This Autumn we are stepping out of the norm and creating a course which includes Zoom lessons linked to practical lessons. We’ll discuss technical ideas on a Monday night and then put our learning into practice on the Wednesday evening. There’s a discount for signing up to the full course, or you can book on a week by week basis – whatever is easiest.
Alison Payne will be using modern approaches to learning to help you discover practical ways to get the most out of your time with your equine friend.
Each week has a Monday evening Zoom discussion for 30-40 minutes, then a Wednesday evening session in the indoor school at Park Dressage, Goytre
Course cost: £110 for all eight sessions or £28 for one week (one Zoom and one lesson)
Certificate for completing all eight sessions
WEEK ONE: GET AN EXTRA 4% IN YOUR DRESSAGE TEST
Zoom: 7pm Mon 5th Oct, Lesson: 5, 6 or 7pm Wed 7th Oct
It’s easier than you think! Find out about the rules for competing and discover what the judge really wants to see
WEEK TWO RIDE GREAT SCHOOL MOVEMENTS
Zoom: 7pm Mon 19th Oct, Lesson: 5,6 or 7pm Wed 21st Oct
Ride accurate circles, centre-lines and test movements to up your competition marks and develop your training to the next level
WEEK THREE COMMUNICATE BETTER WITH YOUR HORSE
Zoom Mon 2nd Nov, Lesson Wed 4th Nov
Improve your communication with your horse : learn how to channel your aids effectively for balance and connection
WEEK FOUR : CHANGING GEAR—TRANSITIONS
Zoom: 7pm Mon 16th Nov, Lesson: 5, 6 or 7pm Wed 18th Nov
Learn what makes a good transition and discover why they are a foundation for so much more …..
All sessions are NO PRESSURE. Ideal for YOUNG or green horses, NERVOUS riders or NEW PARTNERSHIPS.
This Autumn and Winter, we will once again be at Amanda Leaker’s lovely indoor school on Wednesday evenings. The sessions are no-pressure, sociable evenings designed for confidence-building and setting a firm foundation so that you can come out of Winter ready to enjoy long hacks, fun rides, dressage competitions or riding club activities as soon as the weather allows.
Alison Payne uses modern coaching and learning theories to help you discover how to get the most out of the time with your equine partner.
Focussing on confidence-building and building a firm foundation for your future, this series is ideal for green horses, nervous riders, new partnerships or people just wanting to get out over the Winter.
The Philosophy for these lessons is:
¨ No pressure
¨ Leave with a smile
¨ Celebrate small achievements
¨ No pace too slow
¨ Be sociable
¨ No question too silly
In short: enjoy yourself while you learn
Sessions are every Wednesday in the indoor school at Park Dressage, Goytre NP4 0AL starting from September 23rd, 5pm, 6pm and 7pm
Lessons are £25 per person with 2 or three per group
Against a backdrop of constant change, deep uncertainty and a fair dose of fear, we have all had to adapt like never before. I’m not here to preach; but I want to celebrate amazing creativity, innovation, determination and a group of people who have taken on new roles, people who have come together as teams and who have discovered things that they didn’t know they could do.
As a coach – most often in a leadership environment – I am working with individuals who are on a ‘leadership journey’. This means that references to classic leadership tools, guru’s statements and all the well-known instructions for success are familiar. We all have to learn, but there is little doubt that reflective and experiential learning is the most powerful way to embed our knowledge for effective future action.
What I have seen recently in my coaching conversations is powerful.
This is culture
“This is how we do things around here”.
Sound familiar? Just Google Culture or Organisational Culture Change and you can soon be overwhelmed. I’m going to hazard a guess that in the next six months or so we will be even more awash with solutions and ways of bringing about swift culture change. I’m also going to suggest that in six months time the bandwagon will not be seen for dust. Don’t get me wrong, the essence of culture change will be similar: 1. look at what you have; 2. Look at what you want; 3. Design something new; 4. Share it with everyone (at which point I am, I confess, rolling my eyes as this needs to be number ONE); 5. Check the new is in line with values and visions and what you really want; 6. Implement and keep under review. So, maybe not so different. But just read on to see how people in education are living and succeeding at change.
