Joining up with a good triathlon club is a great way to facilitate improvement in your training and racing. Another great way to take things up to the next level is to hire a coach. A good coach is someone who can work with you, understands what you are capable of, and can push you to limits that you might not reach on your own. They will also be there to pull you back and keep your workouts in check so that you don't overtrain or overextend.
As a certified USAT Coach I've had the pleasure of working with a number of coaches over the past couple of years and I've learned quite a few things that I should absolutely do. I've also learned a number of things that should not be done.
So, what, as an athlete, you should expect from a coach?
Training sessions (group or one on one) aren't the time for the coach to get their own workout in. You're paying for the coach and they should be there for you, the athlete. In the case of a one on one training session, this mean that your coach will ride or run at your pace. In the case of a group training, it means the coach is going to bounce from the middle of the group to the back of the group and then to the front of the group to check on all athletes. More importantly, if it's a large group session, your coach should have some assistants with him or her to ride or run with all the pace groups. Likewise, your coach should not be swimming during your individual or group training sessions.
One workout doesn't fit all. With a group training session, regardless if it's swimming, cycling, or running, a coach should be prepared to offer different workouts for each athlete to meet the variety of abilities in the group. One workout isn't always going to work for everyone. A coach should understand who is in attendance and what their individual needs and abilities are.
He or she should be humble. If you ask your coach about his or her experience at a race you're considering they should be focused on you and your needs. They shouldn't give a race history and elaborate ad-nauseam on past results unless you're asking for that information. The coach is there for you. When asked about a specific race, if applicable, the answer needs to be "…yeah, I've raced there (or know someone who has) and that course has a challenging run course - We'll need to work on hills so you're prepared". The answer shouldn't be "…I smoked that course and PR'd….let me tell you about my day".
Your coach should have the resources and tools that are required. Your training should include analysis of your bike fit, running gait, and swim stroke. Your coach should be able to analyze your biomechanics. The necessary tools and resources need to be available and they should be readily at their disposal.
Logistics. If your coach has to drive a fair distance to get to a group training site, or to meet an athlete, you shouldn't be reminded of your coaches commute. Whatever arrangements were agreed upon for training locations and times should be maintained. Trainings and meetings shouldn't be altered or changed unless unforeseen circumstances dictate. And you, the athlete, shouldn't be made to feel guilty for your coaching having to drive at an ungodly hour to meet you for a swim session.
New ideas aren't bad ideas. If, as an athlete, you present a new idea or thought to your coach it should not be met with resistance or negative feedback. Open discussions and conversations are critical to a successful athlete / coach relationship. Suggestions and new ideas to training should be met with openness and discussion. Benefits and drawbacks weighed. Explanations for decisions should be clear and agreed upon. Both sides should be open to suggestion.
Most importantly, you should choose a coach only after meeting and having a discussion with him or her. It's an interview process and both parties need to be sure that it's a good fit. As an athlete, you have every right to inquire about a potential coach’s credentials and certifications as well as how they work with their athletes and what their philosophies are and how they relate to your goals.
Your coach’s top priority should be you.