Beginner Coach – What’s it really like to start out?

As a trainer, it’s not easy to give a true to life flavour of what it’s like to start out, or convey the ups and downs of learning to coach, so I asked a  Ali,  to share her experience of joining a Foundations Course.

Ali has a background in PR, has worked as a personal trainer (and successful blogger), and is currently working in government as a Parliamentary Manager, as well as being a mother of 15 month old twins.

Coaching has interested me since around 2010, when I first worked with a coach who helped me transition from a career in public relations to one in health and fitness. My interest grew through my work as a personal trainer, as I found it frustrating that although I had great success with many clients, there were some who found barriers to any change suggested and I wondered whether coaching might be the answer to enable them to move forward.

Fast forward eight years and a further career shift back to a management role, and the idea of coaching started to pull at me again. Cue an internet search to identify whether I could do a course, how long it would take, and how much it would cost. I knew that if I was going to study, then I wanted to do an accredited course. A general google search led me to the Association for Coaching, which revealed that there were two accredited courses in my area, one of which, the Wild Goose Advanced Coaching Diploma, immediately looked like the right one for me.

I enthusiastically contacted Helen, and a few emails and an application form later, I had been offered a place on the course. I was really keen to get going, so I started reading relevant books, listening to podcasts and scanning through websites and magazines. Once I had the official reading list and could make a start on that I was thrilled!

However, all my enthusiasm started to be tinged with a little anxiety as the first weekend grew near. I had a slight niggling doubt that everyone else might be successful coaches already – yes, the rational me also wonders why they would be taking a course if this were true, or that they would all be senior managers in global companies, and that I, with my somewhat varied career background wouldn’t fit in at all.

Within seconds of arriving on the Friday, and ignoring the bit where I went the wrong way and found myself wandering round Helen’s garden – she didn’t know that until now, I felt much more at ease as I met a group of ten, friendly, interesting and approachable people, all from different backgrounds, but all with the goal of exploring the idea of coaching either as a career change, or as an addition to an existing career.

Helen and Diana, our trainers for the weekend, got us started straight away with an icebreaker, and it was fun to find out who in the group liked wild swimming and who played a musical instrument. We then moved on to a range of practical exercises, such as staring into the eyes of another group member for around five minutes (!), and trying out various coaching techniques while walking up a steep hill. Not only did the exercises on day one help us to bond and get to know each other as a group, they also taught us important elements of coaching, such as focus, listening and questioning, and made us laugh, so it was the ideal way to start.

I’d love to say that after this I breezed through the rest of the weekend, but the reality is that on the Saturday morning I just didn’t feel right. There was a niggling feeling at the back of my mind that I wasn’t on the right course, that this one was too focused on business coaching, and that it just wasn’t working for me. After an hour or two of questioning myself, I decided to speak to Helen, who took the time to listen to me. Ten minutes later and I was feeling markedly better, and reassured that this probably was the right course for me, and that the different backgrounds of those on the course was what would make the group work well, as we all have different skills and experiences to bring to the table.

The weekend continued with a great mix of practical and more traditional learning as we got to grips with coaching techniques such as the GROW model, explored the differences between values, virtues and character strengths, learnt to give good feedback, looked at tools such as the wheel of life, and practiced delivering and receiving coaching sessions. I also had the opportunity to have a coaching session observed by Helen, and to hear her say that something I had done during the session was ‘outstanding’ was a real high point of the weekend.

During our final practical session on the Sunday, I had a real ‘this is what I am meant to be doing’ moment, which felt amazing, and spending more time getting to know the group through peer learning time that afternoon was the ideal way to end the weekend.

Overall, despite a few ups and downs, the first weekend was an amazing experience. I feel like I learnt a huge amount about both coaching and myself. I am really excited to see where this journey will take me and I look forward to our next weekend, and to the peer coaching in the meantime.