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Virtual coaching during the Corona Crisis (USA Triathlon Newsletter April 2020)

By Katharina Steppan | USAT Level I Certified coach 



Virtual coaching has quickly morphed from an option to a supposedly indispensable measure due to Covid-19. Most of us seem to be going through the three phases of shock, as defined by Swedish psychiatry professor Johan Cullberg in 1978: shock, reaction, recovery. In the first days we are highly overstrained by news and pictures. That makes us suffer a mental imbalance, followed by quick survival reactions such as buying tons of food. The longer the chaos takes the more we lose our social identity and our fundamental ability to freely act within our community circles and society as we know it. Most of us fear losing beloved family members, our jobs, maybe our athletes and the possibility to live out our dream in sports.  Reactionary strategies became immediately obvious on social media. Coaches posted home-workout videos in abundance. Being aware of those coping mechanisms I deliberately decided against quick-firing a new coaching product out of thin air. I tried to calm down, watched and concentrated on my main business: providing highly individual training plans.  Naturally, I went through the same concerns and emotional rollercoaster as my athletes. The fear of losing everything I just built up, along with all the money and energy I had. Within the first week everyone was highly motivated to train indoors and stand tall despite the news. But as more and more races got cancelled, the goals my athletes trained for, faded. Three hours on an indoor bike to work on fat metabolism suddenly felt pointless and was out of sync to one's actual mental state. Heart and soul needed to digest the news first. The fear and changes going on were and still are enormously tiring and take up lots of energy. Thus, triathlon goals definitely take a back seat. This is healthy and necessary. As much as triathletes love the sport, there certainly are  more fundamental things in life, hence it is extremely important to let those feelings sink in. With time comes recovery. I Promise. Personally, I spoke to my athletes about the opportunities that such a ‘training year’ brings. We highlighted weaknesses that we want to work on. And, even more importantly, they refreshed their WHY of doing triathlons. Athletes are adapting and overcoming swiftly, driven by a new sense of purpose.  After taking care of my athletes I thought about new products for my coaching business. I was certain that I was not going to do online training videos. I do not want to change my way of coaching. I have never done online videos before. I am not good at it. I cannot conceptualize the proper playbook, or set up the scene and lights. Basically everything that is important to not undermine the quality of my training. Without knowing my audience, recording planks, squats or push-ups just didn’t seem right to me. There are coaches who are professionals in this. It is authentic what they offer. They do a fantastic job. I subscribed to certain coaches' youtube channels. But me, changing my product, is not authentic at all. I know my qualities and this is not one of them. Authenticity is the only way guaranteeing sustainable success and ensuring the survival of the business even in corona times. Just like my athletes, I refreshed my WHY and what benefits I want to provide. In my business concept, I did not create additional or new value by creating yet another planking video.  Besides being a triathlon coach, I offer workshops on training and nutrition for corporate clients. I know what it feels like to sit in an office for 40-60+ hours a week and still train for triathlons, due to my career background in the financial industry. The corporate clients were the target group I wanted to address during the crisis and provide some benefits for them. I didn’t change the offer for my athletes. I changed their plans, created dry-land swim workouts and rearranged their strength training because of the closed gym situation. For my corporate health clients I created a motivational team challenge: #strongerthanever.  Those employees are sitting at home, maybe surrounded by kids, setting up home-office-equipment and losing their daily connection with their favorite colleagues. I wanted them to connect again and make them compete against other teams. My home-workout plan for stability, mobility and strength offered five levels of fitness. One for those completely inexperienced up to one for those who train every day. No equipment was needed for any of the levels. All workouts took a maximum of 20 minutes. And the challenge only went on for 2 weeks. Why? Because it was essential to keep a low barrier of entry and to create something truly achievable, something where everyone feels picked up and can grow. I made sure to have an open door ask-anything-anytime policy throughout my communication and sent out updates on team development every other day to keep them motivated. The winning team received  a free workshop on corporate health.  Whatever you do, know your athletes, know your qualities as a coach, stay authentic and most importantly #stayhealthy. We’re in this together. Happy to get your feedback! Follow me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/coachkatharina Katharina Steppan is a USAT level I coach based in Vienna. She is the CEO & Founder of Ultimate Sportclub. She is a TrainingPeaks level 2 coach and CSCS certified. She also holds certifications in sports mental coaching and athlete management. Katharina has 2 masters degrees in economics and finance, but decided to follow her true passion and is now a full time coach.  

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