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What's With the Hating On Coaches?

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I’ve noticed some animosity toward coaching recently. Mainstream media articles about the rise in coaching as a vocation tend to be met with venomous, vitriolic comments that number in the hundreds. As a coach, I try to rise above and not get bogged down in this, but it’s disturbing to see an occupation that I love, which has helped so many people, attacked in this way. So, I thought I would respond to some of the most common criticisms and explain why I feel proud to call myself a coach, even though apparently we elicit distrust and scorn from such a wide swath of the population.

Anybody can just decide to call herself a coach. There is no standard training, no standard practices, no licensure.

True enough. Some coaches have certifications that represent a certain number of hours of practice, learning methodology and curriculum, or endorsement by an independent board that has observed their coaching in action. Some coaches have degrees in nutrition, clinical psychology, counseling, or social work. Personally, I receive training each and every week through Beachbody in how to coach customers on the topics of fitness and nutrition. It would be difficult to regulate the field as a whole because there are so many different kinds of coaches. What’s more, in many fields that are more highly regulated, there still are practitioners you might prefer not to work with. Just in my group of close friends, I’ve heard several stories about therapists who said rotten, awful things to their patients, and I’ve experienced that myself as well, with one particular therapist I never saw a second time. To cite an example from a different profession, someone can be terrible at cutting your hair; their license indicates that they aren’t endangering your safety, but it doesn’t mean you want to give them your money every month to give you a bad haircut. Ultimately, if somebody is interested in working with a coach, it’s up to that person to find a coach he or she feels comfortable with and trusts. That may take some trial and error, and licensing standards don’t necessarily solve the problem.

I don’t need a coach to tell me how to do things I can easily do myself.

Look, I’ll admit that paying a coach is a luxury. Lots of us make the choice to pay someone to clean our house, do our yard work, massage the knots out of our back. If it makes life easier and we can afford it, why not? Just because it isn’t 100% necessary doesn’t mean it’s wasteful. People often find it difficult to motivate themselves to eat right and exercise. Coaches can be helpful in leading people toward all sorts of behavioral changes that help them feel happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. Sure, we can set goals on our own, but a coach holds us accountable and can help us see how to get to the goal when the path may not be entirely clear.

Why should I trust a coach who is young or doesn’t have much life experience herself?

You don’t have to. Nothing requires you to work with this person. Let her find clients who value what she has to offer. If you don’t think young coaches offer much, then you may be happier with an older coach. But being a good listener and a supportive cheerleader are big parts of coaching, as is being intuitive and insightful. People can get better at these skills over time, but some young coaches may be naturals.

Isn’t that what good friends are for?

Sure. If you’ve got friends with all the skills of coaching, you are truly fortunate! Good coaches have learned the skill of asking questions to guide you toward insights, more so than giving advice. They are paid to maintain professionalism and guide you toward seeing for yourself what they may already see clearly. Good coaches have the self-awareness to recognize when interpersonal dynamics (such as feeling jealous of a client) are interfering with their abilities as a coach. Likewise, a good friend always has your best interests in mind, listens well, and only gives advice when asked. But in my experience, friendships that live up to this ideal are few and far between. Such friendships should absolutely be cherished, but a coach can provide this sort of help on demand, without expecting anything in return.

I know people working as coaches who just plain suck at life/make poor decisions in their own lives/are in desperate need of therapy.

I know this complaint stems from a good place. The person who says this is worried about people who need help placing their problems in the hands of someone who is not capable. And of course I have run across coaches who I would never want to entrust with my own problems. If a coach is getting business, either a) clients are drawn to a part of her that is capable and wise, even if the coach herself isn’t perfect (think about a musician who is a gifted artist but has a disastrous personal life), or b) clients see this coach’s problems and are drawn to her because they are going through similar things, and coach and client figure it out together. Scenario B is not ideal—the coach should already have mastered what she is teaching—but I also don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world. That sort of relationship has empathy and camaraderie and a lot of support. I also think people who have worked through their own problems and experienced great personal growth are drawn to coaching because they want to be part of a similar process for other people. If you’re watching a coach and she seems far from perfect, consider where she started and how far she’s come before you judge her.

Coaches prey on vulnerable people who should be in therapy instead.

It’s true that the line between coaching and therapy can be blurry. Guiding clients through introspection and behavioral changes is part of both professions. Personally, I mention in many (if not most) of my coaching groups that I have benefited from therapy myself and think it can be immensely helpful. I believe coaching and therapy can go hand in hand: coaching can help solidify changes that begin in therapy. Coaching can also be a first line of defense, helping clients with emotional and behavioral changes on a day-to-day basis. If they can feel better through healthy eating, exercise, and rewiring negative and dysfunctional thought patterns with the help of a coach, therapy may not be needed. But I want to reiterate that therapy can tackle problems coaching is not equipped to handle. I believe coaches should be in the practice of suggesting therapy to clients who may benefit, even if it means the coach loses a client.

Coaches are on a power trip. They like bossing other people around.

This one could not be further from the truth! I didn’t start a coaching practice because I think I’m smarter about life or better at living life than other people. I have navigated some personal adversity, and I have invested significant time and effort in my own emotional growth. Therefore, I feel comfortable guiding people on a similar journey—but not because I know all the answers. I learn at least as much from my clients as they do from me! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will say again that good coaches ask questions and introduce food for thought. They are skilled listeners and guides. They are constantly questioning their own motives and whether their intuition is truly guiding them toward the client’s best interest. They do not tell people what to do or boss them around.

Do you know someone who thinks coaching is a bunch of hooey? Or do you think this yourself? Was I able to change your mind about any of it or bring forth a point of view you hadn’t considered before? Please share this article. I’d love to get a discussion going on this page!

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