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3 // Mapping a Season of Training

A competitive marathon runner with arms raised in the air crosses the finish line at the Padova Marathon.
Unsplash: petermpazzo

This Craft of Coaching module explores different approaches to mapping a season of a training. Whether a coach’s methodology looks something like the classic model of periodization popularized by Arthur Lydiard, or altogether different, one thing remains the same: Every coach plans a season of training around the adaptations that will be required for the athlete to reach their goal.

Illustrated headshot of Arthur Lydiard

Profiles in Coaching: Arthur Lydiard

Legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard revolutionized the sport with his approach to periodized training. In the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, his athletes rose to prominence, putting his 100-mile training week on the radar of running coaches worldwide.

Pre-Season Preparation

The start of a new season is likely to bring new clients. There are obvious challenges to onboarding new athletes, which Joe Friel will explores here. Planning a season of training for a returning client also involves plenty of unknowns and begins with the simple question: Is the athlete’s goal appropriate?

Process for Goal Setting and Season Planning

Onboarding New Athletes

Goal assessment and season planning are two details you must attend to in taking on a new athlete.

Crafting a Season Plan

As Chief of Sport Performance at USA Cycling, Jim Miller works with Olympic and world champion cyclists, most of whom are working with another coach. He is slow to criticize another coach’s approach to training. This is because he knows that when the race starts, there could be as many different approaches to cultivating performance as there are riders in the field. Miller’s perspective is a good reminder to pull up and see the forest for the trees.

Jim Miller USA Cycling Coach Fast Talk Podcast

What Makes a Good Training Plan?

USA Cycling’s Jim Miller reviews everything a coach must take into account to prepare a training plan that cultivates both performance and longevity for the athlete.

How to Map a Training Plan

Joe Friel has invited four prominent endurance sport coaches to share their approach to season planning. The first two athletes are hypothetical triathletes, but their goals are likely familiar to experienced endurance coaches. The adaptations required are as different as the coaches who will guide their training. However these goals or plans might differ from your own athletes and methodology, there are insights to accelerate your coaching practice in the year ahead.

For an Athlete Tackling a Longer Race

Rear view of a female swimmer looking into a pool

Athlete Profile: Triathlete Leveling Up to Ironman

Mary is in search of building a big aerobic fitness base for Ironman-distance racing. Ultimately, she has wants to qualify for Kona and she believes Alan Couzens is the coach who can help her make that dream a reality.

Good communication between an athlete and coach is invaluable to the onboarding process. In the Q&A that follows, Coach Alan Couzens’ prospective athlete Mary will get a better understanding of his coaching methodology. Likewise, Alan can better asses her season goals and what it will take to achieve them.

Lower half of a female triathlete running their bike through a transition area

Coach Alan Couzens’ Onboarding Process

There’s plenty of information to gather when deciding whether to take on a new athlete. Coach Alan Couzens responds to Mary to learn more about her training history and lifestyle.

When athlete and coach share a mutual understanding of the goals and methods, it’s time for the coach to get to the work of crafting a personalized training plan. Couzens shares his training plan for a triathlete moving up to a longer race distance. What lessons can we draw from his approach for athletes of other sports and race distances?

Coach Alan Couzens teaches a swimmer

Season Plan for Triathlete Leveling Up to Ironman

Athletes often underestimate the amount of fitness that they lose in tapering for, and recovery from, excessively frequent racing. This is especially true in Mary’s case where she is looking to make a significant jump in training load in order to properly prepare for the Ironman distance.

Now that you’ve seen Couzens’ onboarding and season training plan, it’s helpful to understand where he is coming from as a coach. Get to know Alan Couzens in the profile below, where you will discover his background, philosophy, and methodology. Do you see his experience as a coach reflected in his training plan?

Triathlon Coach Alan Couzens of MAD Scientist Coaching

Coach Alan Couzens

As head coach and founder of MAD Science Coaching, Alan Couzens works primarily with triathletes—amateurs, serious amateurs, and a few pros. More recently, MAD Science Coaching began providing training plans and testing to amateur athletes, leveraging Alan’s experience in the lab, testing pro athletes competing at the highest level of the sport. 

For an Aspiring Olympic Triathlete

An athlete striving to go pro or make it to the Olympics must take a longer view on performance, as we will see in this season plan from Dr. Andy Kirkland. Coach Kirkland maps a 3-year macrocycle for a collegiate runner-turned-triathlete who is going for the big time.

Triathlete before an open-water swim

Athlete Profile: Aspiring Olympic Triathlete

A young, ambitious triathlete with limited race experience reaches out to Coach Andy Kirkland for help in making it to the Olympic Games in 2024.

Below, Dr. Kirkland’s outlines a strategic plan for performance that is rooted in his unique methodology. Dr. Kirkland explains what he sees as the lynchpins of success: the relationship between the coach and athlete, an environment that will foster performance, and a commitment to the many benchmarks to be reached en route to the goal his athlete seeks.

Graphic of vision, mission, and philosophy intertwined with each other

Performance Plan for an Aspiring Olympian

Dr. Andy Kirkland outlines what it will take for an aspiring young triathlete to go pro, illuminating a biopsychosocial approach to season planning.

