Hiring a triathlon coach is nearly requisite these days in order to successfully move up in distance, balance training with work/family life and keep up with the competitive nature of the age-group fields.
Outside of the triathletes who grew up as swimmers, most people have to learn how to properly swim freestyle as adults, which carries a distinct learning curve for most triathletes. Triathlon coaches excel in creating unique training plans formulated to progress the athlete toward his or her specific race(s) and goals, but because they work remotely, they often are unable to help their athletes with swimming mechanics and specificity. Unless the athlete has a local coach for coached sessions in the pool, assimilating the principles of proper swimming mechanics can be difficult.
This is why having a swim coach is a worthy investment. The swimming coach doesn’t have to take the place of a triathlon coach but rather can complement the coach, allowing for the two experts to work together to tailor each swim workout to the specific needs of the athlete. A triathlon coach provides a macro view of the athlete’s training program and periodization, while the in-person swimming coach takes a microscope to the subtleties of an athlete’s freestyle mechanics.
Through one-on-one sessions and/or video, your swim coach could actually help your triathlon coach with detailed stroke analysis, including stroke errors and timing issues, mechanical inefficiencies and subtle technique tweaks/focuses to be included in their training plan. Otherwise, with only limited data such as pace and distance, the remote coach has little to gauge progress and efficiency by.
What to look for in a swimming coach:
Swimming is a blind sport in the sense that the swimmer is unable to visually process how his or her body is moving in the water. A trained eye on deck can help provide you with immediate feedback on stroke mechanics. A place like SwimLabs, with locations in California, Colorado, Illinois, Washington and Virginia, uses an Endless Pool and video technology to analyze a swimmer’s stroke in real time—a worthy investment if you have a location near you.
Find a coach who is able to communicate to you clearly, perhaps in a manner that is specific to your sports background. For example, a coach who works with a baseball player in the water should relate the hip drive and rotation of freestyle to that of swinging a baseball bat by leading the swing with hip and core rotation or drive. Communication is key and this athlete/coach rapport is built from a coach who has dedicated countless hours working with various athletes and recognizing the patterns that exist between the swimmer’s mind and the actual mechanics of their freestyle.
Look for a professional who swims or has swum a lot in the past. The practical application of the coach’s methodologies should be explored firsthand, allowing for a greater understanding of how you will respond to the particular drills and focuses they prescribe during coached sessions. This is true for most any sport and, if you think about it, most any coach has played the sport that they coach.
Seek out someone who has worked with a lot of triathletes or adult-onset swimmers—and who ideally has a solid reputation among this crowd. Even better if the coach does open-water sessions!
Hiring a coach to work with you in the water will allow you to make the quickest progress on your swim stroke and provide you with the comfort and confidence in the open water that you need to take your race to the next level. The mental support of having skilled coaches is invaluable and will instill a deeper love for the water.