Learning to swim is often the biggest hurdle for adults getting into triathlon. With all the literature and videos out there, is a coach necessary to get started? This month Sara McLarty debates Tim Edwards, a coach with North Coast Endurance in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sara: With family and work schedules, very few people have the ability to train with a coach. Instead, it’s much easier to purchase a DVD or book that they can follow at their own pace. Most are cheaper than a session with a coach, plus you can also find free videos on YouTube.
Tim: Most triathletes have Type A personalities and they are very driven by schedules. Getting together with a coach for an hour is not a huge hurdle to overcome. Newbies are often lost in the mountain of data. With so much to think about, they don’t have a logical progression to follow as they start their journey in the pool. A coach can break down the individual skills and move on only when they have mastered them.
Sara: Triathlete recently outlined a simple way to create your own underwater video camera. You can film yourself in the pool and analyze your technique each week as you progress. Compare your video to professional swimmers online.
Tim: Athletes can videotape themselves, but the feedback is delayed. They have to wait to download the video and spend time comparing. Trying a skill, having it analyzed by a coach, learning the corrections and trying it again is compressed into minutes—not days. This progression is worth the extra couple of bucks.
Sara: I’ve coached some athletes who just won’t listen to what I say, even if I’ve told them a million times. They finally end up figuring it out themselves and when that happens, it sticks. Learning on your own forces you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Tim: The swim usually creates the most stress for a new triathlete. A coach is able to mentally help out by being there in this new environment. I swim with many athletes the first time they are in open water, “holding their hands” as they get comfortable. No video or book will reassure them when they first encounter a breaking wave or a plant wrapping around their hand.
Sara: I can’t really argue against having a coach with you for your open-water swim training. Other than going with a very experienced friend, I don’t recommend any athletes trying open water without some support system nearby.
Tim: Empowering the athlete is excellent. Athletes who really want to reach that next level of competition need to have a high level of investment in the process. One of the best ways for athletes to learn is to combine video of their practice with analysis of the technique. Many athletes I have coached have finally “got it” when they can see with their own eyes.
Triathlete final thoughts: Videos and books can get you started, but a great coach can take you much further in your swim training.