She's a 70.3 Champion, an Off Road Champion, an unabashed straight shooter, and one of the best coaches in the business. We're continuing our profile of coaching services with Lesley Paterson, Founder of Braveheart Coaching.
Coeur: Lesley, thank you so much for chatting with us. Almost everyone in triathlon is familiar with you as an athlete, but some people may not be aware that you also coach. What prompted you to get into coaching?
Lesley: Well it started in 2007 as a way to fund my racing because 90% of professional earn minimum wage. However, I found not only was I quite good at coaching, but I really enjoyed it. After all, I’d been racing internationally since 14 years of age and have had some of the world’s best coaches – surely I must know a thing or two about helping people improve. I started running a free brick session at a local park and got my first few clients that way. Over time, my coaching business grew and in 2014 my hubby gave up his job as a prof at UCSD to help me run it.
Coeur: On the course, you’re known as a relentless competitor. We’d guess that there are similarities between your racing and coaching styles. Can you tell us a bit about your coaching philosophy and how you work with your athletes?
Lesley: There are some similarities for sure. I see “relentless” as another way to describe “effort.” And by effort, I don’t mean intensity or work rate, I mean the pledge you make to yourself to always give your best, no matter what. You don’t have to be the best to try your best. What most athletes (and many coaches) don’t realize is that this simple principle is one of the biggest factors not just in performance but in reaching your potential. That’s why my coaching (and my identity as an athlete) is all about the “Braveheart spirit” – it’s not just because I’m Scottish -- it reflects an attitude or mindset about how to tackle challenges. Sure, we all have limitations in the volume and intensity of training that our body and lifestyle can support, but we are always in control or our effort and attitude. This assumption requires that you coach the person, not just an email address with a Training Peaks account. The trend of data-driven coaching is fantastic, but it cannot, and must not, come at the expense of getting to know what makes a person tick. My first job as a coach is always to figure out what an athlete wants and needs from me. This might seem obvious – they want to get fitter and faster – but how you mobilize their individual effort and attitude -- is more art than science. I now co-coach with my husband, Simon, who’s a sport psychologist -- he works on developing their mental toughness and I focus on their physical conditioning. Because my athletes are all over the world, there’s a lot of telephone, video chat, email, and text messaging! We also host a 4-day training camp for them all in January, called the Braveheart Highland Games.
Coeur: Which sports do you cover? Is it triathlon specific or do you also provide coaching for other sports?
Lesley: Well most of my athletes are road and off-road triathletes, but I have plenty who are just runners, bikers, and obstacle racers.
Coeur: What type of individual is in your target market? In other words, do you only coach elite athletes or will you take new entrants to the sport as well?
Lesley: My target market is endurance athletes who want to improve their physical and mental conditioning and/or athletes who simply want to get more enjoyment and fun out of training and racing. About 40% of my athletes are beginners, 50% are intermediate (competitive age groupers) and 10% are pros. I also coach five people each year for free as a way of giving back to the sport.
Coeur: How many athletes do you take per year and how do people sign up?
Lesley: I don’t set limits per se, it’s more if I can I think I can help you. The most common way for athletes to sign up is to fill out the free “smog test” on our website. In the smog test, you tell me a bit about the kind of training you do at the moment and what you are hoping to achieve. I then call you up for a short, no-strings chat about your training. If that leads to a coaching relationship great, but if not, also fine. It’s about helping you find a path that’s right for you.
Coeur: We know that the relationship between an athlete and the coach can be complex and when it works, it can be amazing, but if it doesn’t everyone can be frustrated. What should an athlete look for when they are researching coaches and what questions should they ask?
Lesley: This is a great question and not one we talk about nearly enough! There’s actually no easy answer to this because what’s important to each athlete varies as a function of their experience, personality, sports science knowledge, and so on. Here’s my take on it…
- Ask a coach about their philosophy of training – what factors do they consider important for you to improve and enjoy the sport? This shouldn’t be some regurgitated tagline on a website, but really drilling down into the details. What are your opinions on strength training? What do you think is the single biggest limiting factor for athletes competing at my distance, and so on? Push them on specific details. Listen to how they talk. Not only should the explanations be coherent and simple to understand, but I want to hear passion and excitement about ME and my journey.
