• Drew Dillman

#5: Coach-Athlete Relationship

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Welcome to the Coach’s Blog, powered by Dillman Coaching. This is where I have the opportunity to publish what I’ve learned from years of racing and training for the benefit of anyone who wants to get faster, but specifically for the guys and gals I coach.

In this post I want to focus on a topic I’ve found myself thinking about a lot recently; the Coach-Athlete relationship. What is it? Why is it so important? And, how do I hope to set myself apart from other coaches in this regard?

What is it?

It may seem pretty self explanatory; the Coach-Athlete relationship is the relationship between the coach and the athlete. But, as we all know, relationships can be pretty hard at times and the same goes for the coach-athlete relationship. There are several aspects in this relationship that you won’t find in your normal, day-to-day relationships.

As an athlete we often push our bodies and our minds to their maximum limit and it hurts. A lot. And the only people guilty of inflicting this pain is yourself for actually doing it and your coach for telling you to. Your coach may be one of the few people that gets to witness you in these moments of suffering. This is a rare connection; when you are actually grateful for the pain someone else is inflicting upon your body. That’s one of the beauties of this relationship.

Another unusual aspect about the coach-athlete relationship is the brutal honesty that is required. For this relationship to work, both parties have to be honest if they hope to make any progress. One of the things that must be discussed are the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete. Everyone loves to talk about their strengths, but it’s a bit more complicated to talk about our weaknesses. But this must be done. You have to be honest with yourself and with your coach about what area’s need improvement. It’s hard for us to talk about our own flaws, but if you want to improve it’s necessary. And if your coach has the opportunity to train with you or watch you race then odds are they will probably be able to figure out your weaknesses anyways. So also, it’s the responsibility of the coach to be honest with the athlete by pointing out the weaknesses they observe. The coach shouldn’t sugar-coat it. We all need people in our lives who are willing to say the hard things when no one else will.

Why is it Important?

First off, it is important. People discontinue their coaching all the time because it “just didn’t work out.” Kind of sounds like a high-school break-up, but it’s true. Your coach could be the smartest guy around when it comes to periodization or creating the annual training plan, but if you don’t mesh with their personality then it’s going to be nearly impossible to get a good benefit from their coaching.

Communication is key and if you don’t “mesh” with your coach’s personality then communication is going to be hindered by that. If it’s awkward just to talk to your coach, then you probably aren’t going to call them after every race to talk about how it went. In fact, you probably aren’t going to talk that often at all. Communication with your coach is important because that’s how you make things better. If the athlete doesn’t like an aspect of the training plan then there has to be communication in order for there to be changes and improvements. And vice-versa if the athlete isn’t doing something the correct way in the training, the coach must communicate that to the athlete for their to be improvements. Do you see the correlation between communication and improvement?

It’s also important that you have a coach you can trust. If you have very specific cycling goals then you don’t just want some cookie-cutter workout plan that you could get from a Bicycle magazine. You want someone who customizes your plan to meet your needs, but also someone who knows what their doing. If you don’t believe in the their coaching methods then it’s going to be hard for you to follow the training they assign you day-in and day-out. You’ve got to believe that your coach is going to help you accomplish your goals.

Let’s not forget the whole purpose we ride bikes; to have fun. The coach-athlete relationship should be one that fosters a love for the sport into the training and coaching. Cycling is hard and sometimes you need to be reminded of why you love it so much. Your coach should realize this and plan it into your training that you have “fun” days on the bike. If you’re not having fun then what’s the point?

The Dillman Coaching Difference

How do I plan to set myself apart from other coaches? First off, it depends on the coach. There are plenty of really good coaches out there that understand the importance of the coach-athlete relationship and the things I’ve discussed above. And you might be better off hiring them instead of me. It may just depend on the personality of the coach and what you’re looking for. However, if you were to hire me as your coach, here a few things that may set me apart:

  • I’m probably younger than most other coaches in the cycling world. And I’m not exactly saying this is a bad thing, but it does create a different dynamic. With an older coach there is a since of wisdom and knowledge. Obviously someone who has been coaching for 20 years has more experience and wisdom than I do. However, I believe what I lack in coaching experience I make up with my racing experience.

