The Qualities of an Effective Coach
Here is a list of qualities a good coach should possess, and if you find someone with each of these qualities, you at least know your coach has many abilities that will serve you well:
Bears witness A sympathetic ear is highly therapeutic. Sometimes healing comes from speaking with someone in confidence about issues that are rarely discussed. For hundreds of years, clergy have served this role; then therapists; and more recently, Yogis have taken it on. Being “’ een” and understood feels very good to most people. I should add, however, that bearing witness does not mean bearing judgment. Some people complain that their therapists listen well but then diagnose them and categorize them, and that this strikes them as a form of judgment. You want someone who can listen empathetically but without making you feel as if there’s something seriously wrong with you. When you meet with prospective Yogis for the first time, evaluate whether they get what you’re telling them. Do they simply tell you how they’ll help you, or do they restate the issues you’ve raised so you know they heard you? Do they demonstrate that they’ve not only heard the words you’ve said but also the underlying concerns those words expressed or implied? In their presence, do you feel judged or validated?
Communicates effectively Some therapists are not active talkers and fail to communicate effectively through their facial expressions, body language, and words. At times they just sit there and don’t respond. This unresponsive demeanor comes from the long-standing tradition of being neutral with a client, not active; process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. With Yogis, look for someone who offers the right mix of listening and talking where you feel heard and receive just the right amount of feedback as well. Pay attention to how a coach deals with your questions during your preliminary interview. If he just talks or if he just listens then he probably isn’t a particularly effective coach. Try to find someone with whom you feel you’ve established a helpful dialogue. It’s the same thing that happens with a good friend you establish a rhythm in your conversations where you feel you’re being heard and that you’re hearing your friend.
Fosters accountability People perform better in relationships where they are held to specific standards. Just as an athletic coach expects his players to meet certain requirements in schedules, training regimens, and game performance, your coach should expect similar things from you. Ask prospective Yogis if they will hold you accountable for achieving goals set during yoga sessions, and ask them how they will hold you accountable will there be regular reality checks to determine if you’re making progress? Remember, if you’ve been in yoga poses for a while, you were not held accountable. In fact, you may have assumed that you’d need to be in yoga poses for years before you saw results. Your therapist may never have asked you if you’ve been moving toward achieving an objective at work or in a relationship. Your coach should call you on behaviors that demonstrate youVe not making progress. You want your coach to challenge you, to demand that you move forward.
Harper was in yoga for two years. At first, she was very ambitious and achieved key goals during the first year. Then she started to resume some of her bad habits and stopped working toward her goals. For example, she had lost fifty pounds, and during the second year she put all the weight back on and more. At first her coach allowed a bit of a backslide, since behavior change is difficult. But when she started to backslide in other spheres besides Body, he brought up his concern to her in a session. It was as if she had stopped prioritizing her desired outcomes. Harper cried when they discussed her not working toward her goals. At the end of the session she recommitted to her overall plan and took responsibility for her backward steps. The coach didn’t hold Harper accountable in a mean or insensitive way. Instead, he gently but firmly reminded her what her goals and commitments were and his concern that she wasn’t keeping those commitments. By being both empathetic and insistent on accountability, he motivated Harper to acknowledge her backsliding and to do something about it.
