It’s safe to say we’re in a new era of coaching, especially in the endurance sport domain. The days when a coach would meet with an athlete face to face routinely over weeks, months and years are gone and in place of it a new remote coaching culture has taken its place. This is not to say coaches are not regularly visiting their athletes, but, rather highlighting the fact that nearly all training, feedback and monitoring is now delivered over an online platform.
As coaches are we equipped to communicated effectively in this environment?
Higher level studies in coaching and sport science, from our experience, do not discuss this aspect along with national governing body lead coaching courses. These courses focus on communication in a face to face manner, delivering ques and feedback to athletes while they are within reach of you and overall neglecting the shift that has now come as a product of modern-day coaching.
There exists an opinion that what coaches now do is simply deliver copy and paste plans as a meaningless face behind a laptop screen, but, for the majority anyhow, this is simply not the case. We strive to build relationships via our remote coaching through all the traditional coaching behaviors that are valued so much but through different mediums. Here we need to be inventive and know our audience. This blog is going to focus on some practical tips to aid in building these relationships through communication remotely with your athletes!
The Coach-Athlete Relationship
We have previously touched on the coach athlete relationship; the full blog post can be viewed here. Simply put the coach athlete relationship is a major factor effecting sports performance1. Drawing on Dr. Sofia Jowett’s work in this area and her 3 C’s Model2 (closeness, commitment and complementary) we can conclude that the demonstration of commitment and complementary behaviors are linked to our level and depth of communication with the athletes we work with.
Commitment highlights the coach and athlete’s goals and beliefs, for example, a common alignment of purpose in the training approach. This is established through good communication within the relationship. Complementarity reflects the co-operation between coach and athlete, this could present itself in feedback of the training process and in many other avenues. A good complementarity construct is key in facilitating peak performance.
Tips for Effective Communication with Your Remote Athletes
- Instant messaging and software, when used correctly, is a major asset. We use Training Peaks software with Premier Endurance Athletes, athletes are encouraged to use the post activity comment feature to note and discuss any and all aspects of the sessions or the day they’ve just had. This creates context in an otherwise 2D world filled with power numbers and heart rate data. As coaches we need to be clear and concise with this form of communication, the feedback you give here should be no different from what you would give an athlete face to face post session.
- A good old-fashioned phone call. With the advent of WhatsApp and other such platforms you can now communicate for pretty much free across multiple countries and time zones. A phone conversation should be your go to when trying to communicate multiple layers of information or when an athlete needs advice quickly!
- The use of voice notes is another great asset when a text message is just a little too long. Voice notes allow you to convey tone of voice and empathy and allow the athlete to pick up on something in their own time or perhaps go over something multiple times that sometimes gets lost on a phone call or a text message.
- Skype is a great tool in the arsenal of a coach who works remotely. Seeing facial expressions and body language with your athletes is crucial for debriefing race results or blocks of training. Skype is a great asset when building sessions or weeks of training as you can use a share screen function to involve the athlete in the layout and organisation of their training!
- Platforms such as Zwift have their positives and negatives. One of these positives though is the social aspect that you can create while riding indoors on your own, during long winter evenings or when coaching athletes in different time zones a group ride on Zwift with them even for 30 minutes can be a really fun and different thing to do.
- Social media connections are a tricky one. This really comes down to the coach and the athlete in terms of their own preferences, some coaches have a private and a public page allowing them the best of both worlds. Some athletes love their coaches to connect with them on social media while others would like to keep that aspect private to them. Here its all about knowing your audience! A good general rule of thumb here is for the coach to have a private and a public page and allow the athletes to initiate connection with you first.
The above are a handful of things we like to use at Premier Endurance for communicating with athletes we coach remotely. With all this being said, we still do like to set the time aside, if at all possible, to meet up with people for a coffee or a training session every once and a while to touch base and get that valuable face to face time. But, in the times this is not possible the above tips are extremely helpful in maintaining that crucial coach athlete relationship!
1.Serpa, S. O. D. C. (1999). Relationship coach-athlete: outstanding trends in European research. Motricidade humana: portuguese journal of human performances studies, 7-19.
2.Jowett, S., & Ntoumanis, N. (2004). The coach–athlete relationship questionnaire (CART‐Q): Development and initial validation. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 14(4), 245-257.