What WILL be different is the speed at which it can happen.
I found a nice piece in Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrock/2019/05/24/fastest-way-to-change-culture/#734ecf243d50, Thank you David Rock) where there is a suggestion that almost all organisations are thinking about a change in culture, but worryingly less than 20% of employees think they are up for it. Dr Rock talks about a model PHS – Priorities, Habits, Systems, which has been tried and tested and which he believes can effect a real difference in nine months.
Nine? We have just had three and a bit and look where we are now!!
So what happened?
What has just happened?!
What has just happened is that we have been forced to rethink our priorities, change our habits and use new systems in order to get work done.
Let’s think about this in the context of education, as this is where almost all my coaching conversations have been in the last three months. I’m working with Senior leaders – Executive Heads, Head Teachers, Deputies and Section leads across academy trusts. They have been busy, really busy since lockdown, and although many of them are tired, I am not seeing the same overwhelming exhaustion that many have near the end of term or a school year. This is about how they have had to juggle an array of different things.
Suddenly their staffing was diminished, with people shielding or self-isolating. Suddenly, the role looked more like child-care than education as they allowed other key workers to do their jobs. Suddenly they lost face to face contact, not just with colleagues, but importantly with the children. This wasn’t just about the children’s learning, it was about their well-being. Suddenly, the communication with parents changed. Suddenly the way that lessons and learning were delivered had to change. And this meant that the feedback to children had to change.
Did our wonderful teachers give up? Did they down tools? Oh no. There was no choice, change was upon us all.
If I had to construct a word cloud around education, I think that ‘Ofsted’, ‘Data’, ‘SATs’ would loom large. We have to be able to see how a school is faring because our next generations deserve to head into the world with the best chances we can give them, but the line between measuring what is done and doing what needs to be done gets shaky.
All of a sudden the priorities changed. It wasn’t about what Ofsted were going to say, it was about how the children were going to get the education they needed and how vulnerable families would be supported through education.
All at once, people’s roles changed, they were geographically separated and we immediately lost a common communication method. The ‘quick question’, the ‘door-stepping’ in the corridor, the ‘tea-room’ conversations: gone at a swipe.
Virtual meetings changed all this. Availability changed, planning changed (and, as an aside, aren’t we all much better at writing shopping lists now?), focus changed.
So what actually happened to our priorities? Working from home has provided some interesting insights as well as challenges. The reduced interruptions have meant clearer thought pathways, the ability to see more of the family (no commute time and short breaks stroking the dog or hanging out washing maybe?) have highlighted family life. Has the work still got done? Yes, albeit different work. People are telling me that they have identified (tangibly) the priorities that really matter. Dr Rock called them ‘sticky’ (I like this, it describes them completely). Because the individuals have identified new priorities for themselves they will be memorable and have shown themselves to be feasible (certainly at present).
Priorities have shifted from the day to day, from the data and measurement of what is being done, to actually making the schools safe places for key worker children and to providing home-learning for others.
Many schools have been providing food parcels and support in their communities and have been getting to know and understand them better. Communication with parents has been different, (phone, not ‘at the school gate’), but focussed on the families.
Habits or ways of working become comfortable, ingrained and easy to continue – which is why change is tough. It takes effort and it can also be worrying. Psychologists will tell us that the best way to change a habit is to do something we haven’t done before. This feels uncomfortable so our default is often to stay the same. In his book ‘Rip it Up’, Richard Wiseman asks us to rip pages from the book as we work through it. He was spot on when he predicted that I was saying ‘noooooo’. Who tears up a book? This is it in a nutshell, even if something is harmless, it can feel very un-nerving to do it if it is out of our normal sphere of action.
And what’s happened in this pandemic?
Habits have had to change, overnight. Completely. All those little communications, the way we plan (no certainty these days!), the way that feedback goes to children on their work, (the way that marking disappeared?), the way we would commute, work late, separate home and work. We’ve all had to embrace technology. Online lessons, online meetings, shared documents, meetings at unusual times. Not all of these things are advantageous, but we’ve seen seismic shifts in habit.
