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The 6 Core Components of Coaching, and Why Training Plans are Less Effective

Let's talk about what Coaching actually is, and some core components that need to be there to ensure athletes make consistent progress!

I've even seen the word coaching used frequently in ways I think are misleading, so we'll start there.

It should go without saying that most of this is my opinion, however you should read on for some important recent scientific research proving that certain types of coaching are more effective!

Definitions of coach include: verb: 'to train or instruct (a team or player), and noun: 'a tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.'

Obviously the word is used in a lot of situations, including a horse-drawn carriage, so let's not get too crazy with the definitions... but here's what I think.

First and most essential: coaching has to be individualized and responsive to be truthfully called coaching.

  • A free or paid training plan is not coaching

  • A paid, customized training plan is not coaching.

  • A group that’s given the same workouts to train for the same race isn’t being coached.

  • People that are getting monthly or even weekly advice about running, whether individually or as a group, aren’t being coached.

  • People that are given a full training plan for a race, finish it, and then are immediately given another plan for a different race aren’t likely being coached.

I don't intend any of this to mean that these things aren’t worthwhile, they’re just different. They’re all valid methods of guidance, and can certainly have value for many people. But they’re not the same as coaching.

But assuming we're talking about the same thing – a coaching relationship between a coach and an individual athlete – let's dig into what makes it successful.

The Core Components of Coaching

Here’s my philosophy on the important components of coaching, and I think it's helpful to understand the differences.

Coaching should be a Relationship

Coaching needs to be a relationship. It’s not one way. There should be frequent two-way communication - at least a few times a week. It should be fully centered around the athlete. You should also feel like your coach is willing to answer questions, whether about the training itself and the reasons behind what you're doing, or about running, fueling, pacing, gear, etc. After all, coaching isn't just a training plan, it's about having a partner in your training.

Coaching should be Fully Customized

As an athlete, you have a different athletic history, a unique physiology, a different life schedule, unique strengths and weaknesses, and different short-term and long-term goals than the next person. Coaching should see and embrace those differences, and be fully customized to not only adjust for them, but USE them to make your life and training better. Not everyone can or should train for the same race in the same way even if their race-pace is the same.

Coaching should be Supportive of Your Whole Life

You’re a human being who has a life, a job, perhaps a family, and other hobbies. You’re not JUST an athlete. You should feel like the training is being made to fit YOU, not vice versa. This might mean throwing a 'traditional' weekly schedule out the window and crafting something truly unique and customized. Of course the caveat is that there isn’t always a perfect solution, and there are times you will have to choose between effective training and a perfect fit with your life, but a coach should be straightforward with you and tell you when plan adjustments might have a negative effect.

Coaching should be Adaptive

You should also feel like your coach is modifying and adjusting your training frequently. That might be due to overall fatigue and recovery status, sudden jumps in fitness, mild setbacks, life stress, or other changes that can affect training. Adaptive training was recently proven more effective than predetermined training in a research study available here.

What does that mean? It means the most effective training is constantly adjusting – meaning weekly or even throughout the week – based on your actual recovery, stress, objective and subjective data. The study linked above didn't even take into account fully individualized training either, but looked only at frequency of adjustment.

If your coach gives you a training plan several weeks at a time and is not modifying (or limiting the number of modifications), that's just not going to be as effective.

This also means that pre-determined training plans - even ones that have been customized for an individual athlete - have been proven to be less effective.

Coaching should be Assisting and Informing, Not Commanding

At the end of the day, it's your body, your life, and your running. You should feel that your coach functions more as a navigator rather than a captain. You should always feel like you are the one in control of major decisions about your running and training. Your coach should be informative and educational, and hopefully offer a variety of options for decisions, but the final say should always be up to you. And your coach should continue to support you through that decision, even if it backfires and proves them right!

Coaching should be Long-Term

Your coach should have an overarching concept of your long-term development as an athlete, not just how you’re going to tackle your next race. What are your strengths and weaknesses based on your athletic history? How can training best support you to reach your 5-year goals? What are you doing right now to support where you intend to be in a decade?

See, true fitness progress isn’t made over days and weeks or while training for a single race. It’s made over years. If your coach isn’t looking at a zoomed-out, holistic view of your training as an athlete, then you might be missing out on a lot of potential fitness gains.

If you focus solely on how to best prepare for the next thing on your calendar, you will likely miss out on realizing your potential over the course of your entire running career.


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Bottom Line

So when you’re looking for assistance with meeting your running goals, you should ask yourself what you really need!

  • Do you just want a basic structure to keep you consistent, even if it's less-effective?

  • Do you want to grab a stock training plan that's just tweaked to fit your mileage and pace?

  • Do you want casual advice about running that’s geared toward a group?

  • Are you only focused about consistent training to survive a race, and don't care about building your fitness?

  • Do you have the knowledge, time and patience to modify and adjust your own training if provided with a basic structure?

  • Or, do you want to maximize the time and energy that you can commit to your training?

  • Do you want to know that you are doing effective training, not just wasting your time or risking injury?

  • Would you rather go run than sit around researching and thinking about what to do?

  • Do you want to make progress over months and years?

  • Do you want to dream big about your future running, and make actual progress toward it?

Only YOU can answer those questions, and they might even change at different times in your life. That's okay! Just be sure that when you are looking for assistance with your running, you are looking for the things that are going to help you.


Do you have big goals for your running? Did you know that coaching with individualized and evolving training has been proven to be more effective than training plans?

Miles and Mountains Coaching is empathetic, person-centered coaching blended with effective, science-based training. I've helped hundreds of athletes of all levels balance short-term progress with long-term athletic development to smash their goals!

See how much 100% customized, unlimited and supportive personal coaching can help you step outside the training plan and balance truly effective training with adventure, enjoyment and life!

Click here for more details, or reach out anytime to chat!


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