3 Coaching Techniques to Motivate and Retain Clients
How do we win over the four-fifths of adults who don't exercise or are dealing with obstacles to fitness?
Fitness and wellness professionals are generally well-equipped to work with clients who show up in the “action” phase of the transtheoretical model of behavior change (also known as the Stages of Change model). These clients have been contemplating becoming more active, have prepared themselves and are ready to move. The good news is we’ve never had more to offer! There’s no shortage of innovation in our industry, as evidenced by the ever-blossoming array of classes, techniques, methods and state-of-the-art equipment, complete with every motivational gadget imaginable.
Yet the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition reports that more than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both cardiovascular and strengthening activities (President’s Council 2016), and the Canadian Health Measures survey completed in 2009 indicates that only 17% of men and 14% of women are meeting the World Health Organization and Canadian exercise guideline of 150 minutes per week (Colley et al. 2015).
How do we reach the other 80%? While it’s important to continue to expand our offerings and provide options, we can broaden our reach if we borrow three simple techniques from the field of professional coaching.
The hallmark of good coaching is the ability to ask powerful, open-ended questions. In her book Coaching Skills, Jenny Rogers says effective questions
- are short;
- begin with the word “what” or “how”;
- provoke learning;
- encourage the client’s ability to take responsibility for themselves; and
- provoke thinking and challenge (Rogers 2012).
We still need to ensure the effectiveness of our clients’ training plans by communicating our expertise; however, through the use of coaching conversations we can also engage clients and get them to co-create strategies for long-term success. Imagine how much more powerful a 5- to 10-minute warm-up could be if, instead of giving the client a piece of advice, you reframed it as a question: “How might you make this a daily part of your life?” This serves as a doorway to a more meaningful interaction and sets the stage for real change.
In this age of smart phone–induced attention deficit disorder, deep listening is becoming increasingly rare. In the book Co-Active Coaching by Whitworth et al. (2007), the authors describe three levels of listening. Level one is basic. My young daughter used to describe it this way: “Mum, you’re doing that thing with your hair. It means you’re hearing what I am saying, but you’re not really listening to me.”
In level two, you focus on making eye contact and using gestures such as nodding your head. However, you often still have thoughts such as “oh-yes-I-remember-when-something-like-that-happened to-me’” running through your head, or you might be thinking about and formulating your response.
Level three, global listening, involves being wholly and completely engaged and immersed in what the other person is saying. Your client, in that moment, becomes the center of your Universe. In yoga, we call it being fully present. It takes practice, but when it happens you can recognize it across a room. Active listening is a gift, and the recipient often feels it deeply. Use this connection to build even more trust so the client feels safe under your guidance and instruction.
When you upgrade your listening skills, you deepen your presence with clients so that your sessions and classes become completely about them (Whitworth et al. 2007). You’re more grounded, steady and present. It’s important to set high standards for yourself and show up focused for every session. I’ve borrowed some pre-session breathing exercises from yoga to help me clear my own thoughts, feelings, opinions and, most importantly, judgments. If I find my mind wandering during a session, I come back to the breath and become fully present for my client.
My favorite easy-to-learn breathing technique, which I use before a session or class and teach to my clients, is the three-part breath:
- With eyes closed, place your hands on your upper ribs and breathe underneath the collarbones three times.
- Move your hands down to the sides of the rib cage and breathe, feeling the lungs expand and contract like bellows three times.
- Next, move your hands to your belly and experience it rising and falling, again three times.
- Follow the breath all the way in, pause, and follow it all the way out. Pause before inhaling again.
- Expand the imagery by likening the breath to a wave, rising to the crest, pausing at the top and then drawing all the way out.
Adding these simple techniques to your current classes or sessions can have a significant impact on your programming outcomes. In the beginning it may feel as if you are purposefully inserting something artificial, but over time it will become seamless and natural.
Colley, S. et al. 2015. Physical activity of Canadian adults: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Accessed Jun. 19, 2016. www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2011001/article/11396-eng.htm.
President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. 2016. Facts & statistics. Accessed Jun. 19, 2016. www.fitness.gov/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/.
Rogers, J. 2012. Coaching Skills: A Handbook. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.
Whitworth, L., et al. 2007. Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black.