On the whole, the people I have been coaching have worked right through, many with no Easter holiday or half term and although exams are not going to be missed in some ways there are some serious milestones which have disappeared. The importance of these was raised by one Head Teacher and reminds me of how important these things are. It is easy enough to lose track of which day it is when routine disappears and even that feels strange. It is uncomfortable and a sign that we need some kind of stability in our lives.
Systems help us to achieve things and allow us to work from a framework or with new infrastructure.
How many of us really wanted to have so many virtual meetings? Why didn’t we do it before? Why was it that we didn’t set up that shared document system to speed up reviewing? Why did we always assume that meetings had to be at certain times? That feedback had to be done in a certain way? That communication, if not face to face, could be left?
Systems have had to change too, in order to accommodate the new ways of working and our shifting priorities.
How has this all made a difference to schools?
Again, from the Priorities/Habits/Systems model, we hear that experience of insights to new culture will engender strong motivation. All change leaders urge us to talk about it all the time – and who hasn’t recently? We are told that to reach our goals and achieve the ambition for our organisation, we have to have a shared vision. Never has this been seen more practically than now. We have to LIVE our culture. LIVE our priorities.
I’m not telling you this as a leadership coach, this is what senior leaders in education have been saying to me.
“We (the team) are working so well together. The cohesion and collaboration is really good”
“Phoning the parents has been great, we’ve started to understand each other so much better”
“We all know what we are aiming for”
“Everyone has been so flexible. We have different roles, but we are still getting everything done”
“I know that I really need to see my own children in the evenings”
“We are finding ways to give feedback to the children”
“I’m loving the ‘child-care element’, but I’m looking forward to really teaching again and seeing all the children”
“People are less overwhelmed and they are willing to get stuck in”
There are stories of teachers and LSAs coming in to redecorate, to build outdoor class-rooms, to develop things for the children’s return, there is a sense of achievement, success in challenging times, creativity and innovation. There is lots of kindness, there is trust and delegation because people are working remotely.
And in future?
The reason that I believe we can make lasting change is that this has all been tangible, it has been experiential and although the change itself was outside our control, we have all made our own changes so that we could get on with what we do. Our Senior leaders in education have been showing all the things that leadership gurus tell us we need for good leadership and effective organisations. They have been living their visions, defining their values, understanding their priorities and learning how to communicate effectively.
Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to all of the people I have coached in the last few months, and from whom I have taken inspiration, because they have all demonstrated all the important qualities and behaviours that we are going to need for the next phase. They have learned and reflected and this is what can help us to bottle this all up into the Positive Vibes bottle and carry it on into next year.
There are a few themes that come up in coaching conversations on a regular basis and one of these is about ‘being OK’.
Coaching, by its very nature can be quite searching, but talking about things which are difficult is cathartic: by ordering our thoughts to say them aloud we are already on the first step to identifying the crux of our problems.
One of the things which I miss by coaching virtually is the ability to share drawings and ideas on paper and it is this which has prompted me to create something that I can share.
If we’ve sat down to go through some of your challenges and map a way onwards, it is quite possible that we have already talked about my idea that we can narrow our ‘wobble-makers’ down to just three areas of our lives. It may be rather simplistic, but it has always served as a good starting point for identifying hotspots of trouble and where to start putting them right.
This graphic isn’t quite the same as the way that I have drawn it in the past, but I think it works better like this. So, what am I talking about?
First, let’s consider that we have three areas of our lives, Home, Work and Health. The three are inextricably linked and as such each one can affect the others. For example, Home includes such things as hobbies, family friends and so on, Work will be things like workload, change, dealing with people, specific projects and Health can be as small as a cold or as major as a life-changing diagnosis.
The next thing to bear in mind that this is all relative – coping and managing is not the same as feeling amazing and doing brilliantly, but we live on a continuum so it is really about managing to function effectively. After all, every one of us has good days and bad days, so expecting to feel good all the time isn’t reasonable. Not exactly a SMART objective, I suppose. Conversely, if we feel bad all the time, then that isn’t right either – something is out of balance.
