told by a bunch of people. There’s a five year timeframe for a coach athlete relationship, and then it’s time to move on and I was kind of personally blown away by that because I couldn’t feel more differently. I you know, my wife’s a dietician, and she always says, This is why fad diets don’t work. If you’re all in and you have no chance to ever do anything differently, eventually you’re going to crack. And and so I think it’s kind of the same thing with coaching. I think that you, you can’t just tell beginners to shut up and do what they need to do because we we documented what could be pitfalls with that earlier. But I think when you do that with a veteran athlete, you’re you’re purposely ignoring things that may be very, very important to them. That they glean confidence from that they’re able to use to understand where they are, how they’re getting better. You know, you got to understand who the athlete is. We also got to understand who you are as coach.

Chris Case  40:43

We talked a lot actually about this coach athlete relationship back in a previous episode where we had Neal Henderson on as a guest we had Rebecca Rush on as a guest and we’re touching upon it, obviously we were going to, how important the – it’s a two way street. Everybody in this room is saying that, there are probably some coaches that will absolutely deliver that plan and you know, stick to it or I’m firing you as an athlete. But everybody here is saying it’s a two way street. It is a quote unquote, relationship, not on like, a marriage or a boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever the situation, it’s a relationship. So communication is key. Back and forth is key. Compromise at times is probably key for making it a healthy and long term relationship.

Trevor Connor  41:32

Yeah, and actually, the word I’ll add is trust. And Grant I think I’ve heard you say this, too, but if there’s no trust in that relationship, it’s not a good coaching athlete relationship. Yeah, yeah.

Grant Hollicky  41:46

Yeah. No, you’re in trouble. For sure. Maybe there’s some pro athletes out there that it’s their job. They’re not a lot. Don’t think don’t do it. Do this way, your posture, move on, you know, but that’s not who we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about We’re talking about veteran amateurs to ride, high level achieving amateurs. Most of the time they’ve got kids or they’ve got a significant other, they’ve got a partner, they’ve got a job, they have all these things they have to deal with. You know, they have to be shown the ability by their coach to have some flexibility, or they don’t think they can have any flexibility. And I think one of the things and I it wouldn’t be a show with me on it. If I didn’t bring this up. I don’t think we can talk about an athlete’s load without discussing their load in life. You know, they may be you may be looking at their CTL on training peaks and go wow, they’re plus 10. They should be fine next week, and totally disregard the fact that they had an 80 hour work week where their kid graduated, or they had to move their kid to college. I mean, you have to understand those things. Whether it’s a beginning athlete or a veteran athlete, and I think, you know, we we talked about But veteran athletes really often take that stuff off the table and say I shouldn’t have to worry about that. Because I’m a veteran, I’m high level this and that and so a lot of times I think it’s up to the coach put it back on.

Melanie McQuaid  43:14

Well, I’d like to add something to that too and that you know, with this whole like, you’re saying professional athletes that have a coach that just tells them what to do and they just be quiet. And, and, and if it comes down to trust, then Okay, this professional athlete has chosen this coach and let’s let’s just investigate why that athlete chose that coach very often because that that coach got results with somebody else. Now, I’m just gonna make very unpopular for coaches. observation that you can just be effin lucky that you got this incredibly talented person that succeeded while you spent six months with them, right. It may have been the coach that worked with them as a junior for 12 years before they move to your program, and then all of a sudden they make the Olympic team. But the latest coach actually gets the credit for that athlete success. So really good coaches that are recognized are very often recognized because they actually had the great fortune to work with a really talented athlete. And so that that doesn’t necessarily mean that they develop that athlete. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to continue to get amazing results with all the athletes after the fact they were just really good at marketing that athlete. I’m just going to start practicing with that.

