Recently I allowed myself to get twisted over the use of some adjectives and adverbs: measly, only, slowly. This led to discussions about what can be coached, and what can't.
While you can be coached to get faster than you are now, I firmly believe that you need some sort of natural talent for extreme speed. For example: I was not blessed with speed. Growing up all I heard from coaches was that I was slow, but thankfully smart, so I could compensate for being slow. Is that right up there with: She's not much to look at, but she has a great personality?
I know if I set it as a goal, I could train to run a sub 24 5k (3 miles faster than 8 minutes). However, the reality is I don't think that with any training I could get to a sub 21. My reasoning behind this is two fold: I lack the physical ABILITY and more importantly the DESIRE to train for it.
I don't think you can coach either. You can't coach ability and you sure as hell can't coach desire.
While I'm not yet (stay tuned) an endurance coach, I have coached athletes since I was in high school. The ideal athlete is the one who has the desire to achieve to his/her greatest ability. Great rewards can be reaped from an athlete who desires to be better than s/he is. The most frustrating is the athlete who has ability but no desire.
An amazing woman I follow on Daily Mile just started working with a coach and she shared her thoughts about this: At first I thought my coach would do all the work and then I realized that while my coach will work hard, it is up to me to do the workouts. I have to put in the effort to improve.
Then you have that athlete that says s/he wants it, but seemingly lacks desire. S/he half-asses workouts. S/he has more excuses than data to upload. With this athlete it doesn't matter how much work the coach puts in, it will never be enough. Why? You can't coach desire. This is very frustrating for a coach who is putting in effort and his/her athlete is not.
My coach has me. (I think the jury is still out whether he is lucky or not.) I have desire. I actually have a lot of desire to be better than I am. My desire greatly out weighs my natural ability. I have to work for it all! But I want it! This means I have to stay realistic in what I will achieve and what it will take to get there. Blinders on, focus on me.
Late addition: In one of the MANY tri groups I hang out in, a woman was discussing how a man told her she wasn't a real athlete because of her pace. Another member chimed and told her to memorize this line: I am not training for your approval. Amen.