The Art Of Coaching


A journey into coaching that could improve your toolbox for better results

The art of coaching

I have been teaching and coaching in some capacity for over 30 years. At 14 I was the youngest black belt in my Taekwondo club and my instructor allowed me to take the adult class through their warm-up and assist. I now realise how much value there was in this experience on many levels. I started teaching my own Taekwondo classes at around 22, when I started university and went through the physical journey of personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, kettlebell coach, weightlifting coach and mindfulness coach several years after that. I have been fortunate enough to learn from and work with some of the best out there and also impact thousands of lives with my work

I am telling you this for one simple reason – patterns

When you do something for long enough you begin the see the structural foundations under the surface and patterns emerge. These patterns can be seen as underlying principles and are a solid framework to operate from. Much of this will be personal and relate to my journey

I was always shy as a kid and young adult. In fact, the reason I pushed myself so hard with the training was that it was all that I knew and my go-to for every unmet need, problem, difficulty and lack of awareness. I cannot say it was all unhealthy as that would be a lie. I can say I better understand it now based on my own awareness and hindsight. It was a coping mechanism in some way and certainly not a bad one when I look back at where it took me and what I gained because of it

I want to cover several principles that I am sure will benefit many in the coaching space –

1. You cannot take someone further than have been

2. Your own healing is your gift to your clients

3. Listening is a superpower

4. The relationship creates the map

5. You guide and they explore

6. Language has incredible power

7. Their awareness is your success

1 – You cannot give from an empty cup. I know because I have been there. If you attempt to give from an empty bowl then 2 people starve. Hopefully that hits home as many people are better working on themselves before helping others. In fact, this is some of the best advice I can give anyone who has a string of broken relationship and is torn between the desperation of someone new who can lift them out of despair and giving up on half of humanity completely. The constant in your life is you and also the source of much of your suffering. Your awareness, compassion, empathy, relationship skills and ability to leverage language has the ability to completely transform lives. The map you currently operate from will largely have 2 areas of limitation –

• The places you are reluctant to go as they are painful

• The places you have no idea exist

Progress here will come from point 2 –

2 – Many of us are a patchwork quilt of those we respected as an authority at some level and during our developmental years as sponges of learning taught us who we were, how to be and what is expected in society and the world as we find our place. I can tell you with as much compassion as is possible that so much of this is limiting and even damaging. This is not to say anyone is to blame or even a bad person as in almost all cases people did their best with the tools, experience and awareness they had. Remember point one – you don’t know what you don’t know. More importantly, most people have no idea they are mouthpieces across generations and carry many of those habits that are on life-support through their existence and repetition.

Progress here is a brave act and takes time and ideally a professional in your corner. Nobody escapes generational trauma and hardly anyone is aware at what level it operates and impacts their lives. To really simplify this you have 2 areas where paying attention will be valuable –

• Your self image and inner dialogue as you have been told who you are and how to behave from many people you believed at some level

• Your way of responding and interacting with other people as you have been told right and wrong and what is acceptable

Your self image could be very fragile as for a lifetime you have been told not to rock the boat, keep your opinions to yourself and even at a young age that children should be seen and not heard. I bet you never heard anyone say now you are no longer a child there is no need to hide. This means that those shackles of staying in the spectator seats, avoiding conflict or even voicing our opinions stay tight and guide our doubt

3 – Listening is so much more than just being quiet and not interrupting. Think of music. At a basic level it is a mixture of sound and no sound – noise and silence. Quite often the space between the notes creates a more powerful emotional response than the notes themselves. It is the same with art as in many cases we are drawn to a figure in a landscape and can miss out on the background that brings the figure to life. Front and back, sound and silence and many more examples explain the ever-changing tapestry of life and existence. We are a part of the constant cosmic dance of change

Listening at a deep level is letting the other person know that you get them. You are there completely, they are valid and valued and their existence is important to you because your most important asset – time – is being gifted to them as you allow their world to unfold and pay complete attention to them. However, resist the temptation to respond in order to show your knowledge or be correct. Listen because something magical happens in the coaching space when someone trusts you enough to surrender and go there. All answers are within and on so many occasions I have seen people explore who they are, what they do, why they do it and then deepen their compassion. This in almost all cases results in them realising the issue was never the issue, or arriving at suitable answers and conclusions in order to make progress

Listening at this level has also helped me to realise that as a coach you simply observe the growth of another person. It is not always pretty and may be painful and even very emotional, but that willingness to do the work is where it all begins. They are the kayak on the rapids and instead of lifting them out at every obstacle and even taking control for them, you simply nudge them now and then to ensure they keep moving forwards. Coaching is the art of delivering science, or a framework that has validity, utility and a track record of success across time and people. I can say without hesitation the art is more important than the science once foundations are present as that is who you are as a person and your ability to be that guide during their storm

4 – The relationship you have with your client is the most important part of their growth. Few people will make progress unless challenged, uncomfortable and able to face who they are and do the work – no matter how painful. There will be resistance and in many cases that resistance will be targeted at you for making them feel this way. My advice here is to form an agreement before entering this terrain so you both understand completely what will happen, why and that it is all for growth. I enter this with you as a guide and friend that only ever wants your growth, happiness and success every time. Things may get messy, painful and emotions may well stir up and create obstacles. We are here for you and you alone so please understand that whatever we face, we face it together and can always find a way through it in time