Melanie McQuaid  44:38

Then you get a program where you have a coach that potentially had a talented athlete, and then they create a program. And then that program is like a military style. You’re going to do three hours a week, every week in this group of 15. That’s very comp, like, competitive. And we’ll just see who succeeds in that program. And so you take like, somewhere between 15 and 20 athletes, and maybe the one that was successful to start with is also the only one that’s successful under that program. And so you’ve come come into this program, you haven’t said a word, you’ve been doing something that’s bought you injured six times in six years. And you’re not allowed to question or talk about or say anything about this program that’s being crammed down your throat. So I just feel like, very often, if you have a coach, that’s just saying to you, I don’t really care what you’re saying, you’ve probably got a crap coach. Like, I’m sorry, no matter what level of experience you are, whether you’re a veteran or beginner, if you’re saying something is hurting, that should matter. You should, like communicate all this stuff.

Grant Hollicky  45:52

Absolutely. And I don’t think Sorry to interrupt. I don’t think for anybody in the room. This is an unpopular opinion. You’re preaching and we’re all saying amen. So keep at it.

Melanie McQuaid  46:02

And then so then let’s carry on a little bit about like this talking with, with your coach and being a veteran athlete needs to communicate. There’s like, like, if you take an extreme example, there’s there’s kind of like two different fiber types, right? You get the sort of like, and it’s always somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum, but you have the sprinter-y, I’m just gonna simplify this for the audience, you have the sprinter-y, like, like, fast twitch type fiber type, and then you have like, the endurance, slow twitch type, fiber type, everybody somewhere in the midst of that, and what works for an athlete that has more of that sort of sprinter physiology is far different than what works for somebody with like more of a slow twitch physiology. It’s up to the coach to figure out what kind of physiology this person they’re working with has. If you’re going to start working with a veteran athlete, they should probably know, and it is astonishing to me that I work with professional athletes that don’t know because their coaches haven’t been talking about Okay, this is what we’re doing this is why and so they don’t even understand Oh, you know what I was a miler in university I have fast twitch fibers I can’t do long runs with a whole bunch of moderate work because I break versus like somebody who’s like me, okay, I’m a I’m a friggin draft horse you can put as much intensity into a program as you want and I’ll just absorb all of it and never become that fast. Right so that like you should know by that point but if you work with a coach that’s like that that’s not listening to you and not explaining to you then you’re never going to get that and and unfortunately, you’re never going to achieve your potential because you it’s all any coach that says that they work with somebody and they know exactly what’s going to work right now. Is a liar. Every time program is an experiment. Let’s see what happens if we do this. Because unless you are the person that is actually doing the program, you can’t be 100% sure what’s happening because you can’t really feel it. So every coach that says, I know exactly what we’re going to do is a total liar. I’m sorry, because you have to go and try something and see and communicate and work through it and see what happens and test it, and then either decide to continue down that road or change course because you’ve just made a mistake. And so I think that some athletes come in, like, especially beginners come to a coach and think that, oh, they’ve coached a world champion, so their God and they know exactly what’s going to happen and exactly the right program for me, and that’s their guru. And that’s the wrong way to approach this. Like a coach is somebody who’s going to basically do a human experiment on you, and you should be really sure that you feel comfortable talking to that person and trusting that person to listen to what’s happening, because that’s the quickest way to get to where you want.

Chris Case  49:05

Is there a difference? When you start working with a beginner athlete versus working with a veteran athlete? In terms of understanding what they need to work on? Or how you’re going to train them? What’s that initial assessment like? Is it different? Or do you do the exact same thing, whether it’s a conversation or a questionnaire or a combination of those things, to understand who that athlete is, and their needs?

The difference between the initial assessment of how to train a beginner verse a veteran

Trevor Connor  49:32

For me, this is the biggest difference between working with a beginner versus a veteran. When I am working with a veteran, it is really a conversation. I really want them to take ownership of putting their plan together. So I see myself more as a guide. It’s the double checking on them saying, how fatigued are you? Because veterans can be really bad about ignoring that and wanting to train harder so getting them to recognize that. When we talk about the training, they know what works for them, they know, and again, this is how I define veteran, it’s that self awareness, so they know what does and doesn’t work. And if you as a coach, ignore that you’re losing out on something fundamental in the training. So I definitely don’t want to give them the just do this and shut up. It’s a conversation. And with the veteran athletes I work with, we get on the phone every week and talk about what do we want to do this week? What works for you.

