How to choose a triathlon coach

Thinking about hiring a tri coach? With over 1,500 triathlon and Ironman coaches in the UK alone, you’re almost spoilt for choice, but what should you look for in a multisports coach? Whether you need a coach for sprint or Ironman Joe Friel gives you the answers...


Have you set high goals for the next triathlon season? Do you want to race faster, perhaps qualify for Hawaii, finish your first triathlon or reduce your high incidence of injuries? Well, there’s no more efficient way to accomplish any of these than to find an experienced triathlon coach to guide you. When I started coaching triathletes in 1980 I didn’t know of anyone else doing it. Today there are, according to the British Triathlon Federation, about 1,500 registered triathlon coaches in the UK and thousands more around the world. The BTF will also be launching their accreditation scheme in early 2017 so finding a coach is no longer a challenge; the challenge now is finding the right triathlon coach for you – someone who fits your needs.


Ironman triathlon training: being coached vs self-coaching

 Here are some guidelines to help with the search…

Who are you?

The demographics that define you as a person and as an triathlete should play an important role in selecting a coach. Firstly, there’s your experience. If you’re new to the sport it’s best that you choose a coach who is local so you can meet with him or her frequently. This’ll help you to develop your swim, bike and run skills sooner. It’s also a good idea to have someone who has experience working with novices. That said, if your skills are already fine, it really doesn’t matter where your coach lives.

Your age is the next factor. There are coaches now who specialise in junior, master and senior athletes. If you fall into one of these categories, you may want someone who’s coached many others who have age-related needs similar to yours.

Then we have your gender and your unique needs. Some coaches specialise in training either men or women on their own. While same-gender coaching groups may not be your prerequisite, there are other unique training needs that you might wish to be addressed. Such as do you use a power meter or speed-distance device? Do you live in a hilly or flat region? Do you have injury problems? You need to find a coach who can complement your needs.

 Who is the coach?

Look for a coach as if you were hiring a new employee for your business. Decide what traits you’d prefer to have in him or her. Consider the following…


While it isn’t necessary, having an advanced degree in a sport science gives the coach a greater depth of understanding when it comes to training. But I should also add that some of the best coaches I’ve known have had no formal training in the science of training. Which leads us onto…


Has the coach helped athletes achieve goals like yours? Is the coach known for how successful his or her athletes have been? Or perhaps the coach is well known as a competitive athlete.


Look for a coach who sees the world much the same as you do. You want to make sure you can communicate easily.


Do you need someone to hold your feet to the fire? Or are you highly motivated and need a coach who will pull on the reins to keep you from overtraining? Is the coach a cheerleader or a taskmaster? Which of these styles would you prefer to work with?


Some coaches are meticulous scientists who collect and analyse data; others are artists who are more interested in how you felt in a workout. There are also some coaches who have a mix of both of these talents. Again, it all comes down to preference and what works best for you as a person and athlete.

Services and fees

Deciding what services you want from a coach will determine how much attention you get and what you actually pay. You can expect to pay anything from £35 for a tailor-made training plan with no physical training back-up, to £200 for unlimited contact and everything in between. A typical single monthly contact is around £60 with email exchanges, with more established coaches now charging £100-120 per month.

Here’s what you can expect as far as basic service offerings from coaches…

Unlimited contact and support 

With this level of service we’re not talking ‘picking out curtains’, but you might well come to view them as an older brother or sister figure. At this level, the coach will be thinking about you and your training constantly, or at least should be as it’s the most expensive service offered. 

Limited contact and support 

Some coaches offer less expensive programmes that set a limit on the number of times you can contact him or her. If you’re on a budget this is a good option as you’ll still get a customised plan, but it just won’t be updated frequently. You’ll have to be your own coach to some extent to make this work.

No contact or support 

This is usually a programme with a degree of customisation. The coach assesses your needs, builds a training schedule for a set period of time and sends you off on your own to fulfil it. You must be self-disciplined to make this work. However, the advantage, besides the low cost, is that you get a somewhat personalised plan. If you’re good at self-coaching, you can implement and modify it as conditions warrant. But don’t expect the coach to check in with you for this type of plan; you’re on your own once the plan is in hand.

The search

Finding the right multisport coach for your personal needs will take some time, and you should allow at least a couple of weeks. But be aware that the best coaches often have a limit on how many athletes they work with at any given time and typically fill openings by early springtime. So don’t wait until the New Year before undertaking the search – now is the right time.


You can find information about a coach on his or her website, at the BTF website (, by doing a Google search or, if you’re based abroad, by visiting Also, talk with athletes coached by this person and, most importantly, interview the coach before making any decision.