Why, When and How to Change Trainers

By Mark Henricks – February 1, 2016

Annette Wilson had been doing triathlons since 2011 and notching competitive age-group finishes when she decided, in the middle of the 2015 season, it was time for a new coach. 

“We had one great season together and our last season didn’t go so great,” explains Wilson. So Wilson parted ways with her trainer and, after completing the season self-coached, signed up with a new coach in November 2015.

Nearly any athlete at times considers whether it would be a good idea to switch coaches. Maurice Culley, head coach at Austin T3, says one of the most common reasons athletes change trainers is dissatisfaction with times and finishes. “If the results aren’t quite there, a lot of times folks get frustrated,” he says. 

Neck-and-neck with frustrating results is frustrating communication. “The biggest thing to me is, just like any other relationship, there needs to be that communication,” says Culley. 

Communication was the chief reason Wilson looked for a new coach, after her then-trainer dialed back on what had once been a steady stream of feedback. “She just wanted to call me once a week and talk about workouts,” Wilson said. “That just didn’t work well.” 

Style incompatibility also leads to trainer moves. For instance, Culley likes to make on-the-fly decisions about future training, while an athlete may prefer to know in advance what the schedule is for the next month. “There are a lot of athletes out there that are very busy and they want to plan ahead, so that sort of philosophy doesn’t pan out for them,” he says. 

Different approaches to gear and technology may also inspire a coaching switch. “I like to write things out by hand and deal with a lot of different notes,” Culley says. “Some people like using software or one of these apps.”

As athletes and trainers go through life changes, that too can suggest it is time for a change. For instance, Culley says he often has athletes decide they need a new coach when they begin competing in a new sphere, going from amateur to professional or graduating from college. “A lot of times someone may make a change from age-group to elite level racing and they change coaches simply because they need a new standard,” Culley says. 

Disagreements about tactics, strategy and event choice can similarly take a toll on trainer-athlete ties. “The coach might say you need to work on strength and speed, and the athlete may want to focus more on half Ironman or Ironman distance,” Culley says.

Although there can be all sorts of reasons for wanting a change, there may be only one good time to actually make a change. That is during the off-season when it will be least disruptive.

“It’s definitely difficult switching a coach or starting a new training plan in the middle of the season,” Wilson says. “There is a certain amount of adjustment. You’re learning their way of writing a training plan and their lingo. And your body's adjusting to different types of workouts.”

No matter when a trainer change is implemented, there is probably a right way and wrong way to go about it. From his perspective, Culley says it's best to first let the coach know that there is a problem that will require a switch if not addressed. “That’s a better way to do things,” he says. “Sometimes people will get upset about something, and it’ll be news to everybody.”

Having decided it was time for a change and given her trainer the news, Wilson contacted a woman whom she’d considered signing with a few years back. Before agreeing to take her on, Wilson explained all her concerns about her previous coach and what she was looking for going forward. 

“She answered really well and responded in the way I would want a coach to respond,” Wilson says. “In the end, it felt right. And that's what's really important when it comes to a relationship with a coach.”



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