I have never attempted to coach my friend Bernard. This is because I want to enjoy life, and if I wanted to do something pointless and self-defeating I’d go back to running.
That’s not to say he hasn’t asked for advice occasionally. Even more occasionally I’ve offered it unrequested, normally as part of the passive-aggressive war of attrition we’ve been waging in the cycling arena since about eight-speed.
I’ve outlined sessions that might address some of his weaknesses, pointed out the need for recovery and suggested that there could be benefits from a season-long plan that takes into account his targets, his holidays and his usually abysmal levels of sustained motivation.
In other words, coaching, but for free. The other key difference from real coaching would be the hostility with which the advice is received. He doesn’t just ignore me, he does exactly the opposite. Short sharp intervals are replaced with long, long easy rides. Target events are swapped for holidays. If I suggested that an interval session should be completed with both legs, he’d use only one and send me a video.
He does this to prove me wrong. As an ambition this is reasonable. Except that from that point of view it would make a lot more sense to do what he’s told. He’s going to be rubbish whether he does it his way or mine, and if he did it my way he could at least blame me and have proof to back it up.
As usual, short-term spite is more inviting than the months of grind required to generate legitimate long-term grievance. But still, it gives him the motivation to get out and ride – which means I reckon I’ve made him fitter, so I win.
I was telling a couple of other cycling friends about this a couple of weeks ago at a café stop. Both of them are coaches. So naturally we got to talking about odd or difficult coaching clients we’d all had.
“I’ve got one who ignores me too,” one said. “Except that with him it’s just because he’s too disorganised to train consistently. And even if he did, no matter what you say he starts every race like someone has poured acid on his shorts, so better fitness wouldn’t really help.”
I said that that must be very dispiriting.
“Well, yes and no,” he replied. “He’s convinced that the way to fix this is by upgrading his coaching package. He got through my Bronze, Silver and Gold plans in the first year. I’ve had to invent Diamond, Platinum, Ultimate and Podium just to keep him happy. He’s giving me so much money now I don’t know what to do with it. But he feels he’s making progress, even if he isn’t. He’s happy. And so am I. Very.”
On the other hand, our companion told us he’s got a client who couldn’t be more engaged. “He wants to see the science. I have to send him references to physiology papers that back up the training. If I set the same session two weeks running he wants further evidence the second time. Then he finds papers that disagree with the ones I send him, and tells me I’m wrong. To be honest I’ve learned a huge amount from him, but it’s exhausting. He wins loads, but I honestly think we’d both be happier and fitter if he coached me. Although he might not give me £300 a month for that.”
I know what you’re thinking – do some riders still get a benefit from coaching even if their relationship with the coach is a bit dysfunctional? Is it all part of a process? Is there some sort of placebo effect to the basic relationship, however much you ignore it or argue?
And I know what I’m thinking. I’m thinking I need to charge the people I coach an awful lot more.
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