Liesl Begnaud is a Triathlon andPara Triathlon Coach from the USA. After competing for over 13 years, she wanted to share her knowledge with others and take up coaching, in which she now does as part of Team MPI. Liesl who has now been coaching for 2 years, has ambitions of becoming a coach at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
A big thank you to Sara Schwendinger for meeting with Liesl for this interview!
Why did you become a coach? Did you have any coaches that inspired you to take this journey in your own life?
After training and racing for 13 years and having so much fun swimming, biking and running, I decided that I wanted to share my passion, skills, knowledge and experience with other adults who were looking to attempt their first triathlon. When I registered to attend the USA Triathlon Level 1 clinic, I knew that I wanted to learn about the specifics of the metrics of coaching and how to design a unique periodization plan for athletes to train and achieve their goals. I had been told my numerous other athletes that they thought I would be a great coach and I was driven to connect my racing experience with the specific knowledge of coaching. My first exposure to coaching was at a Challenge Athlete Foundation adult Paratriathlon camp in Florida. I have been passionate about connecting persons with disabilities to the sport of triathlon. It was at that camp that I met John Murray and Mark Sortino of Team MPI. They invited me to join Team MPI coaching company and the rest is history. In July, 2017, I attended the USAT Paratriathlon high performance camp for the RIO Paratriathletes and those on the development team. I am now a certified ParaTriathlon coach.
How long have you been coaching? How has your coaching changed since you first began?
I have been coaching 2 years. My coaching is ever evolving and I am constantly learning and growing in my knowledge of the sport. The most important thing that stays consistent is my ability to develop a trusting relationship with my athletes and help them become the best athlete they can be.
What is your coaching philosophy? How does this philosophy affect how you guide your athletes?
As a coach, I specifically work with my athletes to help them balance life with training. Triathlon training can become all consuming. As a coach, I believe it is very important to plan your work and work your plan without becoming obsessed with it. Triathlon is something you do for fun and health, it does not define you. I believe it’s important to learn how to maximize your training time, be challenged to grow and weave training and triathlon into a balanced life.
My goal as a coach is to help athletes be the best they can be and reach their goals. As a coach, it is important to teach the specific skills necessary to the sport and challenge the athlete to overcome limiters and barriers, physically and mentally. I constantly help athletes identify the mental and emotional walls that hold them back. I help my athletes peak at the right time and not over train. As a coach it’s my goal to support and encourage athletes to be the best version of themselves and hold athletes accountable.
How do you cultivate confidence in your athletes given the variations in ability level and experience in the sport?
Confidence comes from within. In order to cultivate confidence, first I believe in every athlete?s ability. I tell them repeatedly that it doesn?t matter that I believe they can accomplish a goal, but rather, they have to believe they can accomplish a goal. I hope I help them gain confidence when I encourage their abilities and support them to challenge themselves with each workout. I coach them to trust the process. I also cultivate confidence when we intentionally review races and events. It’s important to help the athlete review all that went well for them and all that they accomplished with their efforts.
How do you balance your coaching responsibilities with other work responsibilities and family life?
Coaching is like any career or job responsibility. I schedule coaching into my day as a regular job. Sometimes writing training plans early in the morning and coaching on deck at the group swim in the evenings. I coach balance with training, working, family and other life activities, so I model that for my athletes and take days off and schedule in my own training and time with family, just like others who work a 9 to 5 job.
Why do you think there is such a lack of female coaches at the top ends of the sport in all age groups?
From my perspective, becoming a great coach takes years of time on the field. Season after season, coaches show up, plan, execute, train, support and lead athletes. It takes time and commitment. It is also important that a coach strives to continue to learn and grow, which includes continuing education, seminars and learning symposiums. It takes time and financial resources for coaches to be their best. Many women who also raise children as a full time career don’t have the time to devote to coaching for periods of time when they are raising a family. I have seen women coaches come in and out of their careers of coaching due to other time commitments and responsibilities.
Have you ever experienced discrimination in your coaching due to your gender?
Fortunately, I have not experienced discrimination as a female coach. I have noticed that more women are attracted to coach with a female coach, however, I also coach male athletes. It’s all about a good fit with coaching style, personality, coach experience and specialty and what the athlete hopes to achieve.
If I asked your athletes to describe the type of coach you are, what do you think they would say?
How do you define success as a coach?
I am a successful coach when my athletes recognize their own ability, believe in themselves, set their own goals and reach those goals.
What is your ultimate ambition for your coaching career? What is the legacy you would like to leave?
I’m not sure about leaving a legacy, however, currently, I coach with Team MPI and Coach Mark Sortino and Coach Chris Palmquist. They are the head coaches for the Paratriathlon Olympic team and coached the first Paratriathletes in Rio. They are coaching the current Olympic and Development team to Tokyo and I would love to be able to join them as a coach for the Olympics in 2024
What advice would you give to other current female track and field coaches or who are interested in coaching?
Go for it! Give coaching a try. Sign up and attend as many seminars and continuing education opportunities that you can afford. Start as a volunteer coach and learn from other coaches. Learning to be a great coach takes time and it takes showing up. Get certified in the sport you want to coach and read as much as you can to keep current with the trends and ever evolving information.
Author: Sara Schwendinger has just finished her first year as an Assistant Middle Distance Boys Track Coach at Des Moines Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. She has been a runner herself for almost 26 years (August marks her 26th runiversary). Racing distances from the 800m to the marathon. I just turned 40 in March so I’m a proud masters runner now. Living in Des Moines with her husband David and our furbabies Maisy, a Boxer Mix, and Nosey and Bandit, two Maine Coon cats