- Does the coach seem interested in me and my goals? That might seem an obvious one, but it’s incredible how many athletes I speak to who basically get talked at by their coaches. The “my way or the highway” approach might work for some but as a general rule, it’s a massive warning sign that trouble lies ahead. Coaching is, fundamentally, a relationship, not a dictatorship. Did the coach ask about my life outside of sport? Do I have a family, what kind of job I have, other stressful shit I’ve got going on, or whatever? Someone who emails me a cookie-cutter training plan that doesn’t reflect ME and MY lifestyle can go take a jump. J
- Ask about what part of coaching they are NOT good at. Any coach who claims to have all the answers is always wrong. Plain and simple. I want to hear that the coach has a network of experts that he or she relies on when issues arise that are outside of their expertise (which WILL happen). It might be swim mechanics, psychology, gait analysis, core strength, injuries, or whatever. A coach who can’t explain their weaknesses should be treated with caution. It’s not so important WHAT that weakness is, but it’s that they can admit weakness and take responsibility for gaps in their own knowledge. For example, I know plenty of long course athletes who never EVER run more than 12 miles in a single session because that’s how their coach trained as an athlete. Their weaknesses suddenly become your problem.
- Seek third party validation. What other athletes do they coach? Are they always injured, weak runners, happy, fast, improving, etc.? Talk to them. What’s the word on the street about the coach?
Sorry, that was a long winded answer. But this shit matters… J
Coeur: We believe that your husband Simon is a Sports Psychologist. Does he help with Braveheart Coaching?
Lesley: Yes, he’s also my back office and resident sports science nerd, but he mainly focuses on helping athletes get more enjoyment out of training and racing, whether that’s teaching strategies to get out of bed early, how to stop crapping yourself before the swim, improving confidence and self-belief, having better concentration skills, pain tolerance, or so on. The list of mental gremlins goes on and on. He’s actually quite accomplished in his own right. He has a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Sports Science, and a PhD in Sport Psychology. He was the director of sport psychology at San Diego State for 10 years and more recently a Professor of Behavioral Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He’s not only worked with a ton of professional athletes (and me!) but has published extensively in scientific journals about this stuff. He knows his shit.
Coeur: Do you consider coaching to be more art or science?
Lesley: I never really understand that question. If by “art” you mean undefinable and subjective then sure, there’s quite a bit of that. However, I believe in measurement, evidence-based training principles, and clearly defined pathways to success. I guess I also include under “science” psychological principles known to motivate, calm, empower, empathize, and support. All with a scientific evidence base. As a side rant, there’s plenty of pseudo-science in coaching – principles that have questionable biology or physiology behind them but have somehow become part of our coaching language. Just because it’s measured using numbers and has an impressive acronym, doesn’t make it science.
Coeur: How is technology playing a role in coaching? Will we all be wearing virtual reality glasses someday?
Lesley: A huge part. From software platforms like Training Peaks and Best Bike Split to hardware that helps us measure important variables in real time. Not only combining heart rate and GPS measurements but power too. The next big trend will be power meters to measure range of motion, gait, force, and power during running. If you haven’t already seen the RPM2 device, check it out. It’s crazy what we can now do.
Coeur: We know endurance athletes can be a bit...well...stubborn. How do you make sure they are following the plan, especially on rest days?
Lesley: And neurotic. I guess this comes back to buying into the philosophy and using psychology to train the brain to not sabotage the work you’ve put in. That’s our special sauce at Braveheart Coaching. ;) Often the reasons for stubbornness are because the coach hasn’t fully understood what the athlete wants and needs from them. As the science tells us, carrots work better than sticks. ;) That said, my approach is what the biz exec Kim Scott might refer to as “radical candor” – being a straight talker but with compassion and empathy for what’s driving the stubbornness.
Coeur: Now we know this is a bit off topic, but Coeur is based in Los Angeles and we happened to notice you are listed on the IMDb site. Is acting potentially in your future???
Lesley: Ha Ha. You really did do some stalking didn’t you? I used to do acting in LA but I now write and produce. I got tired of getting eaten by zombies in independent movies. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in acting and film so I’ve always been interested in the creative side. I teamed up with my now writing and producing partner, Ian Stokell – to form Sliding Down Rainbows Entertainment, Inc. We own the film writes to the famous WWI novel, All Quiet on The Western Front, and are shopping that around Hollywood now. We wrote a script, have finance in place, plus actors and a big director attached and are hoping to shoot it in Europe next year… All exciting stuff but a million miles away from triathlon! A World Championship medal or an Oscar, I’ll take either but preferably both! ;)
Coeur: Lesley, Braveheart Coaching sounds amazing. Thank you so much for chatting with us!
Lesley: My pleasure. And Coeur, keep being awesome! I’ve been huge fan of yours since you started and always try to cheer on the Coeur posse when I see them. After all, we both have heart. Get it? ;) If anyone wants to chat more about our coaching programs or even racing for our Braveheart Racing Team, check out our website at www.braveheart.coach.com or email me direct at email@example.com. Big love all around.