What does it mean? I have coached a few “uncoachable” athletes in the last 8 years.
This is a real battle for the coach. You are often stuck in a place where you know the relationship isn’t working but you keep the athlete in the squad. It might be because you don’t want to give up on them, they might also be a good squad member, they might bring awesome results or strengths to your coaching group.

Below is a list of characteristics and attributes which can make an athlete “uncoachable”:

  1. Lack of trust in the coach or program

These athletes are usually won over by a coach over a longer period. The lack of trust is hard to swallow but it often comes down to the athlete’s personality or a bad experience in the past. It is hard not to take it personally but the best thing to do in the case is to target a long-term goal and explain why the sessions and the program is structured the way it is. You usually hear from them when things are going well and they can also be very hard to please.

Best approach:

Patient is the way to go with this type of athlete. They often trust you when the results come. Before this, it will be a roller coaster of emotions.

  1. Cannot be told what to do

I am a strong believer that you need to listen to the athletes and adapt their program accordingly, especially when it is an experienced athlete. No one will know your body better than you; however, this does not apply to athletes who are not in touch with the way they feel or beginner athletes. At the end of the day, communication is very important and you need to listen to the athlete’s feedback. It is important to remember that the athlete is paying you for a service so you will need to have the last say in the negotiation. They are usually the ones that don’t give you feedback.

Best approach:

Show some flexibility and trial the feedback you receive from the athlete as you may have to compromise and adapt your methods to suit that person’s needs. If this does not work, then take over fully but at least you have tried to compromise.

  1. Knows EVERYTHING there is to know about the sport/program

These athletes are hard for me personally as it often results in a clash. I am European which means I am very honest and often blunt. I always try to be nice in my feedback but I will always value honesty which reflects my personal coaching style.

Best approach:

Always provide feedback one on one instead of in front of the group or it might result in an argument in front of the squad which is not a good look.

  1. Believe EVERYTHING written in blogs & articles

These athletes often read or listen to every blog and they want to try new things constantly depending on what they have read or listened to during the week. They will openly tell you that a theory or method is the opposite of what you are doing and why you should be coaching in that way.

Best approach:

It is easy on this one. I just tell the athlete to stop believing everything that is said on online forum and to trust a proven method.

  1. Follows exactly what the elite athletes do

This goes hand in hand with number 4. They want to try everything their idol or a successful athlete has done or is currently doing. They might even want to wear the same shoes, ride the same bike, use the same nutrition and do the same training.

Best approach:

Tell them you are in the business of personalizing programs. Use a podiatrist to put them in the right shoes, a bike shop with 3D fit for the best bikes and search and affiliate yourself with the best nutrition company. Regarding training, make them understand that they cannot and will most likely not be able to do the same training as a full-time pro athlete with years of experience. Most athletes I coach have full or part time jobs, families, social lives etc. Most age group athletes need less volume & more recovery.

  1. Never accepts that a bad result could be their fault

Typically, a successful athlete takes ownership & responsibility for their training/recovery/nutrition outside of the initial plan. Not all bad results can be blamed on the coach. Yes, coaches are human & make mistakes, but of most the time bad results stem from the athlete sabotaging themselves. This might be too much pressure, stress, doing extra “secret” training, failing to practice nutrition plans, not sticking to their program, carrying additional weight etc.

Best approach:

Encourage those athletes take ownership of their training and racing & don’t baby sit them. Don’t over protect them and let them learn from their mistakes. It is often necessary to gradually reduce the reliance on the coach as the athlete becomes more experienced.

  1. Wants the results without the work

Plenty of these types of athletes around. They come to you with big goals and tell you how hard they will work but it never happens. They are the dreamers and will most likely tell you how good they are without much proof. They will need many kick up the ass but I find those athletes exhausting as you constantly must push them and remind them of their goals.

Best approach:

Keep an eye closely on what they are doing and be honest with them to what is achievable. If they announce to the world or social media world about their big goals and then fail- it might make it look like you have failed too.

Honesty is the key here and push the responsibility back onto them

  1. More is better

Each athlete has a different lifestyle, work hours, family commitments, hobbies, experience in the sport, age & availability to train. Therefore, the frequency, volume & intensity of training, that their body can handle may be very different from another athlete who might be training for the same event. This is a very good example of why quick download 6 or 12 week programs do not work. For example, an athlete with an 8-5 job may indicate that their training availability is 5hrs per day. This is most likely not realistic or sustainable. This is typical of long distance athletes. More volume can work for an athlete who does not work full time, has a network of therapists they see regularly, have very good nutrition and can take naps & sleep 8+ hours per night.

Best approach:

It usually has a bad outcome if you do not step in and put some very strict rules in pace. These are the athletes that will come with an expiry date and the athletes that cannot switch off. They often burn out, get sick or injured. Structure is very important to them and you need to factor in recovery weeks & sessions in advance so they can prepare for it. They will struggle with rest and will tell you they don’t need it. Don’t listen and always do what is best for your athletes even if this ends up in a conflict.

  1. I always need to do my best

They always need to be at the top of their game whether it is training or racing. And they always need to win. They are born winners and can have a big ego and big fighting spirit. They are usually very hard on themselves and do not believe in having bad days.

Best approach:

Make them understand about their unrealistic goals. We are humans. We all have bad days in life. Teach them to be able to accept them in both racing & training. You cannot always PB or be at your best. It will take a long time for them to come around this but I guess that time and failure will be the best learning curve. Don’t give those athletes a goal in form of a placing but in form of time or they will be devastated and even feel they have let you down if they don’t achieve that goal.

  1. But, I have an excuse

They will always have an excuse and will blame everything. The wind, the bike, the ocean, the headache, the sore leg etc. Sometimes the excuse will even come before the race. Frequently they will be unsatisfied with their training or racing. They might blame their equipment, their competition, their preparation, their opponents.

Best approach:

Do not take their crap. Tell them to nicely get over themselves and that it is unlikely that they will ever have a perfect race. There will always be something you could have done better, that is racing, that is life. Teach them to take responsibility and stop finding excuses or blame things for their lack of results or satisfaction.

Check out Sport Psychologist Dane Barclay’s top tips on setting goals for your Triathlon or running season.