Posted 5 months ago

What to look for in a coach

In the fitness world, it can be so easy to get trapped into thinking that your coach will just provide you with your calories and training plan, and let you run with it. Don’t get me wrong – this can work so well for many people, and it’s nothing against that format of coaching either!

However, for a lot of us, our needs when working with a coach are far greater: we may be searching for a space to reflect on how the week has been, consider our stumbling blocks and work through them. Having a coach who can help us create that safes pace to make those mistakes and learn from them is absolutely essential for long-term progress and results.

There’s a lot of research that has looked into how the relationship between a coach and athlete can improve in its quality, and although this is yet to be examined in the context of exercise/fitness or between a coach and client, in today’s article, I’ll talk you through the key characteristics that you should look for and look to build with your coach over time. This of course also applies to any coaches out there who are interested in building better quality relationships with their clients. What does the research tell us?

Closeness
I’m not trying to state the obvious here but working with your coach through time to develop a closer relationship is incredibly important for your success as a client. With online coaching, this can seem a bit more difficult, so the key is to make use of the tools at your disposal: use your check-in sheet to communicate and outline how your week has been, and any additional comments you’d like to add; and don’t be shy to message your coach to celebrate a big win but also when shit hits the fan and things get messy and difficult. In other words, look for a coach who will provide you with these tools that might facilitate building closeness.

Usually, the more your coach feels that you are willing to open up and share your experience of the journey, the more they’ll feel they can help you. This is because that mutual understanding will enable them to share their own experience and provide you with tailored advice that will help you improve in the long run.

Therefore, my advice for coaches would be to create systems that encourage your clients to share how they feel with you. Always listen and pay attention to what they’re communicating, and don’t be scared to ask a difficult question when it’s needed. This will make your job far easier, more successful and more pleasant, both for yourself and for your client.

As we know, after working with someone for long enough, when the closeness is shared and even though boundaries remain professional, it really does feel like you’re working with a close team and friend – and who doesn’t want that as a key motivator?

Commitment
When you are looking to hire a coach and are prepared to invest in yourself and in long-term results, ask yourself this question: do you feel committed to the person and/or coaching brand you are working with? Although committing yourself to change can be scary, feeling that “YES” moment with a coach is critical to both yourself as a client, and to them as your coach.

This is because coaches can see through someone’s commitment before they even begin the journey, and this is important information as it allows coaches to know whether you are ready and open to the challenges that you will come to face. Demonstrating commitment can look different from person to person, but in the context of online coaching this may mean: checking in on time, weekly; responding to your coach’s questions and requests; asking questions and not leaving them too late; asking for feedback; and giving feedback too.

Of course, commitment, like everything, is a two-way process. Therefore, you can and should also expect your coach to demonstrate that they are committed to your journey and invested in the process as much as you are. Some examples of what this may look like is: asking about more than just your training and nutrition in your check-ins (if that’s what the relationship has promised to provide!); your coach taking an interest in your life outside of fitness; your coach planning your journey with you; your coach consulting key decision making with you; and your coach empowering you to do this for yourself too.

Therefore, as a client, look for a coach and/or coaching brand that is aligned with your values, and match your coach’s high level of commitment from the beginning so you can both create the best experience for you!

Complementarity
This is a really important point to note, especially in the fitness industry. There are SO many great coaches out there, so finding someone who you feel you click with and can work with is absolutely essential. At the end of the day, you’re the one employing your coach, so you want to make sure you can both work well together. The coach-client dynamics do take time to develop, but you’ll know early on whether you feel like you and your coach complement each other well.

The same goes for coaches: you want to make sure that the clients you take on board are ones whom you feel motivated to develop a good working relationship with, those who keep you inspired. It’s a two-way process and ultimately, you’re doing your clients a disservice if you’re taking them on board but don’t feel you will work too well together.

Therefore, don’t just hire someone because somebody else told you they were amazing, or because they achieve good results on Instagram. Do your research, and ensure they are the right coach for you – and if they’re not, don’t worry, there are many amazing coaches out there! For example, at VW Physique we’re lucky to have three coaches under the brand, offering clients the opportunity to see whether they align with the brand, and within the brand, see who they feel they might be more attuned to working well with.

Co-orientation
This final point refers to both the position that the coach and client hold about each other. The three points above allude to factors that contribute towards a better-quality relationship between a coach and an athlete/client. These factors – closeness, commitment and complementarity – are important to both coaches and athletes/clients, independently.

However, co-orientation refers to when a coach and client pair feel similar levels of closeness, commitment and complementarity towards one another. So, as a client, you might want to check if you and your coach are on the same page, and whether they reciprocate that relationship.

The same goes for coaches: always ensure you and your clients are on the same page, and that you are working as a team. If you’re the one giving out instructions and expect your clients to just follow suit without any discussion, it’s perhaps time to go back to the drawing board and examine whether you can develop better closeness, commitment and complementarity towards them first.

So, in a nutshell, when you’re hiring a coach – as a client – you really want to be looking for someone who you believe you can develop a close relationship with, someone you know you’ll feel committed to, and someone you believe will work well with you too. You can use the initial consultation call to suss out whether that coach is a strong contender, and if you choose to work with them, you can examine in progress where you are with them too. The closer, more committed and more “team”-like you feel with your coach, the more likely it is that you’ll get better results, as a higher quality relationship predicts a lot of positive physical and mental outcomes. And for coaches, the same message goes; if you want to be better at what you do, ensure you are cultivating closeness, demonstrating commitment and assessing complementarity with your clients.

If you’re looking for the right coach for you, be sure to get in touch via the button below.

Clara Swedlund MSc MBPsS

References
Adie, J., & Jowett, S. (2010). Athletes’ meta-perceptions of the coach-athlete relationship, multiple achievement goals and intrinsic motivation among track and field athletes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology40, 2750-2773.

Davison, L. L. (2008). Embodying the therapeutic alliance: an exploration of the working alliance in the personal trainer-client relationship.

Jowett, S. (2017). Coaching effectiveness: the coach-athlete relationship at its heart. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16(1), 154-158.

Jowett, S., & Ntoumanis, N. (2004). The Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q): development and initial validation. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 14(1), 245-257.

Jowett, S., & Poczwardowski, A. (2007). Understanding the coach-athlete relationship.