Monday, February 1, 2016

Lessons for Coaches

by Gordo Byrn

Typically, my end of year piece is about lessons that I learned as a coach that are helpful for athletes. This year, I’ll take a different tack and share lessons that I’ve learned as a coach that are helpful to maintain the passion in our work lives.

As an athlete, Dave Scott taught me to endure the discomfort of training against preference. Dave would figure out the cadence, position and effort that was most uncomfortable and get me to improve that area of my athletic toolbox. For a race as long as Ironman, Dave wanted my toolbox as varied as possible.

When I lived in New Zealand, John Hellemans reminded me to coach against preference and to be wary of coaching athletes simply because they would follow my instructions!

What I think he meant…

Each one of us will attract certain types of people. We will be successful with these people and the positive reinforcement will cause us to exclude people who are outside our normal peers.

As a coach, John makes an effort to do a little bit of coaching against preference. John’s primary focus is elite short course athletes so his “against preference” might be a sedentary novice who wants to train for an ironman.

John also encouraged me to work with beginners and young people as their passion keeps the energy in our coaching. When I met John, I might have been one of his projects (clueless long course guy)!

There are different ways to coach against preference:

  • Vary the experience level of the athlete you coach or race
  • Vary the sex of the athlete you coach
  • Vary the age of the athlete you coach
  • Vary the race type that you coach or race
  • Vary the sport that you coach or race

You are likely to find that you need to specialize to gain expert knowledge and a fair return on that knowledge. However, to sustain your passion and continue to grow your knowledge, reserve some time for projects outside the box.

Keep it fresh.

Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog at

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