Having seen Dr. Kirkland’s well-reasoned, dynamic training plan, it may not surprise you to learn that he is a professor of sports coaching. Meet the man in the coach profile below.

photo of cycling Coach Andy Kirkland, Ph.D.

Coach Dr. Andy Kirkland

Andy Kirkland is a Lecturer in sports coaching at the University of Stirling in Scotland. He works with coaches from the grassroots to the highest level of sport on the MSc. Performance Coaching Programme.

For a Masters Athlete with Big Goals

Now let’s take a look at one of the most common coaching scenarios: a masters athlete with limited time for training. Because Cynthia has established consistency and race experience year over year, she and her coach planned a season of training that would give her a shot at standing on the podium at nationals. With this athlete profile and season plan it’s easy to see the benefit of the additional knowledge that both athlete and coach bring to the table.

Photo of two cyclists before a ride

Athlete Profile: Masters Cyclist Who Wants to Podium

Coach Trevor Connor reflects on his work with a masters cyclist with big hopes for Nationals. Find out more about her athletic history and lifestyle in the lead-up to the racing season.

Now we know the athlete. Let’s take a look at Coach Connor’s season plan, which strikes a balance of training by being focused on the purpose of each week and maintaining the appropriate level of recovery.

photo of cyclist in a race

Season Plan for Masters Cyclist Who Wants to Podium

Coach Trevor Connor presents the season plan he created for Cynthia, a female masters athlete based in Colorado. Connor’s plan includes the training detail for the final weeks leading up to Nationals.

As a coach, Trevor Connor is very deliberate in how he plans recovery into training. He shares his method for quantifying recovery both as a training prescription and athlete feedback in the article that follows.

Silhouettes of cyclists riding in a group, with one holding their arms overhead

Coach Connor’s Method to Training Recovery

Recovery is at the heart of training adaptation. Without rest the body can’t rebuild and get stronger. This is why recovery is fundamental to how I coach and a focal point for my athletes.

You may know Trevor Connor as the Cohost of the Fast Talk sport science podcast, but it’s his 20 years of experience in a variety of roles within the sport of cycling that make Fast Talk the most in-depth and dynamic podcast in endurance sport. Get to know Trevor better in his coach profile.

Trevor Connor

Coach Trevor Connor

Trevor Connor has over 20 years of experience in bike racing and coaching. His love of cycling led him to work in national performance centers, collegiate cycling, team management, and to write for a major cycling magazine. He has a master’s in exercise bioenergetics and nutrition.

For an Elite Athlete

While he now works with athletes in a wide range of sports, coach and physiologist Dean Golich first made a name for himself by developing cyclists who fell short of making the national team. Golich made the decision to focus his coaching practice on developing athletes for career-long performance.

photo of cycling coach Dean Golich with world-champion athletes, Allison Dunlap and Mari Holden

Block Training Plan for an Elite Cyclist

The principles of block training can be applied across endurance sports, whether the athlete is elite or amateur. The biggest difference is that elite or pro athletes have more time to train.

Dean Golich is the coach and physiologist behind many of the Olympic and world champion cyclists in recent years. Check out his background in the coach profile below.

Coach Dean Golich

Coach Dean Golich

Dean Golich is Performance Director at Red Bull and Chief of R&D for the Brooklyn Nets. He also serves on the Sports Advisory Council for the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, a multidisciplinary venture that leverages science and expertise to implement meaningful changes for all people.

Developing Sport-Specific Skills

Most athletes can become more efficient at their sport. Development of sport-specific movement patterns needs to considered in the coach’s season plan. Skill development is best tackled early in the season because it takes time and lots of practice to rebuild the neurological pathways that lead to improved efficiency. This is also a reason to avoid overloading the athlete with correction to technique. Prioritize what needs to happen and include time to practice in training.

Coach Joe Friel shares his skill development protocol below.

A swim coach speaking to his athlete

How to Teach Sport-Specific Movement Patterns

Joe Friel outlines his method for analyzing sport-specific movement patterns. After establishing a hierarchy to the movements, he teaches athletes each subcomponent until mastery is achieved.

Next, Coach Joe Friel demonstrates how his skill development protocol works in teaching two of four essential open water swim skills. Regardless of whether you coach triathletes, the video that follows shows how to assess an athlete’s existing movement patterns. From there, correct skill can be taught and practiced for improved performance.

teaching swimmer coach skills

How to Teach Sport-Specific Skills

Joe Friel explains his five steps for teaching sport-specific skills to an athlete.

Successful coaches are committed to learning even if it means evolving their own ideas. Coach Joe Friel came to adopt a different approach to open-water swimming over the course of his career. In the case study that follows, he describes a method for teaching this movement pattern to triathletes over a week-long training camp.

Triathletes starting their open-water swim portion of a race

Case Study: How to Teach Open-Water Swim Skills to Triathletes

Over my career, I learned how to teach triathletes to improve their swimming. I found that this method results in a significantly greater improvement in a shorter amount of time.