Does Internet Coaching really work?
I've been doing it for years, but am still unsure ...
When I started aboc way back in 2003 I dreamed of, amongst other things, being an 'Internet coach' for cyclists. I did it for some time, I had some clients who were interstate, some even overseas. After all, if you're communicating by email, you can be anywhere, right? And when more people have downloadable HRM's and power meters, it seems even easier. You get their data (when they remember to send it!), slap it into WKO+, check it out and you know everything about the rider's progress. Write a program, email it out, get the data, send the invoice ... Have a successful cyclist as a client ... Heck, you can probably even bodge up some software to automatically generate training programs based on some simple formula and you don't even have to do any work at all.
But does that really work?
I had some spectacular failures using that method. Most of the riders I worked with were terrible at communicating with me, I'd get very infrequent emails or none at all from most of them. They'd do maybe some of their program or none, I had little in the way of regular contact with them despite the best of intentions, I'd send nagging emails to some and seldom get replies. The failures weren't necessarily the riders faults, I practically live on-line, but that's not how the vast majority of people live, even office deck jockeys don't have time to send regular emails and so on all the time. Sometimes I'd be too snowed under with work to respond quickly to queries too. Some riders, if I saw them more regularly, I'd have seen that they weren't responding well and we'd have changed things around to suit them better. Even if a rider has all the fruity bits (HRM, power meter etc) there's still no substitute for actually working with them at training sessions. You can see so much more when you watch them closely than you can from a load of training statistics.
I don't doubt that for some riders (but I suspect this is a very small minority, at least in my experience) the Internet coach thing can work. However, in the vast majority of cases unless you actually see your athletes regularly, I don't think a coach can really know what's going on. I think it's important to see how your riders respond to training, you need to talk to them, face to face, you need to see them on an ergo, on the track, or racing, or in the gym, regularly.
I still do some Internet coaching, but am increasingly uneasy about its overall worth. For a recreational racing cyclist, some structure and hand holding from a coach developing a program is often useful and a good way to get them started, and a coach in that position can do the 'Internet thing', essentially matching up the rider's available time with a bunch of training sessions and setting some goals. This amounts to spoon-feeding an athlete Joe Friel's book, with a few variations on style. It works, kinda, and can get some riders going well, but in my experience as a model for coaching beyond that initial first few months, it doesn't work well.
I know I feel a lot better about working with riders regularly and seeing them regularly at training and racing sessions than I do when I see them very infrequently. I'm trying these days to structure my coaching such that there's regular contact (actual physical, in the same place at the same time) at training sessions, such as our ergo sessions, sessions in the 'Haus, at DISC and so on. I think it's far better than just emails and data dumps. Coaching's not just about the data, it's about understanding the riders and working with them to achieve their goals.
What's your experience and thoughts on this? I'd appreciate comments on this article, please.