Monday, December 26, 2011


A couple of years ago I became a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach. I obtained this certification primarily as a byproduct of trying to educate myself regarding some of the science behind triathlon training. As someone who, from time to time, is goal oriented, I had to, just had to, complete all of the requirements to meet the certification standard.

That process involved 3 (or so) days of classwork/clinic followed by a take home test. Additional requirements included getting a certification in CPR/AED (mine mixed in first aid as well), background/criminal checks, and an ethics attestations. I did all of this and became certified until the end of 2011 - otherwise known as about now. I had a decision to make. Do I recertify or not?

Re-certification required me to take some continuing education classes or credits, recertification in first aid/CPR/AED (which I did), demonstrating that I've given back to the sport (which I did anyway though volunteering at races), paying to do yet another background check, and the reattestation of ethics. If I did all of this I get to continue to call myself a USAT/L1 coach.

I chose to not recertify at this time. Why? A few reasons.

First, I do not actively solicit clients to coach in their athletic endeavors and never have. There are a bunch of reasons for that but If I changed my mind to sign up coaching clients, I doubt that anyone who would want me to coach would base that desire solely on if I was certified or not. I believe more important is actual knowledge and ability to work with an athlete to help them reach their goals or potential.

Since I don't have any active clients, I do not need insurance. If I decide to start accepting clients I would get insurance but I do not need to be certified to get it.

I do not need any more ethical attestations or background checks. This, I think, is more of a USAT CYA. I've been through this process with a variety of organizations for work and when I coached soccer and basketball for my kids so it is more of an annoyance to me than anything else.

I may elect to do some coaching for some charity teams (I've done coaching with Team in Training in the past). They've asked me to do more with them but I've been too busy of late to give it my best (training for an Ironman has been known to consume some time) and I wouldn't want to short change anyone. I may renew this relationship to help coach their cycle team, especially if El Tour de Tucson is on the agenda, or may help out with the newbies going after their first triathlons. Either way, this certification doesn't buy me much.

This doesn't mean that I'm against coaching. I use many coaches to help me reach my goals both professionally and athletically. I have found that certain coaches who are perfect for me may not be perfect for others and vice versa. I don't really care if they are actively certified or not. I care more about what they can do with me to help me improve.

Also, not being certified doesn't mean that I have to stop learning. I expect to take some continuing education in coaching topics from time to time. I also have to decide about my USA Cycling L3 coaching certification as I've done most of the work anyway. I think, though, that not making a decision there is actually making a decision.

I still have a few more days before my certification expires. I think I should use this time to lay out my training plan for the next few months as it would be done by a certified coach. Then again, maybe it won't make too much of a difference if I do it a few days later.


Jason said...

I think the certification is useful if you are soliciting clients especially newbies b/c that is the first thing they look for.

Seasoned athletes just want to know how you can help them get to their goals and don't particularly care about the USAT Cert.

If you never did an Ironman and had a cert and were trying to train others in an IM I would walk away from you b/c there is no experience.

No cert and an IM under your belt then I'm listening.

Good no decision decision I say.

TriMOEngr said...

I once read about a guy who met a couple who claimed they were certified tri coaches and then proceeded to tell them they were doing their first sprint tri that day. Umm...I think the certification process should at least require you have actually finished a tri. Since reading about that (and some other less interesting stories about "certified" folk), I tend to take it all with a grain of salt. That said, I agree that I'd take your experience and involvement with the sport over certifications (although it is nice to know that you've taken some coursework). I appreciate the advice you've given me while not really "coaching", it has still given me some things to work on and focus my off season goals a bit.

Ewa said...

I totally agree that certification does not translate to a good coach or a match. I've been having a very difficult time to find a personal trainer. The one I like lives 400+ miles away. Just my luck.

Patrick Mahoney said...

I totally agree with you. Hopefully some day I'll meet someone I can mentor, I'd like the chance to do that.

Kathleen said...

My experience with coaches who are certified have been more then disapointing. I agree that experience, interest and the desire to help others is what it really is all about. I think I would be a much better coach/mentor to triathletes then my "coach" ever was.

Unknown said...

While I think the certification can mean something, it doesn't always. Truthfully, I don't think the process of certification means nearly as much as the experience of doing triathlons and of coaching others.