What Does It Take To Be A Running Coach?

As the founder of UESCA, a company that certifies running coaches, I get asked this question a lot. The quick and simple answer is, just announce yourself as a running coach and there you have it. Print up some business cards and you’re off to the races.

In theory, this is all it takes. The reality is a bit more involved.

The majority of running coaches get into coaching because they love the sport of running and want to share their knowledge and expertise with others. While this is a great starting point, it does not necessarily equate to the success of a coach.

Below are seven things to consider before becoming a running coach.

RUNNING COACH CERTIFICATION

While we’re a perhaps a bit biased given that we certify running coaches, attaining a running coach certification demonstrates that you’re serious about the coaching side of running and want to elevate your knowledge, especially in the area of the science of running.

In addition to ours, United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy, other certifications include the Road Runners Club of America, VDOT and USA Track and Field.

The reality is that coaching is an unregulated industry. Want to be a barber? You need a license. Want to be an electrician? You need a license. Want to be a coach? No problem. There are no state or nationally required licenses to acquire in order to be able to work as a running coach. I’ve always found this a bit odd (same as personal training) as you’re dealing with the human body. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard of people ending up in physical therapy or worse, in surgery, due to mistakes by their trainer. That said, one of the major goals of a running coach certification is to establish a base level of proficiency. Will being a certified coach automatically make you a great coach? No. But along with hard work, it will give you the skillset to become a great coach!

The knowledge gained by becoming a certified running coach deepens your understanding of how the body works and how it is applicable to the sport of running. This will allow you to coach runners based on evidence-based information and not just your personal running experience.

There are some great coaches out there that are not certified. But I firmly believe that even those that coach elite runners at the highest level of the sport would benefit from a certification – if for no other reason but to give them another point of view to base their coaching on. Just like I’m sure we could learn a lot from elite coaches, I’m sure they could learn a lot from a comprehensive coach certification.

EXPERIENCE

While you don’t have to be able to run a sub-4 minute mile or have a Boston Marathon trophy on you mantle to coach runners, being able to relate to your running clients is an important aspect of being a coach. So far as we know, the only way to be able to relate to running clients is to be a runner yourself (or at least you have been a runner at some point). There are a lot of tips (i.e., bring a roll of toilet paper with you to races as Potty Potties often run out) and points of view (i.e. the pain of how intervals feel) that you can’t really appreciate until you have experienced them yourself.

PROFESSIONALISM

Like any other job, being professional matters. Just because coaching may be a side gig for you does not mean that your level of professionalism should be any less than your day job. As a running coach, you owe your clients 100% of your time and energy when it comes to working with them.

So in the realm of being a running coach, what exactly falls under the scope of being ‘professional?’

  • Communication: Reply to all calls/emails/texts in a timely fashion as it pertains to new and existing clients.
  • Focused: When you’re with a client, 100% of your attention is on them. Not your phone, TV, other runners, etc…
  • Learn: As a coach, you should always be learning. Whether it be through peer-reviewed journals, books, mentors, or trial and error, the minute you stop learning is the minute your coaching practice begins to regress.
  • Scope: You are a running coach, nothing more-nothing less. As such, you must practice within your scope of practice and knowledge. Practicing outside your scope of practice/knowledge is unethical at best and illegal at worst.
  • Resource: As a coach you won’t know all of the answers to your clients’ questions. Therefore, the greater your referral network is, the more valuable to your clients you will be.

TOSS OUT THE COOKIE CUTTER

You clients don’t hire you to get a generic training template. They hire you for your expertise to build them a plan to get them from point A to point B with the greatest chance for success. This means that the training program must take the whole individual into consideration and in addition, must be somewhat fluid so that it can accommodate unexpected changes (ex: sickness, travel).

BE NICE!

This should go without saying but nobody likes to hang out with, or surround themselves with jerks (at least nobody that we know)! I know that this sounds quite elementary but believe me, it’s not. When working with clients, leave your ego (and your constant mentioning of your most recent marathon PR) at the door and focus on your client. Of course there will be times when you might need to have tough conversations with a client but your verbiage, tone and message should never be demeaning or mean spirited.

FOLLOW THROUGH

If you say you’re going to do something (ex: email program, call client, etc…) at a particular date or time – do it! Not doing so with some regularity is perhaps the best way to erode confidence in you and your coaching practice.

RESULTS FOCUSED

Last but not least, your coaching practice should be results-focused. Your client’s stated goal(s) should be your mission statement during the training process. Should you ever lose focus during your training with them, always come back to the stated goal to ensure that you’re on the right path forward.

PC: Dennis Kaas


Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To get a $50 discount on the Running Coach Certification, click here!

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