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Choosing a Coaching Program

by Jim Gavin, PhD and Madeleine McBrearty, PhD (candidate) on Sep 25, 2008

The new field of personal or life coaching represents a rich avenue for career development for fitness and wellness professionals. At national and international industry conferences, coaching sessions are on the rise, and significant numbers of instructors and trainers are expanding their careers by adding coaching services.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching takes place in a professional relationship, in which the coach harnesses the client’s strengths, skills and resources to help him or her clarify, focus and implement goal-directed strategies. An empowering coaching relationship nourishes insight, challenges limits, increases self-confidence, generates commitment and inspires excellence. Coaching is guided by the scope of the client’s vision and his or her readiness for action.

Interested in becoming a coach? Even the best coach training program is not enough to fully prepare you for a career in coaching—prior professional experience in related fields is crucial. However, reputable coach training is indispensable. Here is some information to consider when selecting a training program.

Foundational Knowledge

The International Coach Federation, or ICF (, has meticulously detailed 11 core competencies widely recognized within the coaching profession. Anyone intending to become a coach is expected to demonstrate mastery of these abilities. A coach must know how to:

  • meet ethical guidelines and professional standards
  • develop a clear and detailed coaching agreement
  • be open, flexible and present with the client
  • establish trust and intimacy with the client
  • be an active listener
  • ask powerful questions
  • communicate directly
  • foster awareness in the client
  • design learning opportunities and results-oriented actions
  • plan effectively and set client-centered goals
  • manage progress and accountability

With this in mind, it is important to assess which skills and knowledge areas the various training programs address.

Training Options: Key Distinguishing Factors

A number of key factors distinguish the various training options:

General vs. Targeted Coaching. Some training programs claim to prepare you for any agenda a client might bring you; others deal with only a specific kind of issue (for instance, career transitions).

Expert vs. Nonexpert Coaching. Expert, or directive, coaching entails directing the client toward certain actions; nonexpert, or nondirective, coaching is a process of “walking alongside” the client as he or she makes choices and decisions. Expert coaching can be highly prescriptive, while nonexpert coaching is strongly collaborative. For virtually all forms of coaching, a nonexpert style is necessary. Since fitness professionals are typically trained in expert guidance, learning to work with clients in a nondirective manner can be a long journey. In choosing a coaching program, you should pay attention to whether the school relies on formulas or cookbook approaches rather than building core competencies that prepare you to work flexibly, in accord with the client’s needs.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Focus. In some cases, especially when coaching is targeted to a specific issue, training may be brief. In other cases, it is likely to be longer and wider in scope. In our opinion, the time to take short courses is after you have already completed a lengthy and comprehensive coach training program. Thinking you can grasp the theories and master the practice of coaching in a day or two is as unrealistic as trying to learn human anatomy from a 1-hour lecture. However, if you have completed a lengthy program, then a 1- or 2-day course covering a specific topic makes perfect sense.

Teleclass vs. Face-to-Face vs. Self-Study Delivery. The dominant mode of coach training is by phone, through teleconference classes. In-person residential programs are also available--usually at higher cost. A third training model is self-study, where students are assigned a text and may also use DVDs and CDs to aid comprehension. The fact that some coaching schools advocate phone coaching for clients does not imply that the best way to deliver training for phone coaching is through teleclasses. Lectures might work well in this format, but discussions can be difficult unless the class is very small (not more than five or six participants). How do you learn best? If you learn by listening to lectures and limited discussions, a teleclass could work for you. If you need to see the people with whom you are working, a live seminar will suit you better.

Supervision vs. Self-Monitoring. Personal supervision is commonly referred to as “mentor coaching.” Self-monitoring essentially means that students are on their own in practical applications. It’s important to determine how schools evaluate your ability to coach. What opportunities are there for role playing? What possibilities exist for mentoring sessions? Does a senior practitioner review your work and sometimes listen in as a third party to your live telephone coaching sessions? One-on-one supervision usually comes at additional cost, yet we think it constitutes one of the most important components of your training. As human beings we all have blind spots—we often do not see what we most need to know.

Accredited vs. Nonaccredited School. Professional coach organizations, including the ICF, set standards for and evaluate schools that offer coaching programs. When hiring, some companies look for coaches who have either been certified by a professional coach organization or have attended a school accredited by one of these organizations.

For a more comprehensive discussion of how to choose a coaching program, see the full article in the June 2008 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal or online in the IDEA Library.

Tell Us What You’re Doing: Have you completed one or more coach training programs? What was your experience? Did the delivery method (teleclass, in-person instruction or self-study) work well for you? Has your training stood you in good stead as a practicing coach? Did you have prior life experience that helped prepare you to be a coach? E-mail your comments to, and we may publish them in an upcoming issue of IDEA Fit Tips.

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About the Authors

Jim Gavin, PhD

Jim Gavin, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter

Jim Gavin, PhD, is a professor of applied human sciences at Concordia University and has been involved in the practice of counseling and health promotion over the past 35 years.

Madeleine McBrearty, PhD (candidate)

Madeleine McBrearty, PhD (candidate) IDEA Author/Presenter