  • I am an experienced racer at many different levels and disciplines. I may not have 20 years of coaching experience but I have 10+ years of racing experience. I started out mountain biking when I was 10 years old and got into road and CX when I was about 14. I raced mountain, road and cyclocross at the top ranked cycling school in the nation, Marian University. I have 2 individual Collegiate National Championship titles in cyclocross and placed 3rd in the overall omnium at Collegiate Road Nationals. I’ve been to Europe with USA Cycling to race on the road 1 time and cyclocross 12 times. I’ve raced in numerous World Cups and 5 World Championships. I only say all this to show that I do have experience and am eager to share the knowledge I’ve gained with the folks I coach.

  • I still race currently. This has it’s positives and negatives. I believe this is good because you’ll see me at the races and we can talk about the course or tactics or anything else that may be relevant to the race. Since I’m also racing I’ll be able to relate more with my athletes because I’m still going through the ups and downs of a racing career just like them. However, this also means that there will be times when I can’t focus on coaching because I’ve got to focus on my racing. For example: At bigger UCI Cyclocross events I have to be focused on my race almost all day which prevents me from showing up early and spending too much time on my feet to watch every athlete race. Although, I love getting the opportunity to watch my athletes race and getting to talk to them about the course or how their race played out. And when I was out of racing due to my broken hand I made sure to use that time to get out to the races so I could focus on coaching instead of racing. And I loved it!

  • I have a basic understand of technology and social media. This may seem like a simple point, but I think it is pretty important for the world we live in today. Everybody is on social media so I believe it is crucial to have a presence on social media platforms. This is the primary means I use to market my coaching. I also want to use technology to enhance the coaching experience. This blog is a good example of that goal. I believe this blog is a better and easier way for me to share some of the knowledge I have with athletes. Another idea I have been thinking about is creating videos to evaluate power files from my athletes to give them individual feedback on their workouts. It’s in the works.

  • I put great value on continuing education. Just because I’m a USA Cycling “certified coach” doesn’t mean the learning stops. I love to read and want to use that passion to further my knowledge on coaching. I don’t want to just know how to write training plans, I want to be knowledgeable on all topics pertaining to racing: nutrition, sleeping, stretching, motivation, psychology etc. I realize many of my athletes don’t have the time or energy to read books about these topics and that’s the purpose of this blog. So I can summarize my knowledge into a short post that covers the major points.

The Company Name

The last thing I want to mention is why I named my business “Dillman Coaching.” I used my name as the title for simplicity. I could have called it something rad like “Purple Lightning Coaching” or “Pain Cave Coaching,” but I went with "Dillman Coaching” so people know what they're getting. Now nobody has to ask “What’s Purple Lightning Coaching” because the answer is in the title. “Dillman Coaching” is Drew Dillman coaching. I’m the coach, your that athlete, let’s go fast. It’s that simple.

Many coaching companies today go with the title “Training Systems” which sounds quite a bit more professional and serious, but it also kind of scares me. I went with the word “Coaching” because I believe there is more to coaching than just training systems. Yes, training systems is a crucial aspect of coaching, but coaching involves much more. A coach is someone who is not only focused on the training and the science, but is focused on the person as well. A coach is someone the athlete can trust and talk to when training and racing are at it’s hardest. A coach motivates and encourages their athletes. I want to be a coach that doesn’t just want my athletes to be better cyclists, but better people as well. You could even use the word “mentor.” I want to be a positive influence in peoples lives. Pushing them on their bike, but also pushing them in life.

And finally, the explanation behind the purple lightning. It’s kind of just been my “thing” since junior racing. It originated when I was on the Turner/Pro-Chain junior squad and we all got matching team bikes. This was my first team bike ever! And it was carbon fiber! It was awesome. But it was a pretty plain white frame so I had the brilliant idea to spice it a up a bit. I showed up to the first team race with purple lightning painted down the top tube, fork and chain stays. I thought it was awesome, but the team director wasn’t so enthusiastic. From then on the rest of my teammates started getting me purple lightning socks and stickers and it ended up being something we all laughed about. So I embraced it.

If coaching is something you may be interested in then I encourage you to reach out to me or any other coach you may be interested in hiring. We can talk and figure out if it would be a good fit and then go from there. I always encourage local racers to invest in their engine before they invest in racing wheels or a high-end bike. And if the coaching goes good enough then maybe a team will just give you a new bike with racing wheels!


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