Coach Training as the Gateway to a Profession: What Aspiring Coaches Need to Know

10th March 2022

Author: Nick Bolton

Abstract

If you’re looking to embark on a journey to become a coach, we believe it is vital to understand what’s expected of you and what it means to be joining the coaching profession.

Where once it was enough to complete a coaching course, now to be a coach is to be part of a body of individuals who share particular values, philosophical assumptions. professional skills and behavioural norms and who are intent on developing throughout their life as a coach.

In this article, Animas founder, Nick Bolton, shares how a profession-centric philosophy lies at the heart of Animas shaping the way we develop, support and accredit coaches, what this means for those who train with us and why you need to ask yourself the question, “Am I ready to be a coach?”

Introduction

Over the last 30 years, coaching has emerged as a profession and, though not legally regulated, it nonetheless has many characteristics of a true profession.  

Whilst the early years of coaching reflected a pragmatic approach to becoming a coach, recent years have seen a maturing of practice, theory and self-regulation.  

This in turn has demanded a new level of commitment to the learning journey that coaches undertake and to the qualities needed to succeed in this field.  

In this article, I’ll share what it means to become a coach with Animas, why we take a profession-centric approach to our work and what this means for you if you’re considering joining us.

A short history of an emerging profession

Firstly, let me share a little history of coach training as it gives context to the way in which coaching schools have become increasingly more rigorous over time and why that matters.

When I first trained as a coach in the early 2000s, coaching was still an immature practice.  It certainly couldn’t have been called a profession in any meaningful sense.  

Whilst there were coaching associations in existence (the EMCC established in 1992, the ICF in 1995 and the AC in 2002) the discipline of coaching was in its infancy.

Similarly, although there was a growing body of sophisticated thinking around coaching, the typical journey for most new coaches was a short training course, often focused on basic behavioural models like GROW, invariably lacking any kind of supervision, and ending with an almost certain pass that conferred the title, “coach”.

Coaching itself was not a profession. Indeed, it was often surrounded by hype that positioned it as the next big “business opportunity” right alongside selling timeshares, multi-level marketing and forex trading!  How ludicrous it sounds now to position the art of facilitative dialogue as a life-changing business opportunity! And yet there it was. “Become a coach and succeed in life!” This was significantly detrimental to the concept of coaching as a respected profession.

Almost from its inception, coaching became split between a professional domain of executive coaching and the less rigorous field of life coaching.  Sadly, this is noticeable even today where many books on coaching conflate it with executive and organisational coaching despite the huge number of professionally-trained life coaches.

Almost immediately, there followed the inevitable growth of coach training schools, most of which reflected the same lack of rigour that characterised this new field of practice.

In most cases, becoming a coach was almost a right once someone had paid the training fee.  Whether they were good enough, embodied a coaching mindset, or upheld the values of coaching, was largely irrelevant to the underlying business transaction: a customer paid, a training company delivered, and a certificate was issued.

The lack of rigour in the training – the very gateway to the profession – was the biggest barrier to a true profession emerging: too many people qualifying as coaches with too little oversight of their skills, ethics or intent.

Of course, many of these coaches applied themselves with great vigour and passion for the journey of becoming a coach.  And, in truth, most coaches who went on to succeed and gain clients were those who put the work in, mastered the competencies and continued to grow and develop along the way.  

Nonetheless, as the profession became more clearly defined with competencies, ethics and accreditation processes, it became ever more important that coaching schools ensured coaches-in-training were truly ready to be coaches. 

The coach training sector couldn’t simply hope that the survival of the fittest to practise would lead to a reputable coaching profession – we had to do our part in ensuring it. 

This above might all seem like a statement of the obvious so why am I even saying it?

A profession-centric philosophy and the tension between customer and coach-in-training

I think that all private training companies face a key challenge in working from a profession-centric philosophy.

There is often a tension between the expectations of the “customer” and the responsibility we have to the “coach in training” who might need to face some difficult realities about their readiness to be a coach.  That readiness might be about competence, attitude or intent and it’s something the training school needs to take seriously.  

The tension exists because typically the “customer” and “coach in training” are the same person but the two roles each represent a different kind of relationship. 

The “coach in training” seeks to acquire new skills and gain new attitudes and perspectives in order to become a coach.

The “customer” pays money for a service and has an expectation of gaining a coaching qualification. 

Whilst these two mindsets usually work in harmony with the individual taking responsibility for their journey, this is not always the case and there are frequently times when the “customer” comes to the fore – the transactional nature of the relationship in which payment equals qualification dominates the dialogue.

I know all too well as the founder of Animas, but also as the participant of many other training schools’ courses, how frequently this customer mindset can kick-in when someone feels they deserve to be a coach regardless of their readiness for the profession.

However, as I hope is becoming clear, our responsibility is ultimately to the coaching profession and to the coaching clients who come into contact with our coaches.  We serve that through the quality of our training and the rigour of our assessment.

You wouldn’t expect to have a dentist, accountant or lawyer qualify by mere virtue of paying a training fee regardless of their competence and attitude, and we take a similar stance for coaches.

We take a profession-centric approach to the work we do rather than the more traditional “customer-centric” approach that is so often the North Star of private businesses.

Of course, it is not a binary choice between one or the other and we do everything we can to give the people who join us the very best experience – always aiming to go above and beyond in how we support them.  

But it is, first and foremost, as coaches-in-training that we have to see the people who join us.  Only by ensuring the quality of Animas coaches entering the profession will our coaches thrive through the reputation we hold and the credibility they carry with them as a result.

