Why I practice my coaching every week, and what it’s costing you if you’re not practising regularly.

Eight, nearly nine years ago I walked hesitantly into a community hall in Brighton for my first class in Argentine Tango. As well as being captivated by the drama and elegance of the dance, I was immediately struck by how challenging it would be for me to get any good.

So, what did I do? I committed myself. I resolved to do everything I could to master the dance, I knew then I was going to have to practice and not just hard, I would have to practice well.

Coaching Practice

Maybe you’re a new coach who has attended your first coaching course or possibly you have a desire to add to your existing toolkit. Perhaps you have a similar understanding of what it’s going to take to get really good at coaching as I had in that first dance lesson. 

Or, you’ve had a similar experience to this one: you leave a training course, mind filled with new concepts, tools and methods that you could use to help your coaching clients more effectively. You’re excited to put your new found (and often costly) knowledge into your practice but where do you start? The answer here should be obvious – you get on with doing it.

Let’s be very clear. Just like the Argentine tango, coaching is a set of very specific skills and competencies and like any skill, you get good at coaching by doing coaching!

And does the need for careful, deliberate practice end when you finish training or get qualified? I hope not.

“When you stop growing you start dying.” William S. Burroughs

Read on to find out five benefits of regular coaching practice and what you, your clients and your coaching business could be missing out on if you don’t do it.

1. Practice gives you the chance to get feedback, and then try again

To introduce new coaching methods or reinforce old ones, I practice my coaching at least once, sometimes twice a week with other coaches. We have an agreement to test things on one another and we give each other permission to do that most valuable thing when learning a new skill, to get things wrong.

Feedback is a key element of skills development. If you’re not getting quality feedback on your coaching you could just be instilling your own bad habits. It would be better not to practise at all, if all you’re doing is practising your own mistakes over and over again.

When coaching for performance or personal development, much of my work involves inviting clients to try something new when their old methods are no longer serving them. 

It’s an old, simple model but T.O.T.E. loops are at play here; we try something new, then ask – is this moving me closer to my desired destination, or further away? Then we modify and repeat until we reach our outcome. So too when I’m learning a new skill, and not just coaching and dancing – I also apply T.O.T.E. loops when I’m learning a new programming language or how to make music.

Having a practice partner gives you the chance to do this very thing. My partner can tell me how effective a particular coaching intervention has been for them (anything from a single question to a whole conversation), and I can modify my approach and try again. This works best if the person you are working with shares an understanding of coaching – their feedback can be more precise and thus more useful. 

If they’re particularly patient they won’t mind you practising the same thing multiple times. Tell them it’s good for their presence and mindfulness if they raise objections! And of course, they get the chance to do the same to you.

Takeaway: Don’t keep practising the same old behaviours that may no longer be serving you - get feedback!

2. Co-coaching practice means you get coached for free

Over the years I’ve given hundreds of hours coaching away for free. At first glance this wouldn’t appear to be a great business move, as but as an investment it’s something that has paid me back many times over. Not just that, but my co-coaching practice agreements have given me the opportunity to receive hours of free coaching from my partner as we learn together.

There are many benefits to this. You can to work on your personal goals and issues – many coaches at the start of their careers have their own challenges to overcome; self-belief, ideas around selling and fees, or going it alone and setting up a business.

Finally, having the experience of being coached ourselves provides a unique insight into the coaching process. This role-modelling can powerfully inform our own coaching approach and provide new ideas for ways of working.

Takeaway: Walk the talk, get coaching regularly, for free, and see coaching from the perspective of your client.

3. Practice gives you the opportunity to have an agenda when you are coaching

Much of the effectiveness of the coaching method comes from having someone who will work with you on your outcomes, hear you out, give you space to reflect and think and while you do, will do their utmost to keep their stuff out of the way. 

To go into a coaching session with an agenda – “this session I want to practice my x or test out how to do y” puts the balance, the whole coaching contract way off kilter. The best coaches respond to what unfolds in the session and use the right tool or intervention according to the client’s needs, not what the coach happens to want to practice that week.

So, if that is the case, how do we ever try something new; how do we deepen our skills? We practise. Practice is how we get better at what we do, and if you’re not practising, you’re not growing.

Takeaway: Don’t risk your coaching agreements by using your client as a guinea pig. Practice, perfect, then apply what you’ve learned.

4. Practice gives you a safe environment, freedom to explore and can be fun

I do a lot of my coaching practice walking along Brighton seafront – a great environment to experience coaching. But there’s more to it than the physical environment – the nature of the agreement with my practice partner means we are free to experiment, fail and have fun! 

If you’re not regularly failing, could it mean you’re not stretching yourself? And if you’re not stretching yourself is your coaching skill growing and evolving?

Takeaway: Don’t just keep doing old familiar things, free yourself up to explore and have fun.

5. Practice gives you the chance to work with people you wouldn’t usually work with

Through the various coaching training courses I’ve joined over the years, I’ve had the chance to meet and co-coach a wide range of individuals from all walks of life. Some of these people are among the kindest, most inspirational people I know, and I consider myself fortunate to have met them. And I would never have met them if I’d not signed up for the course or programme.

Knowing other people walking a similar path to my own has been extremely valuable. It provides me with new ideas and choices around how I do my coaching along with insights around the challenges and solutions of various coaching situations encountered by my peer-group. Role-modelling the success of others in the group a powerful tool in enhancing the mindset and beliefs of each individual.

You could be missing out on many opportunities by not having such a peer-group.

Volunteering could be another route to further practice, offering your services for free to individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford to engage you. A big plus here is if you’re practising with a wide range of people, you’ll have the opportunity to be exposed to a range of issues. All valuable experience.

In many cases, I've found that the value of having a group of like-minded peers has been worth the price of the training course alone.

Takeaway: Don’t miss the opportunities that coaching a wide range of individuals and having a supportive community of fellow-learners can bring.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Malcolm X

And now, after hundreds of miles of walking around the dance-floor and many thousands of hours of deliberate practice later, have I mastered the tango? Well, not yet but I know enough to be able to dance tango wherever I am in the world and know that whoever I dance with will have a good experience as we move around together.

And the practice continues, as with my coaching. Every week. One step at a time.

David Pannell 2018

David is a Private and Public Sector coach with over 7 years coaching experience, he is also co-founder of Pure Praxis, an a provider of online development resources for coaches and change-leaders.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” ― John Wooden

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