What Makes a Great Coach? 5 Essential Qualities - a Mind Tools blog
What Makes a Great Coach? 5 Essential Qualities - a Mind Tools blog

What Makes a Great Coach? – 5 Essential Qualities

September 21, 2022

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A great coach doesn’t always have all the answers but they do ask all the right questions. “Where do you want to be in two years’ time? What actions do you need to take right now to get you there? How’s that working out for you? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t go ahead with that?”

I frequently ask thought-provoking questions like these to get people really thinking in a way that they won’t usually do by themselves.

Why don’t they? Well, maybe because the process of being coached means that you have to “open up” and essentially be vulnerable. Which most of us – me included – are not comfortable doing naturally.

I often hear people compare coaching sessions to therapy and in many ways it is. As a nutrition coach, I know all too well how a discussion about unwanted habits and behaviors can open up waves of emotion very quickly. After all, these habits and behaviors stem from previous life experiences.

Let Your Coach Be Your Guide

So why do people seek out coaching? Well, they’re looking for answers. However, as I said, good coaches don’t necessarily have the answers.

Instead, they have the unique ability to guide people and get them thinking differently, to effectively find the answers themselves… the answers that they had all along.

And that’s just it, true coaching isn’t telling people where their next career step needs to be or how many calories are in an avocado… that’s what Google is for!

A good analogy for this and something I often remind myself of is:

A good coach is like a mountain guide. They can lead you up the right path, they know when to adjust the pace, and they can keep you motivated throughout the climb. But what they won’t do is chuck you on their back and carry you up the mountain themselves.

Why I Started to Coach

For a number of years now I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pursue my passion for coaching, specifically nutrition coaching. Almost 10 years ago, I found myself falling head over heels in love… with CrossFit.

But don’t worry, I won’t be talking about that today! My interest in how nutrition has a huge part to play in performance consumed me, I needed to know more.

From counting calories and experimenting with different diets, I found that people would come to me for advice, and you know what? It felt good. That warm fuzzy feeling you get when you help someone progress and get better is just second to none. And I wanted more.

Helping people with performance was great, but, for me, it was kind of a temporary fix. I wanted to help on an almost life-changing level. And soon I found myself asking what everyday people usually struggle with and how I can help them make bigger, long-lasting lifestyle changes.

The health and fitness industry is filled with endless agendas, false claims and expensive products. So I wanted to empower people with the knowledge, understanding and, more importantly, the self-belief to navigate that tsunami of misinformation.

The Power of Coaching

So we now know that instead of giving people the answers they need, the most impactful way of coaching is to ask the right questions.

That empowers people to find the answers that they were searching for, and the decision to change is theirs instead of someone else giving orders.

For example, giving someone direct advice would look like:

You really need to stop eating three takeaways a week and binge drinking on weekends.”

However, coaching someone would go something like:

Do you feel your current habits are helping you reach your goals?

Think about it, when someone tells you what to do what’s your instant reaction? Likely to reject them immediately, with a side order of, “Don’t tell me what to do.” Especially if it comes across in a forceful way.

But a conversation can be subtly steered so that someone will come to a conclusion and make a decision themselves. And this is the ultimate catalyst for change.

5 Essential Qualities of a Great Coach

While everyone coaches slightly differently, I’ve found that there are a few essential qualities to being a successful coach. A great coach will:

  • Ask questions… a lot of them.
  • Connect with their client.
  • Let the client set the tone.
  • Know when to shut up!
  • Identify the resistance to change.

I Like Your Style

While coaching principles remain the same, coaching styles can differ. And this all depends on who you’re coaching. For example, you may be coaching someone who is confident and “shoots from the hip,” and requires a more direct set of questions with a slightly firmer tone.

On the other hand, some will feel more vulnerable to the coaching process, and so you want to tread lightly with direct questioning and approach with more empathy.

With this in mind, it’s important to truly understand someone and what they have going on in their lives. It’s so vital that you connect with the individual. A good coach will even know how to adjust the pace or intensity, depending on how the person being coached is feeling that day.

Shut Up and Listen

So how do you know how and when to adjust your style? Easy… you shut up and listen. It sounds so straightforward, but the simple act of listening and “leaving the space open” allows the client to open up.

This is your opportunity to pay attention to what they’re saying, especially at the start when they will be more scared of change and resistant to your efforts. Because seeking out and identifying this resistance to change is the key to moving in the right direction.

Do you have experience as a coach or being coached? What do you think makes a great coach? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!


About the Author:
Joe is an experienced Marketing professional and Nutrition Coach, with a drive to change people’s habits and beliefs to help achieve life-changing health and fitness goals. He’s also a husband and father with a passion for CrossFit and Olympic Lifting.

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