"pro-fes-sion-al: 1 a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession. b : engaged in one of the learned professions. c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession. (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. 2 a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs. b : having a particular profession as a permanent career. c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return. 3 : following a line of conduct as though it were a profession" - Merriam-Webster Dictionary On-Line
"I'm looking into possibly hiring a running coach. Does anyone know of a good professional in the area?"
Occasionally I see a post like this in social media; a "help wanted" advertisement of sorts. The very question or statement is at best incomplete, yes, in my humble opinion. It is, in many ways, the reason I act less emotional when the occasional phone call or e-mail comes about...
I wonder if the athlete who states they're looking for a professional coach wants a person who spends their waking hours working with athletes? "Economics 101, Rule Number One," states the world has unlimited needs and limited resources. Like chicken lips, prodigies along the lines of Mary Cain or Galen Rupp come around perhaps once or twice each generation. Odds are good that if a door is going to be beaten down in the courting dance of athlete and coach it will be the athlete doing the knocking.
Any coach who remembers the pub scene from the classic film Chariots of Fire can empathize with Sam Mussabini. Mussabini, in the film at least, reserved the right to select who he wanted to train.
Athletes all want a coach who is good, but how many coaches have earned or subscribe to a technical or ethical standard? I've met good coaches who were world and Olympic caliber, but the "I Love Me" wall shouldn't be the only standard of quality. Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation/Endurance Nation, and Jay Johnson in Boulder are smart guys in which I'd gladly place my trust and confidence; both possess knowledge and commuincation skills which far exceed their performance C.V. A coach who has undergone some sort of training which covers the psychology of coaching, injury prevention, principles of training, running physiology, and have been tested by a national-level governing body like the Road Runners Club of America or USA Track and Field could also meet the need. Both organizations have academically-challenging and rigorous certification programs, backed by the latest scientific information, and updated on a regular basis when science proves conventional wisdom wrong. RRCA also requires their certified coaches to renew their paperwork yearly; USATF has multiple levels which, like academic degrees, allow coaches to focus more closely on their area of passion.
If the coach is not in business for themself...or affiliated with an academic institution, civic organization or running club...are they aligned with what I would call for lack of a better term, a "training 'and'" entity? What is "training 'and'?" Like fitness trainers who work at a gym or fitness center, is run coaching something which attracts the masses through the front door, ideally to purchase something else within the emporium?
Enough beating on the coach and their incentive...what does the athlete bring to the coaching relationship? Does the athlete's passion for running match that of the professional they demand as a partner? Preconceived notions and personal philosophies of training have to be put aside, directly aligned...or at least be the "eighty-percent solution." Athletes want running to be fun, but there's a time and a place; every training session has to be approached as a day at the office, every race situation is a performance appraisal. Coaches can vary in their level of empathy, compassion and just plain "niceness" (my wife reminds me I CAN be a complete jerk when it comes to communicating...). Sometimes coaches are needful for little more than to say, to paraphrase one writer (Jack Daniels?) "you look good today." And I've worked with one or two runners on little more than preparing their head for the race; they did all the physical work on their own. But there are times when the coach has to say things the athlete doesn't want to hear, assign workouts they flat out hate, or recommend (shorter, usually) race distances they'd prefer not do? If there's money changing hands, remember: The coach isn't a friend, they're part of a business proposition.
Oops, there goes one preconceived notion.
Runners pay for coaching with the intent - at least what most say - to improve. How many times does a runner approach a training program or a coach grossly under-prepared physically or mentally for the demands? More times than I care to admit. A training program, especially one developed with a coach, is a collaborative process; give and take, trust and confidence.
Patience. Pace. Pace. And patience.
Before anyone reach out to bludgeon me because of my (percenved) cynical views, it's not that I don't want the "job," or don't want to help people become, as coach (and 1964 Olympic 5,000-meter champion) Bob Schul used to say, "a better engine." I know my potential clientele will most likely not clamber through the hatchway to the scholastic-to-professional running pipeline any time soon.
A runner should insist on a modicum of background knowledge and research, flexibility and intuition from their coach...if nothing else a professional approach to making average runners better...but they also need to take a long look in the mirror. Can they say they intend to approach run training in the same manner as if their livelihood depended on its success? If so, the purely "professional" coach will be the perfect fit for them.