Trevor Connor  50:29

With beginners, it’s a little more, take step back and just say, training is counterintuitive. Effective training is counterintuitive. When you get on the bike and you start training and you’re brand new, the general mindset is I’m going to go and go really hard. And just keep increasing my volume and that’s gonna make me the strongest person in the world. And you have to get a little bit out of that mindset. So with a beginner again, the trust part is important, but it’s much more a, I need you to trust me, I need you to try something that’s going to feel counterintuitive for you. But I want you to try it to see what happens. And hope that they will trust you to give that a try. And I’ve worked with some beginners who just won’t trust me. And we’ll just keep going back to what they were doing those athletes I go – sorry, I can’t can’t work with you.

Chris Case  51:25

I guess to follow up and stay with you just for a second. Trevor, do you do any type of actual testing, whether on the road or in the lab to get a sense of who this athlete is? Or do you take their word for it?

Trevor Connor  51:39

I personally find it more valuable with veteran athletes because that’s usually when you’re doing much more sleuthing to try to figure out where are the holes? Where are the gaps? What are the things that we need to work on? What sort of specific training do we need to do to get them to add that extra little bit. Again, with amateurs, or sorry not amateurs, but brand new cyclists or brand new athletes, pretty much everything helps to degree. So you don’t need to be doing that specialized tailor program. It’s much more just about teaching them how to train right.

Chris Case  52:14

Yeah. So Ryan, going back to that time when you’re dealing with 200 clients, you’re not sure who these people are that are at Carmichael and same thing, you know, or maybe in contrast to that at the Performance Center, someone walks in the door, you have no idea who they are. What was your process like to determine, you know, are they beginner? Are they veteran? What are their capacities? What are their weaknesses, strengths, that sort of thing? What was your process

Ryan Kohler  52:42

Testing would be one component of that, and I think that would, the nice thing about that is when, right when you do testimony, give them that initial assessment, you can kind of get a sense for their, their level of understanding and just their knowledge around training and the process. I mean, you can see how they approach a testing session whether it’s in person, outdoors, and I think it opens up the opportunity for that discussion to go a little bit deeper, and especially then, with beginners, you know, one of the things that I see is just that self that self awareness, that inner sense, like, what are the sensations going on in my body? How do I feel, you know, after if I do a field test or a lab test, or I just go out and do my very first ride and go up Flagstaff and realize just how much climbing that is, whatever it is, you know, getting them to go through that discussion of, well, what should it feel like? What are these sensations that we could talk about, you know, if they if they have a heart rate monitor, what did you see happening and getting them in tune with that, with their bodies like that? Then I think, you know, going to a veteran, they have a little bit better understanding, typically of what, what’s going on and they can usually describe those things a little bit better. I think one of the challenges with veterans then is, I think Trevor alluded to this a bit too is, you know, they have some things that they know worked or didn’t work and, and, or they may just be on the same path that they’ve been on for a while. So sometimes it’s getting them out of those habits, you know, and I think regardless of beginner or veteran, you know, just with now that we have so much, so much data and technology available. When I’m starting off with someone, I always like to try and bring it back to those basics of like, perceived effort and see what’s your understanding of, yeah, how you feel in relation to this workout or this training plan. Or, like Trevor said, How fatigued are you, you know, getting them to start to get a subjective sense of their progress before jumping in to more of those objective pieces. And yeah, if there’s, you know, if I can do something in person, I think that’s hugely helpful across the board. I mean, I think with beginners, we would have expectations of, you know, how they would perform if we just saw them. You If they went for a run, and we saw them just how they move, or they hopped on the bike, and we could see their skill level, I mean, we can have some expectations there, but then it at least gives us that opportunity to develop, you know, the process with them, and what’s the game plan look like from that point? You know, and I think with, with veterans too, you know, seeing them if you have, if you’re able to, you know, if they’re local, and you can see them go to a race, great, that’s awesome to just watch them, you know, in competition, and, you know, so I think that in person, anything you could do to just see them in person is vastly important, too.