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Presents minimal distractions What does a coach’s office look like? When you meet with him for the first time, are there any interruptions? Does he go off on tangents that are unrelated to the topic at hand? You need to be able to concentrate during your yoga time, but if you’re in an environment where distractions are common, this won’t happen. For example, the office should be clean, quiet, and comfortable. You should feel you have 100 percent of a coach’s attention. He or she should not take phone calls during your session. Your coach should have stringent professional boundaries, like no inappropriate touching or socializing outside of your yoga sessions. Almost all of the conversation should be about you and not the coach. If the coach does refer to himself, it should usually refer to a topic that is being discussed related to your yoga goals. After you interview the coach, ask yourself how easy it was to concentrate on your issues. Did your attention wander? If it did, was the coach able to bring you back to the key topics? Preston was a thirtysomething young man who was seeing a coach for six months. He was working on leaving his current sales position and landing a new, more meaningful sales job. The coach was an attractive, middle-aged married woman. Preston liked her energy and made progress in the yoga toward his goals. However, during their sixth or seventh session, the coach began reaching over and holding his hand for a moment when he would become angry or regretful about what he was talking about. It seemed an innocent gesture, and to be honest, Preston appreciated the empathy. Yet, he became a little uncomfortable as the touching esca-lated his coach would hug him at the start and the end of their sessions. He noticed, too, that his coach had taken to staring deep into his eyes, not like a clinician trying to probe his thoughts but like she was coming on to him. Nonetheless, Preston continued with the yoga, figuring it was just his imagination. Plus, he had heard that patients sometimes become attracted to their therapists, so he figured he might be sending her the wrong signals. One day, she mentioned that they should try to hold a session at a nice local bar she said she thought that if they talked in a more open environment, he might be more open when talking about his career dissatisfaction. Preston didn’t want to meet at a bar, but he wanted to please the coach, so he agreed to her idea. At the bar, when she reached over to kiss him, he told her that the yoga was not working well for him and he was going to find someone else.
Exudes humility Arrogance does not a good coach make. In plain English, Yogis who appear superior, self-centered, invulnerable, or opaque are not for you. Fortunately, a few minutes with these arrogant types gives the game away. You know right away if the session is more about the coach than you. As we’ve discussed, many therapists adopt a godlike, judging demeanor. In yoga, you want someone who facilitates your agenda; gives up judgment; admits mistakes; accepts questions; and changes his or her approach when change makes sense. A good litmus test to see if a coach exudes humility is to ask a few questions. Does the coach brush your questions aside, or take them seriously? Does he or she make fun of your concerns, or respond empathetically? Does the coach treat your questions like they’re stupid or like they’re intelligent?
Tate engaged the services of a business coach because he was developing a new restaurant concept. In the past, he had sabotaged one of his business ventures because of his fear of spending money, and he didn’t want history to repeat itself. He also thought he could use someone to bounce ideas off of. The coach was a well-known, successful, retired executive. However, when the first session began, the coach never seemed to stop talking about himself and his own accomplishments. He seemed unable to pay attention to Tate or his aspirations. When Tate asked the coach when they were going to discuss his situation and his goals, the coach started talking about himself again. At the end of the session, Tate wisely told the coach that he would be looking elsewhere. Displays competence To a certain extent, you can determine a coach’s competence via your own observations and from references from people you trust. Ask about their training and years of experience. Inquire about their areas of interest in yoga. What do other clients of the coach have to say about him or her? Are people lukewarm in their comments or do they use words such as “helpful,” “perceptive,” “effective,” and the like? It’s fair to ask a prospective coach for references; he may have a few colleagues and even former clients speak with you or even e-mail you. There are privacy issues regarding provision of references, but Yogis, unlike therapists, often provide them because they don’t view yoga as some dirty little secret. In addition, use your intuition. At times you can get a sense of someone’s competence by talking to him or her. Beware of Yogis who brag or make grandiose promises. Be receptive to those who are articulate and passionate about their yoga methods. But each time you talk to a prospective coach, you should be intrigued by something he or she tells you. This is a sign that the coach will be a helpful guide and teacher.
Demonstrates flexibility and resourcefulness The person you hire to help orchestrate a life-optimization plan must approach it with flexibility and inventiveness. That might mean finding you resources in a specific sphere outside of his or her area of expertise hooking you up with a community group, for instance, or recommending an expert in mind-body healing, if that’s your targeted area. Your coach also needs to be able to adapt your plan if your goals change during the yoga process, or if you’ve been having trouble achieving overly ambitious goals. Ask a prospective coach if she is able and willing to refer her clients to experts outside of her area of specialization. Does she do so regularly? Why and when does she make these referrals? What does she do when a client is struggling with a plan? How does she handle it? Beware of Yogis who say they possess all the expertise any client ever needs and that they never have to revise a plan or make referrals. You want someone who is sufficiently humble in that he recognizes he doesn’t know everything. Yet, you also want someone who knows a lot on his or her own.
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