I am coming to an end of my journey in grad school at Kent State University. I have been taking classes to become an early interventionist. Fancy title for a professional who "coaches" families and other key professionals who are working with kids ages 0-3 years of age with developmental delays and disabilities. The perspective of coach has been redefined on so many levels and I am grateful for this new found knowledge. Coaching, if thought of correctly, is a very powerful action that impacts lives in an amazing way. I have become a better coach to my family, my friends, my colleagues, and all of the families that I am constantly interacting with through my recreational aquatics job and my position at my internship.
I can best summarize the elements of what makes up a good coach through the following words:
REFLECTION---A good coach is able to guide those under his or her wing toward greatness. Guiding is way different from telling. If you ask the right kind of questions, you are essentially coaching a person toward making improvements that will stick and be more meaningful to them. Asking them questions such as "What went right when you did that?" "What do you think you would like to work on today?" "How do you think you can make that better?"
EXPANSION-- A good coach is able to take a person's reflection and build upon it. As a coach, it is ok to just shut up and listen to the person that you are coaching. I am not trying to be brash...just offering the best piece of advice I can muster. Those you coach will tell you amazing and very critical things when you just stop talking and begin to hear their needs, concerns, and priorities. It takes some effort to figure out how to link together a person's reflection on their actions (i.e. I did great at this but bad at this) and build upon their thoughts in a proactive way. If we take something as simple as a signigicant other's bad day at work...Asking that person the following questions might be helpful: "What did you do well today at work?" "If you were to make changes, what would those be?" "What can be done to immediately change things for the better and what will take longer to accomplish?" What are you willing to do to make things better for yourself in this situation?" It is often (not always) about open ended questions. Don't fear "yes" and "no" questions but make sure to build in wait time or follow up questions.
GUIDANCE---A good coach recognizes when it is necessary to provide examples. Sometimes examples involve practice and demonstration. Other times, it is important to check to make sure that a person understands what is being expressed to them by asking for them to voice their thoughts. It is also good to summarize and ask for clarification from those being coached. As instructors or teachers, it is important not to miss opportunities. By offering direct instruction without applying coaching principles, students may not be able to effectively experience, practice, improve, and change their actions if they feel it is necessary to do so. It is best to give a person the chance to shape their own experiences as you coach them.
PERSONALIZATION---A good coach recognizes that not everyone learns the same way and thinks the same way. If you coach a t-ball league of six year olds, you can't get through to all of them the same way. One child responds to humor while another responds to a quieter approach. How a coach alters their style to fit the needs of the coachee is important if progress is going to be made. What is it about a person that makes them learn most effectively? I teach many kids with disabilities in a swimming pool. Some kids respond to my physical actions while others do better if they hear more of my voice as I label each action that they are doing. It all depends on the individual.
PARTNERSHIP---A good coach is a partner and not superior to the person they are coaching. Giving set instructions or providing strategies that have worked in the past, will not work for each individual being coached. How can a person improve if they can't directly apply what they learn to what they believe they need for themselves? It might sound touchy feely but it isn't if you delve in and give it some thought. How can a coach step back and provide the right recipe of support for a person who needs them and wants them to strengthen their knowledge base on a topic? For families that I have worked with, it is critical to help them see what is realistic for them to do in their given situations. What are their priorities? What do they consider to be their talents? Their child's talents? How do they want to devote their time to reaching greatness for their child and family? If you go against these answers as their coach, they will not achieve the same level of greatness as they would if you build a partnership.
Whether you are an official coach or take on these coaching approaches to improve the nature of your relationships, I can guarantee a few things. First, you will learn a lot more about the people who you put in the coachee role. Even if it is a friend or a loved one, you will gain a lot by listening, asking questions, and not telling others what you think they should do as an ultimate first step. As a coach, you will build a relationship with those you coach that is built on trust and empowerment. The PDF file attached to this blog entry supports all of the above ideas mentioned from the standpoint of early intervention coaching. Yet, I do feel that the premise of the words in the article can be applied to all coaching situations.
Special thanks to all of the fabulous coaches in my life. You know who you are and I value all of the support you have given me this past year to see "the light" in a way that makes sense for me and not you. You are amazing people and I am blessed to have you in my circle of life.
Love and respect always,