How to make your coaching experience successful

Chris Case  55:34

I wanted to sort of, at this point, turn things around a little bit. And, you know, we’ve got, presumably some beginner athletes listening, we’ve got some veteran athletes listening out there. From all of the coaches gathered here today. I want to know, your advice to those people listening out there, what they can do. To be the best athlete, I think of this in terms of the medical scenario, the analogy being the doctor and the patient have to work together to figure out the diagnosis. If the patient goes in and doesn’t really say what the symptoms are, can’t really describe what’s going on what they need, what they want, what’s what’s hurting, etc, then the doctor has not enough information to work with and it makes it more challenging to have that doctor patient relationship be a successful one. I feel like a coaching athlete experience and relationship is is has much the much the same type of dynamic. So the question is, what is the most important thing what are the few most important things a beginner can do to make the coaching experiences Success. Same thing with that veteran athlete. Maybe I’ll start with you Grant.

Grant Hollicky  57:05

You kind of hit the nail on the head with that analogy, at least in my book. You know, one of the things that we tell patients when they go see a doctor now is have a list of questions, write them down, make sure you have them available to you so you can ask. The coach athlete relationship, especially amongst beginners, often is seen as a power gap. The coach has all the knowledge, the beginning athlete has no knowledge. So I’m just not going to say anything and I’m going to listen to everything that they say. You know, I think it’s so important to be honest with what your goals are. Don’t go to a coach that’s coached world champions and be very, very embarrassed that your athletic goal is to complete a sprint triathlon and lose 10 pounds. There’s nothing wrong with that goal. That goal is your goal and that goal needs to be important. And if it doesn’t work with that coach, you should find a different coach because as everybody here has talked about that relationships not going to be effective because what they’ve done with somebody else is going to work for you. So a real honesty in what it is that you want and a real honesty and what it is that you need, what kind of support do you need? Do you need that coach conversation every week? Or do you not? I think those things are absolutely crucial. And you need to have that understanding. And then for the veteran athlete, it’s the same but with a little bit of a change. You still have to have that honesty, you still have to have that ability to say what it is that you want. But with a veteran athlete, you really have to be able to provide, this is what I can give. I can give one hour a day, that’s it. I know I’m a veteran athlete, but I can only give you seven hours of training in a week. And while that’s really, really important for a beginner to most good coaches with a beginner, aren’t loading a ton of volume on him, you know, veteran athletes, we tend to think they can handle more volume. So that honesty, that setting of goals together with a coach, and then I think both Ryan and Mel said it the ability to reevaluate those goals if something’s going wrong. I really love what Mel was saying earlier about coaching is a human experiment. It really is. And if you’re doing it the right way, everybody buys in, they commit fully for a period of time you analyze the results, if the results aren’t what you want, you go back to the drawing board and you come up with something new. And, you know, one of the things that we’ve talked about maybe talking about is when is it important to end those relationships when one party or the other isn’t willing or isn’t able to try something different, that’s probably when it’s time to end the relationship.

