Flashback to a couple of weeks ago: My wife Annie and I raced at a local sprint tri. Since she had a much later wave start I found myself at the finish area waiting for her with some time to kill. As I was standing around a guy who was probably a few years older than me walked up with a beautiful black lab puppy on a leash. Naturally I asked if I could play with his dog and we then began to chat and discovered his wife was in the same wave as mine and he was awaiting her finish as well.
We got to talking and he told me that he and his wife did their first triathlons last summer and they both were hooked on the sport. From that point on it was the normal conversation between triathletes about races, training, clubs ...etc. I was only paying partial attention to him as I was secretly thinking of ways to steal his awesome lab pup when I heard him utter the following phrase:
"My wife and I are even Certified USAT Level 1 Coaches!"
Only a few minutes before he was telling me how he and his wife were new to triathlon and now he is saying that they both are Certified USAT Level 1 Coaches. They are self proclaimed newbies so how can they be Certified USAT Level 1 Coaches? Something just does not seem right?
Flashback to last October: My buddy Dave and I are doing a large group ride with one of the local Triathlon Clubs on the northern part of the Ironman Texas course. We are headed east and come across some cyclists who are having mechanical issues and they are stopped along the shoulder. We stop and offer our assistance as Dave has some tools in his saddle bag. As they begin working on the bikes I step to the side and start talking to one of the other cyclists. It turns out she is doing the same 70.3 race as me in November. She tells me this is her first 70.3 race and that she is very excited and also very nervous. As with most triathletes the conversation leads to training and we start comparing notes about the weekly volume we are doing for the race. We were talking about the amount of swim volume each of us was doing on a weekly basis. She proceeded to tell me that she felt I was swimming too much and was going to burn out and that she was ...
"... a Certified USAT Level I Coach and I should trust her!"
Only a few minutes before this she was telling me how this was her first 70.3 race and then shortly after is tossing around her credentials as a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach. She had never done a 70.3 nor asked a single question about my swimming background. Something just does not seem right?
I will be the first to admit that I did not even know what the hell a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach even really meant when I had the conversation with the cyclist. I had never done any independent research on the subject and the only real knowledge of USAT Coaching I had came from blog posts by Jaime @ Swim Bike Run Live and Joel @ TriMadness. In hindsight, I never really cared too much about it until more and more triathletes kept telling me they were Certified USAT Level 1 Coaches.
If you are unaware of what the USAT is it is the governing body for Triathlon in the USA. As the governing body and as an association all US Triathletes pay a $39 yearly membership. I assumed that the USAT probably had some stringent barriers to entry. I assumed they required Advanced Degrees in Physiology or Physical Therapy or even a certain number of years successful coaching before someone could even apply to be a Certified USAT Level I Coach. Basically I assumed that the USAT would want to have the most qualified group of individuals possible being certified to coach with the USAT Logo as credentials.
I was wrong and once again learned a the valuable lesson that assumption is the mother of all f#$k ups.
Here is what I found straight from the USAT website:
The Level l Clinic is a 2.5 Day classroom based lecture and the Written Examination is an online test that you have three months to complete. In addition to the Clinic and Exam as long as you are not a hardened criminal, have paid your USAT yearly dues, have gone to a CPR course, and paid USAT the $525 fee you too can be a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach.
Guess this answers how a nice couple that had been participating in triathlon for less than a year could be Certified USAT Level I Coaches. Or how someone who had never personally done a 70.3 race was confident enough to give someone who had done several training advice.
It appears that the only barriers to entry are the ability to have 2.5 free days to listen to a lecture and $525 to pay for those days. Something just does not seem right?
Getting back to my stories above - I asked the guy with the lab puppy if he and his wife were coaching any athletes and he told me that they were coaching a few ladies from his office. In my opinion, this is irresponsible by both this inexperienced couple and USAT, but mostly USAT. As stated, this couple was new to triathlon and I could clearly see from the guy, very passionate about it. If the governing body of the sport gives you an option to become a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach that is easily obtainable it is hard to blame these people. That is why I place the vast majority of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the USAT. They created the certification programs and make it too damn easy to become a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach.
As for the mechanically challenged cyclist I did not ask if she coaches any athletes nor did I ask how long she had been coaching. She may have just had the accreditation for shits and giggles. However, she did use the fact that she was a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach to make her point! Even though she never asked anything about my swimming background, time goals, level of fitness, or even if I liked to swim. She just asked about my weekly volume. And with just that little bit of information decided it was too much volume? BTW, I was swimming around 10,000 yards a week - that is not too much volume. But who am I to challenge her, she is a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach?
Now once this little ditty hits the interwebz I am sure to receive a few pissed off comments and emails. That is fine and I expect it. Since mostly triathletes read this blog and most triathletes now seem to be a Certified USAT Level 1 Coaches (kidding) I expect some backlash! Have at it.
But just to be clear. I am not saying that ALL USAT Certified Coaches are under-qualified. As a matter of fact, it appears that once a coach progresses to Level II and Level III the program becomes quite stringent and it takes a hell of a lot of work and experience to acquire these accreditations. This is good for both coaches and athletes and hopefully this level of expertise will trickle down to the Level I course.
What I am merely stating is that the barriers to entry (In my opinion) are entirely too lenient as determined by USAT. This does not mean that there are not some very good coaches with Certified USAT Level I credentials. I just means the our governing body makes it to simple for bad coaches to have the same certification as the good ones. And if I was a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach (which I am not) I would be pretty pissed at what a joke the USAT has made of this certification!
If you feel I am wrong and that you learned enough in 2.5 days of lecture to be a coach then I will eat this post (not really). But if you are a coach and this is the only credential you have on your resume then I am not impressed. This is not your fault because your governing body set the bar this low but if you are wondering why it is so hard to find clients then maybe you should look elsewhere then the USAT for that answer.
I guess the bottom line is that if you are an athlete in the market for a coach dig deeper than just a USAT Level I Certification because based on what I have found it really does not mean much. Buyer Beware!
Let's talk this out in the comments. Have any of you had similar experiences? Do you feel the USAT Barriers to entry are lacking? Are you a Certified USAT Level 1 Coach and want to come down to Texas and slap me?
Thanks for Reading,