Out There: The Importance Of A Coach-Athlete Relationship

The biggest proof a coach-athlete relationship is working? I’ve yet to question him or the training plan.

Written by: Susan Lacke

When the author (right) comes home from a workout covered in sweat, dirt, and road rash, she has a combination of coach and boyfriend (left) waiting for her.

Our sister site, triathlete.com, recently released an article that I’m pretty sure I inspired. It’s title? “8 Reasons Your Coach Hates You.”

I fully confess to each idiosyncrasy listed in the article (Too needy? Ohhhh, yeah. Doing extra workouts? Guilty.), but I have a bonus reason for my coach to hate me: He has to deal with me 24 hours a day. My coach has to eat, sleep, and breathe my crazy, whether he likes it or not.

My coach is my boyfriend, Neil.

It all started when I was complaining about a performance in a race this spring. Discouraged by my lack of improvement in spite of my hard work, Neil listened to me as I whined, then responded in the most loving way he knew how:

“You know, you do this after every race.”

The man knows how to push my buttons. All I remember is my voice getting really high and really fast and howdarehecallmewhinydoesn’theknowIworkreallyhardand…<insert about 5 minutes of incoherent gibberish here>…then it ended with this:

SUSAN: “FINE. If you know it all, why don’t you just coach me, then?”
NEIL: “FINE. I will.”
SUSAN: “FINE.”
NEIL: “FINE.”
(10 minutes elapse)
SUSAN: “Oh, <bleep>.”

Lo and behold, a triathlon coach was born.

Neil is a better athlete than I ever could be. There’s no doubt about that. He turns in top-ten performances while I fight to stay out of the last-place spot. He has no problem buckling down and embracing the pain of a tough workout, while I make sure everyone in a ten-mile radius knows just how much I hate hill repeats. He’s patient and receptive to feedback. I’m stubborn and always right, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary.

In short, Neil is a dream athlete for any coach. I’m a nightmare.

In the past, I’ve had coaches who handed me a 5-month training plan and expected me to follow it diligently. That didn’t happen. Instead of doing the workout of the day, I’d get nervous I wasn’t doing enough, and skip ahead a few weeks (or months) in the plan. I’d start doing longer workouts than needed, leading to a too-early peak then intense burnout. The coach would come to my apartment for a ride, only to find me in the fetal position, crying “PLEASE don’t make me get on my bike!” five weeks before my A race.

In the past, I’ve had a love affair with the snooze button, covered up by blatant lies when a coach asked how that morning’s workout went. Past coaches have given me an intense swim interval, only to be met with my standard response of “ARE YOU HIGH!??!”

There was one coach who had the gumption to tell me he knew more than me, therefore I shouldn’t question him. Did I mention I’m stubborn and always right? I’ll let you use your imagination on how that conversation ended.

But somehow, Neil seems immune to my bullshit. It’s like he has some Super-charged Boyfriend Energy Shield surrounding him that allows him to deflect anything I fling his way.

He knows I’m an overachiever, so he only gives me my training plan two weeks at a time. I’m convinced he does this to drive me batty; he claims it’s to keep me focused on what I need to do right now, not two months from now.

You know what? It’s working.

If I whine, he always has the perfect comeback (and I’ll admit – when he gets all ‘coachy’ on me, it’s kinda hot. Okay, it’s really hot.). If I propose adjusting a workout due to a hectic schedule or broken equipment, he listens to me — and we quickly find a compromise both of us can live with. If I want to hit the snooze button one more time before an early-morning workout, I can’t – my coach would know. He’s literally six inches away from me in our bed.

The biggest proof this coach-athlete relationship is working? I’ve yet to question him or the training plan. By the way, just so we’re clear: This is not an admission that he is right and I am wrong (c’mon, did you really think that was coming?). It is, however, an admission that I trust him and don’t want to let him down.

I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about romantic relationships dissolving when the coach-athlete dynamic is thrown in to the partnership. In our case, though, it seems to be working. Besides, when I come home from a workout covered in sweat, dirt, and road rash, I have a combination of coach and boyfriend waiting for me:

NEIL: How’d your workout go?
SUSAN: I’m tired and I hurt everywhere.
NEIL: Good. Give me a kiss then go shower, babe. You smell really bad.

Ah…love.

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