Melanie McQuaid  57:13

Whether it is a veteran or a beginner way that I preface any relationship is that my job as a coach is to offer direction and advice. And ultimately, the decision as to whether or not the athlete follows that advice is up to them. So, if I’m coaching somebody who’s a professional athlete, who’s holding me accountable to their results at a race, I’m going to be firmer with the advice on what we do coming up to it. Ultimately, it’s always their choice, but I’ll be like, this is the decision we should make in terms of whether or not you do this session whether or not you travel on this day, whether or not you prioritize this, because what’s coming this race is of a higher priority for you because you’re a pro. With the beginner, there’s a lot, I generally think that that athlete needs to have a lot more rope to not follow that advice and make mistakes. Because otherwise they don’t get to learn from from doing the wrong thing. They don’t get to learn from, like doubling the volume for a week, and you know, dying, right? So you have to give them a chance to say, okay, like test whether or not that advice was any good, right? And so over time, if they continue, like I mean, you also have to be have some flexibility as a coach to just see that they’re not following any of your advice, which, you know, I have experienced that or, or you have athletes that want to like that you feel pretty strongly that the direction that they want to go in is going to require some technical changes, right. So like, this is a difficult conversation how with people like you, you aren’t running correctly. You don’t know how to run, you want to race an Ironman down the road, you’re probably not going to be able to run without injury, if you don’t change things, but you know you’ve had running injuries in the past because you don’t run correctly. So having them basically go through a process of changing something which may result in like, some, you know, potentially pain and injuries while you’re changing things is a real thing. But ultimately, I always empower that athlete to make their own decisions, and then come back to me. I’ll be accountable to, you know, being responsible for making mistakes, for sure and owning all those. But I think that’s how you have to have the relationship be, is that all I can offer is advice and what I think is going to happen and qualify, why I think it’s going to happen, but ultimately, depending on how important training and racing is in your life, you have to empower that person to make their own decision.

Melanie McQuaid  1:00:06

Yeah, I think with the veteran athlete, it seems like it is that Yeah, just that qualification of having that resource to, to look toward and, you know, some some of the longer coaching relationships I’ve had over the years that have, you know, with now, veteran athletes it is it’s, it’s more of more make a decision. Sometimes it’s them making the decision and then me just validating it or not, and putting giving them additional input. And it really comes down to us making the decision together. Whereas with a beginner athlete and might be a little bit more, a little bit heavier of me suggesting, you know, what that decision could look like with their input. So I think just that level of input from the athlete becomes more and more crucial as they develop too.

Trevor Connor  1:03:50

I think one of the hardest things to do as a coach but what can lead to some of the best moments, is as part of that education process, when you see the athlete make a bad decision and you let them make that decision. Because they need to learn what happens when they go down that road. And your job as a coach is to be at the end of that dead end and go, here’s why you don’t want to go down this road.

Chris Case  1:04:16

That’s parenting.

Melanie McQuaid  1:04:18

Yeah, I think that’s been the hardest thing for me as a coach  to do. That’s one thing I would watch Houshang, just watch athletes just do the dumbest things all the time. And I would be like, why are you not intervening? And he would just be like, just like shrug his shoulders like these are young athletes they have to be free to make these mistakes and to learn from it, and he’s just like, infinitely more patient than I am. Houshang is the coach in Victoria that I’m always going on about because I just and I just find that he’s so centered and calm and confidence and I mean, he’s just like you Like you’re the ultimate dad, he’s gonna let you go out and make the mistake and then he’s gonna like, pick you up and dust you off and like Wipe your tears and send you off on your way again and like trying to cultivate more of that patience with people who like sometimes I just in the past would just get really frustrated that potentially I wasn’t communicating why I was right. Right and now I don’t need to be right anymore. You know what I am sure you guys can relate to this. but, but now I’m just like, Okay, this is the best advice I can offer you and, and just allow them to go and do those things and just be ready with the band aids when when it’s necessary.

How coaches set expectations for varying level athletes

Chris Case  1:05:47

I guess another to switch gears here. Another topic that I’d really be interested in hearing from all of you on is this this expectation set around progress. When you start working with a beginner athlete comes in wants – I don’t know if that athlete that wanted to win the yellow jersey was a beginner or a veteran, but regardless -how do you set expectations with a beginner? And how do you set expectations with a veteran, they’re going to progress at different rates, there might only be 2%. left on the table for a veteran that you start working with, there might be 100% left on the table with a beginner and the timeline for each is could be radically different. So how do you make the call on that? And what how do you express that to them? Trevor, I’ll start with you this time.

