Why life coaching?

by Aug 27, 2019Life & Money Q&As

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Life coaching is pointless if my coach doesn’t tell me what to do, isn’t it?

Life coaching and sports coaching are not that different; just the same process with a different emphasis.

Some years ago, Harry Cordellos entered the 12km Dipsea Race. The Dipsea is the oldest trail run in America, crossing beautiful Marin County, north of San Francisco. Steep hills and rough paths make it a particularly gruelling race for the 1,500 runners.

Now Harry is always up to something – running marathons, ski-ing, building models, speaking, writing – or running the Dipsea. So for Harry, running the Dipsea shouldn’t have been a problem.

Except that Harry is blind. To run the Dipsea, Harry needed the help of a fully sighted coach to get him round.

Who’s coaching who?

Watching the race is inspirational. The film also records the changing relationship between Harry and his coach as the competition progresses. In the end, you might even ask who is coaching who.

Harry’s coach started the race doing what he thought Harry wanted. He describes the next stages of the route and nudges Harry in the right direction. He tells him where to put his feet to get the best path or avoid obstacles.

However, it seems that Harry wants to run his race, not someone else’s. He begins to ask his coach for more information about the topography, his progress and other runners. Arguably, Harry starts to coach his coach on how to coach him.

So, yes, Harry’s coach fulfils a technical role. However, he ends up, at Harry’s request, coaching Harry to be his best, to grow and develop throughout the race. His helper starts as a technical adviser and ends up as a trusted guide and partner. He is both professional sports coach and affirmative life coach.

Questions and answers

Coaching is about questions and answers, not telling people what to do. Harry starts to ask questions of his co-runner for the information he isn’t getting and tells him what he needs to know. His helper complies and in so doing obtains a greater insight into what Harry needs. He evolves from helper to guide to coach. He works with Harry not just to finish the race, but to finish it as best he can.

Life and other coaching interventions range from the highly directive to the non-directive. Harry’s story illustrates this. The coaching starts by being highly instructional and technical, before becoming more about questions and answers. Addressing the issues leads to greater insight into the challenges and action based on these insights.

Coaching has its origins in neuroscience, counselling, psychotherapy, management, organisation development and leadership theory. It has roots in philosophy and religion. Jenny Rogers offers the following definition in her book Coaching Skills, often considered the foundation text for coaches today.

Coaching is the art of facilitating another person’s learning, development, well-being and performance. Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Through coaching, people can find their solutions, develop their skills, and change their attitudes and behaviours. The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between people’s potential and their current state.

Roger’s definition is all-encompassing and applies to life coaching and sports coaching. Even sports coaches dealing with the highest professionals cannot ‘fix’ their clients, as Rogers says. It’s only the client who can enact the changes that emerge as solutions from the coaching. The source of the motivation and energy for change comes from the client’s internal resources. The coach’s role, therefore, is to establish the client’s resourcefulness through skilful questioning, challenge and support. The coach is not ‘better’ than the client and has no authority to tell the client what to do.

Life coaching and sports coaching combined

You can see this in Harry’s race. As a blind person, Harry needs coaching to ensure he finishes the race to the best of his potential. However, its Harry who sets the agenda. The course is well run because Harry’s coach understands this en route. He responds by adding the role of supportive coach to that of the technician.

The relationship and trust between Harry and his coach become closer with each kilometre. Trust is the key to their success (because it is Harry’s coach’s success as much as Harry’s success). Carl Rogers, an influential American psychologist active in the first half of the 20th century, wrote: ‘In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his personal growth?’

The point of life coaching (or any coaching for that matter) is in part to train you for new or better skills. However, the more important purpose of life coaching is to develop the client’s potential from the inside by releasing and developing the client’s internal resources.

References and sources

Harry Cordellos: http://www.bobalu.org (NB not secure)
Harry’s Dipsea video: https://youtu.be/-eCvV6DfF1U
The Dipsea race: https://www.dipsea.org/index.php
Rogers, Jenny (2016). Coaching Skills: The definitive guide to being a coach. OUP (4th edition)


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