Fear Factor



Whether running 26.2, or worrying if you’ll be a credible coach, this post discusses the fears of new coaches and the fears of new endurance athletes. 

Whether or not ‘fear’ is the most accurate word, when starting anything new, it would be abnormal to not have some degree of trepidation and anxiety. 


Desensitization most often refers to a type of behavior modification technique to reduce or eliminate a person’s phobia(s). This is done by slowly and incrementally introducing someone to the anxiety producing stimulus. For example, if someone has a phobia of riding in a plane, their first step might be just to go to the airport but not to even get on a plane. Then the next step might be to take a very short flight and incrementally increase the flight times with successive flights.

This technique is applicable in any type of anxiety producing scenario. For example, Warren Buffett used this technique to overcome his fear of public speaking. So if it works for Warren Buffett, who are we to argue?!


Riding in a pack of cyclists at high speeds just centimeters apart is not a normal thing to do. Add in a bunch of turns and nerves and it’s no wonder that even seasoned cyclists get anxious before races. Equally nerve wracking for new triathletes is the swim. Gone is the ability to touch the bottom of the pool and see ahead of you in the water. This is replaced by waves, the inability to touch the ground, water currents and oh yeah – hundreds of other swimmers thrashing around you. Daunting? You bet!


As noted above, exposing athletes to small doses of the sport is critical to success. In the case of the triathlete, doing short open water swims in safe areas and in shallow water where the athletes can always stand is the first step. Successive steps include increasing the time spent in the water, going into deeper water and swimming next to other swimmers to get used to physical contact. 


Practice riding in a grassy field with sneakers and a lower seat position while riding next to another rider. This way, if the new cyclist feels uncomfortable, they can easily put their feet down without having to worry about cars or having to unclip from their pedals. As they get more comfortable, they should start to have contact with another rider to know how to react if they get bumped. Progressing further, if possible, more riders should be introduced to ride next to and at higher speeds and on a more technical course. Once they feel comfortable, they should ride in their cycling shoes and with the bike seat at the proper height and then once ready, ride on pavement. 


New runners are most often fearful of distances. Can I really run 13.1 miles? Let’s just start off by saying that if your client is not prepared to run a race of a particular distance, they should not run it. In respect to both training runs and races, they must be increased progressively to reduce the chance for injury and to increase the chance of success of the runner. With success at each new race distance, the client gains new confidence and excitement for the next distance!

Fueling is another big fear factor (as it is with triathletes), but we’ll leave that for another post 🙂


While there is not a physical fear factor as noted above, it does not mean that it’s not anxiety provoking (there is no chance of physical harm with public speaking either, but it’s the number one fear of Americans – even before drowning and zombies!). 

In my experience, new coaches are most fearful of not knowing enough and/or not being able to get results for their clients. This is often results in coaches charging a lower fee than they should and also only working with beginners. While this isn’t necessarily a bad approach to start with, unless you progress in both your rate and the type of client you work with, your coaching practice can quickly stagnate. 

For coaches that are really nervous, I recommend taking on only a small number of clients to start with and never friends and NEVER pro-bono. Why? Friends and family will likely tell you you’re the best coach that ever walked the earth, regardless of how good or ‘bad’ you might be. This is not what you want. At all stages of being a coach but especially at the beginning,  you want real feedback and most importantly, constructive criticism. This is how you grow as a coach. Why not pro-bono? Unless someone is paying something (I don’t care if it’s even $1!), there is no value attached and therefore the whole coaching process is viewed as less professional and is usually taken less seriously by the client. 

As a coach becomes more confident through real-life client interactions, both the number of clients as well as the experience level of the client should be advanced – assuming this is progression the coach wants. 

The last point I’d like to make is that it’s totally normal for coaches to be fearful of not knowing enough. At the most extreme level – it’s termed, Imposter Syndrome. The goal is not to know everything possible about a sport, as this is impossible. As long as a coach is providing value to a client and helping them in ways that they could not, or do not want to do themselves, the coaching relationship is a positive one. 


To learn more about United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy’s certification offerings, click here!

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