Trevor Connor  1:06:46

So since we’ve been talking about Houshang share the story about actually my very first conversation ever with Houshang where he sat down with me, just arrived at the center and he asked me what my goals were And I told him, and he said, No, not this year. Like, no, I have to do it this year, and he just went No, two years from now. Yes. This year, you get worse. And I just could not accept that whatever it takes, I want to accomplish that goal this year. And sure enough, that that year, that first year was not a good year for me. The next year, I was at a whole different level. And what Houshang taught me which I fully didn’t get at the time I was very frustrated by was that there are certain improvements that take time and as a matter of fact, to achieve those improvements in the short run you have to get worse. This is something that I have seen that a lot of new athletes do that some coaches do that in the long run is a mistake is they discover, hey, if you do a whole bunch of high intensity, you see improvements really quickly. As we’ve talked about you plateau really quickly to the big improvements that really raise your level over time. Take a long time, and some athletes find it hard and some coaches find it hard to show the patience to say I’m going to stop doing that little trick to get the quick bump and actually try to progress over time. And that’s hard. That’s really hard to do.

Chris Case  1:08:25

Can you put numbers on this at all? Could you say, oh, a beginner, you’re, you’re fresh to this sport. I can get you to a place where you can finish your first century ride in six months or eight months. Can you do you ever talk in those terms? Or do you avoid that as much as possible?

Melanie McQuaid  1:08:48

As a coach, the way you measure whether or not you’re successful is you ask them to set process goals that are measurable, and then you you know, outline what those goals are for a season and then at the end of the season, you go back and you look like I know lots of like in the past, I’ve worked, I’d work with coaches where we set all these goals. And we’d never have a discussion as to whether or not we did any of those things. And I’ve actually had athletes that I had one athlete that I worked with who was on I think I worked with her for like two years, and she could find the negative and everything positive all the time. Like she won the national championships for half distance or whatever and she said the only reason she won was because it was hot, you know, and it’s just like, weird things like you she couldn’t own any success and, and when she left, I went back and said, Okay, well, hey, these were your goals for the year, you know, podium at Nationals, this amount of wattage, this kind of like consistency, whatever. And I just wrote her a letter and said, these were the things that you wanted to accomplish this year. These are the things that you accomplished. You had an awesome season and it’s been awesome working with you, you know, after the fact. She was like, wow, I had no idea because athletes can get so focused on the next, that they they miss the fact that they’ve actually gone from point A to point B. And as a coach, it’s really important for you to help them benchmark because it can get, because it’s a never ending process, ideally, of improvement. And so you can basically become overwhelmed or, or just frustrated with the amount of time it’s taking to make change. And because it happens so slowly, you don’t recognize that change is happening. And so it’s important as a coach to keep going back and say, Hey, you started here, and we’re now here. So you have to make sure that you have a solid case when you go back to this athlete to say you’ve gotten better because if you just say, Oh, well you look better you have a tan. That’s really not enough to tell them that they got better. Right. They say, Okay, yeah, you went outside and rode a lot, you have a weird cycling tan and your FTP or your 20 minute power has gone up 30 watts, that’s helpful, right? That’s objective and something that they can’t really refute. So I think that that’s the whole point of these process goals over an outcome goal, which is, you know, I wanted to, let’s say it’s national championships, and there’s a pandemic and the Nationals doesn’t happen. So then all of a sudden that that athlete season has been a complete waste. Whereas if the whole process was, I want to improve my one minute power by 2%, and then my 20 minute Power by, you know, 3% these are the numbers that we think are realistic. We did both of those things. If the Nationals had happened, we would have put ourselves in a place of being successful. It’s been a great season and we stayed motivated all year. So that’s, that’s really like how you make sure that your your experiment is working and you You can, you can further enhance that trust with an athlete that they know that you’re you’re keeping track as a coach of this product process, because that’s your job. Like, definitely, there’s a lot of athletes that will be constantly poring over the charts on training peaks or whatever. But in general, as a coach, your job is to make sure that this experiment is working. And so you have to continually be justifying your methods by, you know, benchmarking and testing them. And so, I think that some sort of testing for athletes that have numbers and and you know, you know, real things that they’re trying to accomplish, those athletes require that kind of reinforcement. And certainly I have athletes that are just training to be fast in a group ride and they just want to feel good and they don’t actually carry the test or they don’t have power and they don’t care about any of that stuff. They just want to be able to show up at any ride. With any person and be one of the fastest climbers that nobody expected them to be fast, they’re like sleeper fast people. And and that’s cool too. But they don’t want to do they don’t really want to test other than me just giving them something scary to do on a day because it’s motivating, right? So you get all sorts, but certainly no matter what, as a coach, your job is to make sure they’re a) not getting injured. So it’s appropriate loading and b) there moving forwards, and you can prove that to them.

