Modern Profiles in the Craft of Coaching: Kendra Wenzel
Kendra Wenzel co-founded her coaching business in the mid-1990s. In the years since, Wenzel Coaching, based in Portland, Oregon, has grown to be one of the biggest in the field with 35 to 40 associate coaches nationwide and as many as 400 clients served in a year. The story of how Kendra got started in coaching will seem familiar to many coaches—she was a good athlete who loved her sport.
However, in Kendra’s case, “good” is an understatement. She was a Pan American Games Gold medalist in 1991, a member of the U.S. National Cycling team for seven years, and raced as a pro cyclist for 14 years with more than 100 career wins. In addition, she was a US National Championship medalist 15 times. Having amassed such an impressive list of achievements, it might come as a surprise that Kendra never had the advantage of working with a personal coach herself. She worked with different coaches over her cycling career and on the National team, but she never hired a dedicated personal coach to write her daily program or monitor her season progression. So in establishing her own coaching business, she collected up the hows, whats, and whys of coaching from her experience as an athlete and further learning. And judging from the success of her athletes and the longevity of her business, it seems she came up with a winning formula.
Kendra Wenzel’s path to pro cycling
How did Wenzel, the athlete, become such a prolific cycling contender? In high school she participated in many sports—soccer, basketball, softball, and track and field—and was pretty good at all of them. Her track coach, Tinker Hatfield Sr., had some sage advice for her when she was a senior that would shape the rest of her life: “You don’t train hard enough. You’re good at everything because you do everything, but if you just picked one thing, you could be great.” That started her thinking. What was her favorite sport—the one she could focus on?
While she did some riding as a teenager and enjoyed the freedom it allowed, it wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she competed in her first bike race. It was a straight-away sprint in downtown Portland. On race day she found she was the only woman in the field and would be competing with the men. The adrenaline won her over, and, in her words, “I didn’t get last!” From that point on, Kendra was hooked on cycling. Coach Hatfield’s advice got her started down that path, and he proved to be right.
Following that first race came plenty of time atop the podium, climbing to the national level within her first few years of racing.
The launch of Wenzel Coaching
During this time Kendra began offering training and racing advice to other cyclists and enjoying it. That led, in part, to establishing Wenzel Coaching in 1994. It was a rather small operation for the first few years, but, by the end of 1999, with more than a decade of success at the pro level, she decided to retire from bike racing and take up coaching as her full-time profession. With retirement, she personally took on additional clients, still focusing mostly on elite athletes.
It was the success of one of her first assistant coaches, Scott Saifer (who is now a partner in the company), in mentoring “learn-to-ride” customers and athletes with health issues (diabetes, heart disease, and physical disabilities) opened her eyes to the potential growth of the business that could result from broadening the market. Today, Wenzel Coaching provides services for a wide range of clients with clinics and camps for those wanting to get started in the sport, to Category 3 and 4 riders, and to the elites and aspiring elites she still enjoys coaching.
Over the years she has also added triathlon, running, adventure sports, gran fondos, cyclocross, gravel, mountain bike, track, and cross-country skiing coaches. Additionally, Wenzel Coaching consults with individuals looking to address general fitness, weight loss, and nutrition. With coaches throughout North America and clients around the world, Kendra has nurtured a robust business and a great reputation. And the seminal learn-to-ride lessons proved to be a key to riding out the Covid-19 pandemic, when traditional coaching services suffered.
Kendra’s coaching scorecard
Kendra Wenzel, the coach, not the entrepreneur, still enjoys working with high-level athletes as they hone their careers. She has helped produce some of the top American riders of the last several years. It’s a sizable list including:
- Clara Honsinger, 3-time Cyclocross US National Champion (2018, 2019, and 2021), with World Cup podiums as well
- Jade Wilcoxon, 2013 Elite US National Road and Pursuit Champion
- Christina Truesdale, 2021 Para Cycling US National Road Champion
- Briana Walle, winner of the 2016 North Star Grand Prix, 2014 Tour de Feminin (Czech Rep), and teammate on the winning team time trial crew at the 2015 US National Championship
Few coaches have produced so many national champions and world class contenders.
Building a successful business
While she once coached 16 to 20 high-performance athletes at a time, a rather common workload, she now works with just 4 to 6 athletes, mostly elite women riders. Reducing her client load leaves time to oversee her business. That’s made somewhat more effective by promoting her most experienced and successful coaches to the “head coach” level. Those coaches mentor the newer coaches in the business and work closely with the boss. She adds, “Sometimes the best associate coaches are the [athletes] you coached.” That’s a conclusion many other coaches have also come to when expanding their businesses.
What does she look for when considering hiring a coach? It’s the same thing she suggests athletes should look for in their personal coach: “The most important skill of a coach is communication. There’s nothing else that even comes close. If the client has a problem the coach has got to be there with an answer—quickly.” She believes that the best coach is a “people person” who builds trust with the client and listens closely. The coach may be into data, as she confesses she also is, but must first and foremost take care of their athletes as people, not sets of numbers. She is fully dedicated to what is best for the athlete. Even if the athlete decides to change coaching companies, she believes the former coach should offer help to the new coach so that the athlete has a smooth transition. “But,” she says, “very few other coaches take me up on that offer.”
Wenzel sees associate coaches as the heart of her business. She invests in their growth. In addition to building their people skills, her development plan for associate coaches includes training around how to run their own small, local business of one; marketing their unique services; and recruiting athletes. Her model depends on a grassroots effort by associate coaches to reach out to potential clients in their local areas.
Outside of the company’s website, WenzelCoaching.com, the bulk of the marketing is done on the local level. Wenzel considers marketing to be her strongest business interest and her primary job in the company. Along that line, she makes it her goal to raise the profiles of her associate coaches in their respective communities. This brings clients on board who can potentially have close personal relationships with their coaches. Of the company’s marketing strategies, the most successful, she believes, are local coach camps and clinics. And the other best generator of business is website content, to which Wenzel’s individual coaches regularly contribute.
Overseeing a growing business is a challenging task. So why does she do it? “You’re never going to get rich as a coach,” Wenzel says, “but I keep doing it because I love it.”
You have completed Module 4 // The Business of Coaching.