So You’re Looking For A Coach…


Often, runners are unsure whether they should fi nd a coach, make use of some archived running programmes in a magazine or on the internet, or just plod on by themselves. Modern Athlete asked Professor Andrew Bosch, exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town, for some insight.

He says that ‘generic’ running programmes can do a fairly good job for a large number of runners, but only up to a certain point. After that, the runner needs more specialised and customised input. Similarly, the mass programmes do not distinguish between the strengths and weaknesses of each person.

So-called ‘internet coaches’ have become popular, and Andrew says their programmes can be effective, but someone coaching that way should ideally supplement the information with telephone calls. “I have always found that e-mail alone is too imprecise in gathering relevant feedback.”

“I think all athletes can benefi t from a good running coach – from the runner trying to set a world record to the novice runner trying to complete Comrades within the time limit,” says Andrew. He strongly recommends coaching for marathon runners, who often tend to be self-coached. “Even if they do have
knowledge, it is extremely diffi cult for the athlete who is coaching himself or herself to remain objective at crucial times. For example, a coach might detect signs of fatigue and change the programme to accommodate that, but the self-coached athlete will think that their mind is strong and they will often
force themselves through the session. The result is ultimately worse rather than better.”

So where does one start and what should you look for, if you decide to get yourself a coach? Andrew offers the following advice: “I think the mark of a good coach is whether they have managed to bring success to many athletes, both elite and non-elite,” says Andrew. “If someone has produced one medal-winning athlete in their career, I don’t think that makes them a good coach; all that happened was that a super athlete came their way and that athlete might have won despite the coach, not because of the coach.”


A good coach has the following qualities:

  • Commitment to help the athlete get what they wish to achieve.
  • Dedication.
  • Patience.
  • Gains satisfaction from the achievements of the athlete – be it winning a race, breaking a record, setting a new PB or just finishing a race in the desired time.


  • Ask around at your local running club.
  • Get referrals from friends who have coaches or know someone who is being coached.
  • Speak to top athletes and ask who helps them with their programmes.
  • Speak to someone who has made a huge improvement in performance and ask them who has been helping them.
  • Phone the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town for advice and help.
  • Coaches don’t have to be runners, or need to have been runners, but it helps because of the insight and understanding that it brings.
  • Coaches should be well-read on coaching theory and techniques, and should understand at least the basics of exercise physiology.


Andrew N. Bosch, PhD – Modern Athlete Expert

Associate Professor
University of Cape Town/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine
Sports Science Institute of South Africa