Chris Case  1:13:28


Ryan Kohler  1:13:30

Yeah, I think just with those comments are great. And I think they highlight the value of a coach because as coaches we have some expectation of how things should progress. And I think like, like Grant said, Yeah, I’d be wary of someone who said, Oh, you’re gonna Yeah, you can do your first marathon in six, you know, with my six week training plan, you know, but it’s but we have an expectation generally of what are the what are those goals along the way? What Yeah, what benchmarks do you need to hit and that’s really where that value of that third person comes in, to, you know, oversee it. And give you that guidance to say, yeah, we’re, we’re on track. This looks good. And oh, yes. with, you know, six more months of training when you have your century, your first century coming up. Yeah, I think you could be successful. And, you know, it’s, you know, with my background in nutrition, too. I always find myself with that little bias of, okay, they’re doing all this physical work, and I want to make sure early on, you know, I get them thinking about those other things that might happen as well did you completely, you know, forget your to make a nutrition plan, and then you go out there and you have all this great Training and Fitness, but then it falls apart because you didn’t bring enough food or something. making them aware of, you know, just other variables that are out there on that day, you know, I mean, I think the Leadville 100, is a great example where you can go to that line with the best preparation, the best nutrition, but then the weather, the you know, 90,000 other riders around you at the start can can change your day pretty drastically. So, you know, that’s really Yeah, what the coaches there for to is to help just compile all those and, and help set those expectations and and keep them just keep everything in check as you go along.

Take Home Messages

Chris Case  1:15:16

That’s a really good final thought there. I think it should take us into our take home messages, these 60 second segments. We’ll start with Ryan today. What do you think the most important messages from this episode as a whole coaching relationship between beginner and veteran athletes?

Ryan Kohler  1:15:42

I think you know, across the board beginner to veteran is, you know, as an athlete when you’re working with the coach just being as open as possible to start with and that’ll help to really cultivate the relationship you know, and then and coming into Just having some idea of like, what drives you, what motivates you, what allows you to just have fun with it? I think the whole you know, love what you do and do what you love sort of, you know, thing applies here pretty well. And I think if you just bring whatever that that passion is and you know, passion or concerns or things that scare you about moving forward in the relationship if you just bring those all to the table with a coach, and I think that gives you a good chance of developing a nice relationship.

Grant Hollicky  1:16:31

One thing that I think is super important for athletes to understand is that, you know, we keep talking about this coach athlete thing as a relationship, you know, ending that relationship is going to be a lot like a breakup. But one of the things that I I hope and I want athletes to understand is if it’s not working for you, I don’t know very many coaches that are down to continue that relationship. So making sure that you’re speaking up making sure that you’re saying hey, I need something different and if nothing changes, willing and the relationship coaches every coach on the planet has been dumped before we can handle it. And it’s more about the athlete and the athlete getting what they want than the athlete being worried about whether the coach is going to get offended or upset or anything along those lines. If it’s time for change it let’s start with this. If you need something different Speak up, say you need something different. But if it’s time for change, make that change. Be distinct, be clear, and move on.

