Neal Henderson – Coaching Triathlon and Endurance Athletes
Neal Henderson is a long standing and multi award winning American endurance sport coach specialising in triathlon training.
The 2011 Doc Counsilman medal winner for American coach of the year, Henderson’s decorated career spans decades and his list of successful athletes is envied by coaches worldwide.
A former endurance athlete in the XTERRA series and in winter triathlons himself Henderson knows the attributes and skills required for the sport both physically and mentally.
How long have you been coaching for?
A little over 20 years. My first coaching experience was as an assistant coach with a USS swim team during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I also volunteered for 2 weeks with the first USA Triathlon national team in the summer of 1996 (triathlon didn’t enter the Olympic programme until 2000 in Sydney)…so while everyone else was in Atlanta, triathlon got free reign of the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. I worked as the collegiate team coach for USA Triathlon the summer of 1999, while coaching the CU-Boulder triathlon team from 1998-2000.
How did you get into coaching?
I was inspired by my age-group and high school swim coach Stacey Moore. Her husband is a PhD physiologist and she would pass along scientific papers from him regarding training to teach us about the ways that she trained us with regard to exercise physiology. She was also the head coach of the Hershey Aquatic Club that I worked as an assistant coach with in 1993. I was a track & field athlete in high school, as well as swimmer, who focussed on pole vault, javelin and discuss. We didn’t have any real pole vault coaches, so I learned everything I could from studying video, reading articles, and trial and error.
From an early point as an athlete, I was always thinking about what I was doing and how I could be better. During a vacation across the country with my family in the summer of 1989 we stopped at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and during the tour of the Sport Science building, I knew that eventually I would be working in an area related to sports performance and coaching. I also got into triathlons in high school, and there weren’t many triathlon coaches around (especially not in Central Pennsylvania) so I learned as much as I could about the sport for myself and then had lots of people asking me to help them out.
I was the president of the Penn State Triathlon Club while I was an undergraduate student studying exercise & sport science. I worked as a strength and conditioning coach for an AHL ice hockey team (Hershey Bears) after I finished my undergraduate degree, and learned how to apply concepts of basic fitness development applied to a sport with which I really didn’t have any personal knowledge or experience. When I came to the University of Colorado at Boulder to earn my master’s degree in kinesiology and applied physiology I was first started as assistant coach to the CU Triathlon Club team then eventually was the head coach for 2 years.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I believe in using a balance of art and science in developing training for people to become highly capable athletes and good people. I would rather work with someone who becomes a good athlete and great person than someone who becomes a great athlete but not a good person.