Last week, the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) finally launched their Ironman University coaching program (announcer voice–For a low, low price of $699 YOU can become an IRONMAN certified coach!!!). It kinda surprises me that it took this long to get up and running.
I will digress from many of my contemporaries and not instantly knock the program. If there is one thing that 10 years in this sport has taught me, it is that Ironman tends to get things right and do things well. So it comes as no surprise that Ironman has some huge names on their coaching roster – Allen, Scott, Newby-Fraser, Jacobson and Welch. There is no doubt a wealth of knowledge building the program. I would expect the certification to be solid.
Do I expect the certification to be better than USAT? Well that depends on a number of things. But the bigger question is what does this mean in terms of coaching education?
First, I don’t hold USAT up as the standard for how to do coaching education. They do some things well and they miss the mark on others. It is quite possible that Ironman will develop a better program. However, at the end of the day, USAT is the national governing body so I respect a certification from them before a private entity. I loosely equate it to an employee earning a degree versus taking a certificate class (yes, it isn’t the best example but you get the point). But that isn’t what concerns me about people weighing their certification options.
WTC is a for-profit company that is part of a private equity fund. So let’s not beat around the bush, their mission is to make money and to keep money within the Ironman realm (races, merchandise, now coaches). I don’t have a problem with the $699 price tag;it is probably the right amount and in line with the market rate. I do however take issue with their $39 a month Coaches Association…that is a direct money grab. They plan to market their coaches to Ironman finishers (good business idea, not good for the sport). Their goal here is to continue to build the Ironman product…not sprints, international distances, etc…just Ironman branded races. That doesn’t sit well with me.
What also makes me uneasy is the at home, pace yourself approach to certification. I feel that it reeks of one-size fits all education much like the coaching factories of say Mark Allen. Under these models, quality is pushed aside for quantity. In these coaching firms, it is not unheard of for coaches to serve 30-40 different clients. That isn’t coaching. I think we will see the same approach with an online tool. There is no need to screen applicants or cap the space available. More ‘students’ more money.
I feel there is value in a live, weekend long seminar, where you must apply, travel and pass a test. You either have disposable income or you must really want to become a coach. In January, I had the opportunity to spend 4-5 days in Colorado Springs learning from some of the best in the industry. Sitting in with us was USAT’s High Performance Team Advisor, Jono Hall. If anyone knows what it will take to score gold in the Olympics, it is this guy. More than the presentations, the in-class discussions and networking added unbelievable value to the weekend. I feel the at-home approach encourages laziness and passiveness…two traits that aren’t acceptable from a coach.
Second, since WTC is part of the equity fund, what does the future hold for their certification? What happens if they are sold? What happens if it doesn’t make money? These are real questions that someone needs to ask themselves before enrolling. This program might not be around in 2 years. Or it specifically might be sold. Your certification could mean something one day and not the next. Maybe…just maybe this could happen at USAT, but USAT has a vested interest in seeing quality coaches emerge and remain in the sport.
Lastly, USAT is the sports governing body with the mission to “grow and inspire the triathlon community.” I can’t fathom for one moment why someone who loves the sport would not line up behind USAT and show their support. Now, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything USAT does or that I even think they are always right in their actions. However, I have the trust and the confidence in the governing body that it has the WHOLE entire sport’s best interest at heart. I can’t say that for Ironman.
To look at this a different way, it would be like supporting Nike’s effort to influence the direction of the sport of basketball. No doubt Nike is a major player, but on an international level their reach isn’t as deep as it is in the Americas. Fortunately, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and it’s 215 national federations dictate the standards for most of basketball. You can still have AAU, college basketball and the NBA. But to get to the pinnacle of global play (Olympics) it goes through FIBA. Want to know who LeBron, Coach K and others play for in the summer? Team USA. And Team USA feeds into FIBA. Not the NBA. Not Nike.
I firmly believe that coaching education first begins with educating yourself about the basic principles of training. Second, you should seek out a credible certification. And then the pursuit of additional knowledge is what often sets apart the good from mediocre coaches. I believe USAT has established that. Even moreso, the education doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end with Level 1 class. There is a wealth of knowledge built into USAT webinars. You can seek out Level 2 and Level 3 possibilities. You can specialize in ITU or long course development. You can work with youth and juniors. You can attend mentorships with the elite coaches. The point here is that a coach’s journey doesn’t end when the clinic ends. There are numerous avenues to explore just within the USAT realm. And all of this (plus more) is made possible because the national governing body commissions a coaching committee who is devoted to pushing quality and coaching development over rubber stamped certifications.
USAT has a grassroots and national interest in seeing the sport grow on so many different levels. There are currently youth initiatives to get young kids active at an early age. There are junior initiatives to keep young adults involved. USAT has launched a collegiate recruitment program and most recently worked to get women’s triathlon recognized as an NCAA sport. They have a Talent ID program, Elite Triathlon Academy, Olympic development pipeline and so much more. As a USAT member, the governing body doesn’t care what distance you race, they simply want you to continue in the sport. And that is what separates the certifications for me.
As I stated in the beginning, I won’t knock the Ironman certification. I do, however, have some big concerns. My interest in training principles might even send me down that road one day in the future. But the certification, like many others I hold, will be to supplement my primary certification. I know that I am in good hands with USAT. I know where USAT is going. I have a voice within USAT. I also know that much like a corporate job, I have numerous professional opportunities for growth and development within USAT. For those reasons and many more, I am proud to stand behind USAT and the coaching certification they provide. You should too!