Chris Case  1:17:29

Trevor, I’ll throw it to you.

Trevor Connor  1:17:32

I get to take a minute and a half just because I want to use a quick story to to make this point

Chris Case  1:17:36

I’ll give it to you this time.

Trevor Connor  1:17:38

So here is how I instantly know a brand new cyclist is I go out for a ride with them. And we’re riding side by side. And every time we hit a little hill, they hit that hill at 500 watts. They just pound up that hill and I ultimately ended up explaining this to him because it just annoys the hell out of me having them drop me on every single little hill. So I’ll explain look, you just want to go same effort. You don’t want to hit every hill as hard as you can hit it. I think, Okay, I get it. And then we get to the next show, and now they hit a 450 watts. And eventually I just have to go, Wait for me at the top. Sorry. So my one minute here is for beginner athletes. I guess my biggest suggestion to you is keep an open mind and understand that a lot of what you are going to see a lot of what you’re going to learn is really counterintuitive. And it’s hard. You’re gonna want to hit that hill at 500 watts. And it’s really hard to stop yourself but as a beginner, if you eventually want to be that veteran athlete, you’re gonna have to do a lot of things that are uncomfortable that aren’t going to seem right at first and and try them, learn them make those mistakes and discover what does work. For the veteran athlete, you, by this point, Know yourself. Your challenge is to know what you’ve been doing that works for you. Because when you find things that work you want to hang on to them. But also be able to identify the things that you’ve been doing that either are just habit or that are no longer working for you and keep the things at work and be willing to throw out and change the rest.

Chris Case  1:19:36

Yeah, I think to follow up on that. It sounds to me like the beginner one of the fundamental principles here would be patience. Don’t expect – you might want to hire a coach because you want to just go fast and you want that to happen overnight. But to do it, right to do it effectively to do it without injuring yourself. You got to have some patience. On the flip side, I think we didn’t really talk too much about the concept with veterans of humility. We talked about veterans coming to the table to come into the relationship with Oh, they know themselves, they know this, they know that, I think, maybe not always, but sometimes there should be a bit of humility as in, I don’t know everything. So I’m going to listen to the coach. That’s why I’m hiring this coach because they might know something else that I don’t know. Or they might know something that I’m doing that we could tweak just a little bit, or we could radically change and it could make huge gains or help me make huge gains. So having a little bit of open mindedness, humility, whatever you want to call it about that and and working on the process, there of would be helpful, and that would be two things I would add here.

Trevor Connor  1:20:54

Mel you want to finish this up here.

Melanie McQuaid  1:20:56

I think what Chris said is true like that humility also exists in the code. So as a coach, I know that I can learn a lot from a variety of athletes too, because their experiences are valid. And similarly, everybody’s goals and reasons why they want to train are valid. You ultimately have the decision on on how much accountability you expect from an two year coach. But everybody’s journey and reasons and approach to training and racing is is valid, and you get to choose.

Chris Case  1:21:29

Well, that was a great discussion. Thanks to Mel. Thanks to Ryan. Thanks for being here. Thanks to Grant.

Ryan Kohler  1:21:34

Thanks for having us, Chris. And Trevor.

Melanie McQuaid  1:21:36

An interesting and spirited discussion as always,

Trevor Connor  1:21:39

I thoroughly enjoyed having you and sorry, Grant isn’t here to say goodbye. He had to go eat some emergency Grape Nuts.

Chris Case  1:21:46

Grape Nuts. He was talking just talking that much.

Chris Case  1:21:52

That was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we’d love your feedback. Email us at or record a voice memo on your Phone and send it our way. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast and be sure to leave us a rating and review. Sign up for our newsletter. Find out what Ryan Kohler-  Coach Koehler – is up to next by signing up for our newsletter at The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual for Coach Connor, for Coach Ryan Koehler, for Coach Grant Hollicky, and for Coach Melanie McQuaid, I’m Chris Case, thanks for listening.