Clarity and expectations are crucial to growth. Many people are where they are and have what they have through avoidance and because going there is painful. Making them aware that this path is possible and what it may look like can put them at ease and improve their engagement and accountability during the sessions

Coaching can take many forms and it is important to have a big enough toolbox for most of the people most of the time. While some will need a very slow and supportive route, others will require somebody to call them out, challenge them and potentially be that parental figure they lacked in some way

I remember being challenged by someone and feeling myself shrink as though I was back in the classroom. This was a powerful reminder that I had not experienced this for some time and even avoided it to avoid the feeling. Once I reframed it as the opportunity to learn and grow and with the humility to realise I may be wrong, the emotions subsided as that is what we almost always run from – how we feel

5 – I learnt the hard way that coaching is always about the other person. You can begin the journey so excited, so fired up to change lives and so looking forward to seek validation and approval that you run the risk of creating a clone of your ideals, beliefs and biases. I am well aware I do not have all of the answers. I don’t even know most of the questions, but I do realise how important client-centred coaching is as it is never about you. Their success is not your success, but a reflection of your competency in allowing them to achieve their results as a guide

I will take you to the door, even though you are nervous as you to walk up to it and open it. I will never tell you what to expect inside or tell you what I think will be in there. I would say the primary goal of the coach is through a reasonably expanded map, you allow your clients to expand their map, but with their own brush and creativity

It really does come down to the individual and over time you begin to realise those patterns. Some people need a huge amount of support and almost live in a protective shell. Others just need a reframe on a concept, or different ways of responding and they make incredible progress

Quite often it can be difficult for people to do it for themselves as they may not believe they deserve it, or lack the motivation to meet their needs. It can be beneficial here to widen the focus and look at how their growth will positively impact those around them. Think of the mother constantly trying to lose weight and hating herself and then what that is teaching her kids about acceptance, trust and love. Painful I know, but essential as your world is often much bigger than you. When people get the best of you it can potentially inspire them to be the best they can be as you are the example of what is possible and proof they can also do it

6 – Language is how we think, understand and communicate. It is possibly the most important tool we have for growth once we understand the impact it has across time and situations. I will be posting separately on the many areas of language and specifics, but for this post an overview will be enough. Language will relate very closely to your self-esteem and beliefs. In fact, your inner critic is largely best friends with a negativity bias that keeps you safe and stops you doing things that could be a risk. Your willingness to be seen and heard and stand up for your beliefs is a great indicator of whether you actively go after things in life, or sit their overthinking and then allow the doubt to result in non-action, which you then internally justify as you knew it wouldn’t work out anyway. There are so many layers to language and also areas of overlap that are almost a cause and effect of each other. What you do in one area could be highly related to another and then go on to impact a third and this timeline of cause and effect, based on what you think, say and do (that comes from your filter system of beliefs and values) is responsible for what you have in life

As a coach, the language you use is the largest part of the coaching toolbox. You do not need to be a wordsmith or orator, but it does help to understand the consequences of language patterns. Why? Because your clients will show theirs during your interactions and that is what you have to work with. Who they are as a person is the result of their habits and there is a chain of events and experiences that created and maintain who they currently are. A first step in awareness is to look out for what I call weak language, or weakening language.

Think of the following example –

I tried to open the door

Based on this statement, is the door open or closed?

Closed, as I tried and that indicated almost without reservation that I was unsuccessful

Try is a tiny word with very insidious consequences. The nature of try is to assert you do not believe you can and therefore even giving something a fair effort is not worth your time. Try allows you to write yourself off before you even show up, so you know the consequences before moving a finger.

Try is also the coward's escape with things you would rather not do, but still face as you have problems saying no and feeling like you are letting people down. For people that you do hear repeat try several times, help them to understand some new possibilities –

If try is masking a no, then begin to use no more and establish boundaries. Much of our suffering comes from saying yes so often that we end up not being able to trust ourselves

For things you do actually want to do, replace try with something courageous like – I know I can do this. If that really stretches your capacity then make it fun – I am going to enjoy this. The beauty of this phrase is it is not based on an outcome, but just being with the experience and enjoying it as participant

7 – I would say at the time of writing this awareness is possibly the most important thing for humanity at present. I am not going to wander down the paths of politics, covid, war, climate, health, addiction, suicide, the family unit, education, religion and any of the big issues that we face on your journey, but I will say that in almost everything you face in life, your own awareness is a crucial factor of the results you can achieve

As a coach, your gift to your clients is that at some point in the future they have made enough progress and have sufficient awareness and habits to no longer need you as they are independent. Your goal for them is always their growth. Conscious evolution is critical for the individual. To sit with who they are and everything they bring to this moment and accept it is how they allow themselves to be complete and ready for progress. Until we accept ourselves we are fragmented, embarrassed about parts we want to remove and looking for the things we believe will fix what is broken. Notice the language used as many are convinced they are broke and need fixing. Nobody is broken and nobody needs fixing. You have a certain level of self-awareness, resiliency and options across various situations. Bones break and take time to fix. People have a level of awareness that serves them in a specific way

I am reluctant to tell you what progress might look like here, as it will become clear through the relationships with your clients. However, from an overview of the map I would focus on a few areas –

• Language patterns and the creation of responses and options

• Forgiveness – them and then others

• Visualisation – what they want rather than want to get rid of

• Meaningful goals that are truly for the individual

• Clarity on your expectations, relationship dynamics and outcomes

Coaching is a wonderful process and both grow from this experience. The journey of two people willing to learn and grow can truly change the world