From everything I have said above it is clear that passing our course must be genuinely merited and not simply received as an automatic outcome of being a “customer”. 

Our role is to deliver our programme as well as we can, to offer the right support and to create a system that facilitates that learning and support.  

It’s the coach-in-training’s responsibility to learn the practices effectively, to find clients, to read what they need to read and to do the self-reflection that is so critical to becoming a coach.

That doesn’t preclude the possibility that our training, support or system can be improved, but equally it doesn’t serve the coach-in-training or the profession to dismiss the responsibility of the learner in achieving their outcomes.

As a result, it is our responsibility to uphold professional standards by being clear whether someone has truly reached the competency needed and also whether they display the values of the profession.

To accredit someone on the basis of a de facto right to qualify for fear of upsetting a customer would clearly be wrong and unethical given our obligation to a much wider system.  Yet it’s a pressure we can certainly feel.

It’s why I’m writing this post: to ensure that when you join Animas you understand it doesn’t guarantee a right to qualify, it gives the learning structure and accredited course to be able to do so and to demonstrate a readiness to enter a profession.

If I can be very frank for a moment, we have noticed how frequently some learners adopt a customer mindset when something doesn’t go the way they want it or something is more difficult than they expected.  In the rush to demand, the qualities of respect, dialogue, self-reflection and personal-responsibility, so central to coaching, are often lost.  

This poses a real challenge to us when we are looking to see not only skills but also attitudes that represent a set of professional values.

The question I want to pose for you if you’re considering becoming a coach is whether you’re ready to go on a journey that will help you step up into a profession?  Are you ready to challenge yourself and take ownership of both your learning journey and your outcomes? Are you ready to reflect on your assumptions and beliefs and challenge your patterns?  This is all part of becoming a coach.

What does this all mean to you as a potential coach in training?

So having said all this, what does it mean in practical terms to be joining the coaching profession and what is expected of someone going through our training?

As the founder of Animas, I am particularly interested in how a coach who has been accredited by us represents what we stand for.  We are proud of Animas coaches and we want the accreditation to continue to be a gold standard.

When we award a coaching qualification, it is a way of demonstrating that, not only did a coach complete our course but that, to some degree, they embody the core values that Animas stands for.

In particular, this means the values of respect, self-reflection, personal responsibility and dialogue.  It also means the specific skills of being a coach – holding a non-judgemental space of inquiry for a client.

Unlike some professions, such as accountancy, coaching is inherently relational – being a coach is about having a relational disposition built on respect, compassion, openness, emotional intelligence and so on.  

And alongside these human qualities is the practice of being a coach laid out in the ICF Core Competencies and the ICF’s Code of Ethics.

As an ICF accredited school, people should join us with an understanding that this is what we represent.  It is an exercise in futility for a coach to refuse to adopt this framework and still expect to qualify – it’s not that they are wrong, but they might certainly be in the wrong place!  

We have a role as a trusted gateway to the International Coaching Federation. We have been entrusted with assessing coaches against their standards such that someone who passes our course can seek credentials with the majority of the criteria having been considered as met by virtue of training with us.

This is a trust that we do not take lightly and it’s a trust that allows us to support our coaches into the next stage of their professional journey.

We want everyone who joins us to succeed both as a coach in their own right and as part of the profession and we do everything we can to provide a rich learning environment to become a great coach.  

Not only is there the formal structure of the training with the mentoring, observed sessions, practice and so on, but there is a wide variety of additional support including group supervision, practice groups, lectures and more.

There is no shortage of scope to become a great coach.

But it’s the individual that has to do the work. That’s the value of personal responsibility.

To succeed, you have to really show up to the training and participate.  

You need to make sure you engage in the practice triads to build your coaching experience.  

You need to turn up to the mentoring sessions with a recording of your coaching to get feedback on.  

You need to read books that widen your understanding or watch videos of demonstrations or key thinkers presenting their ideas. 

You need to begin to get clients from the real world rather than only relying on working with other coaches.  

You need to truly apply yourself to the craft of coaching.

Quite simply, to become a great coach is to love learning about, and doing, coaching. 

To become a psychoanalytic therapist, a trainee typically has to attend therapy five times a week for years.  The journey to becoming a coach is much less arduous but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a walk in the proverbial park.

Training as a coach is about joining a profession that you will journey through for years not months.

As a profession-centric education provider, we want to help every learner become a professional coach but in turn each person has to choose to put the work in and face the moments of discomfort, uncertainty and challenge when it presents itself.

There will be times we have to give feedback on a learner’s coaching skills that might be challenging, but it’s how you will grow.  And there are times we might need to push back on your expectations as a customer because it’s not serving you, your fellow learners or the profession as a whole.

Being part of a profession is about being part of something you believe in.  It’s about genuinely sharing values.  It’s about connecting with members and sharing an understanding of what you stand for as individuals and as a collective, about what you believe in and what you assume to be true and important.

The choice for anyone who is thinking to become a coach is not, “how do I qualify?” but rather “how do I step up to be a member of this profession?

I personally believe that the coaches who survive and thrive in the long run will see themselves as part of a profession.

It’s our job at Animas to ensure that, before anything else, we uphold the standards and values of this profession by accrediting course participants who have truly earned the right to be called a professional coach.

I hope in writing this that I have given you a better sense of what is expected of you when you join Animas.  We want to develop great coaches.  If that is what you want to become then you’ll be in the right place. 

Author Details

Nick Bolton

Nick is the founder and CEO of the Animas and International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Along with his love of coaching and supervision, he is a a passionate learner with a fascination for philosophy, psychology and sociology.

Categories: Coaching explained  

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