Third, let’s try to make the graphic work for us. Imagine, if you will, that work is going smoothly,
things at home are swinging along in a nice routine and you are feeling well. Life is fine, isn’t it? The three elements are working together to keep you afloat and it’s all working as it should. We’ll make allowances for things that aren’t quite perfect, because we are in a good position to manage them and to maintain a good perspective.
If, however, something creates a bump in our road in one area, that immediately makes other things a bit more challenging. Consider a bad time at work because a client has complained and you have to deal with it over the next week. As long as you are feeling well and you can go home and enjoy going for a run, you will generally deal with the work challenge well enough. Agreed, it isn’t fun, but you’ll cope. Now add in a twisted ankle or a headache – nothing major, but suddenly you don’t have the facility to go and get your proper white space, your down time and the work problem may seem worse. We start to struggle; we don’t quite have the energy that we need to do things; that all important grip on perspective is slipping. Do you see what I mean? Things start to become more fragile altogether. A bad day can give you a headache which can make you irritable or withdrawn maybe – then all three areas start to be affected.
As I mentioned at the start, these things don’t have to be huge in themselves, but if other things are going wrong, they will probably feel much worse.
Of course, if the bump in the road turns out to be a major landslip, then this stability will become fragile more quickly and it will be much harder to reinstate a happy balance. This is why, for example, self-care is so important: if work is tough, then you need to guard family and health with vigour. If your home life is wobbly (children leaving home maybe? Missing GCSEs?) then work and your health are crucial areas to cherish. Draw your strength from the things that are going well.
Another important point is to remember that we cannot always change the things we want to. It could be a health issue, a lost job, difficulties at home – these could well initiate change that isn’t going away. This makes life hard, but to an extent accepting the change helps to improve things. Reduce friction by going along with what is happening so that you can mould something useful for yourself. It doesn’t mean it’s easy or pleasant, it doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your own moral values or beliefs, but taking this constructive stance helps to give you back some element of control in your own life, and that is a big first step.
This simple idea has worked for many of my coaching clients and I’d be interested to see what you think and how it might work for you.
Oh, and as I write we are still in Coronavirus Lockdown in Wales, so this is very real for lots of us. Change in all three areas, all at once… Take care out there and look after yourselves.
I’ll post the graphic in the resources page of the website, so you can see it there too.
We have all found changes in our lives during lockdown and many of us are finding time to slow down, think and consider things which might never have made it to the top of our ‘to-do’ list in normal times.
I have been enjoying connecting with coaches from a wide range of sports (away from my own area of equestrianism) and I’m learning lots and thinking more creatively.
One of the benefits has been access to new courses and as it is Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 (18th to 24th May) I thought I would take the course offered by UK Sport on Mental Health Awareness for Sport and Physical Activity.
As a coach in non-sport environments too, this is a subject which comes very close to my work at all times, so it has been valuable to gain a little more understanding. One of my key learning points is that we can talk about mental health without being counsellors; just as in all my coaching work, it is a question of understanding where boundaries lie and where people can go for expert help when someone needs it.
A BIT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
Our minds can fall ill, just as our bodies can. The illness may be short or long term. It can vary in severity. It can have different causes and diverse symptoms. Importantly, it doesn’t define who we are, it’s just a small part of our identity or our history.
The World Health Organisation says: ‘ Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to her or his community’.
Mind’s (the Mental Health Charity) ‘5 ways to well-being’ are a set of actions that we can all take to improve our well-being:
Connect – talk to people, meet people
Be active – start or continue exercise
Learn – goal-setting can highlight achievements
Take notice – be mindful, notice all the good things or achievements, however small
Give – do things for others, it feels good
WHY ARE WE LINKING SPORT AND MENTAL HEALTH?
Mind believes that, ‘Sport and physical activity builds resilience, enables and supports mental health recovery and tackles stigma’.
Many of us who are already active will know that we feel better for a bit of ‘fresh air and exercise’. There are physical reasons for it though, it isn’t just some random idea. The biochemistry behind it is a longish story, but in brief, neuropeptides called endorphins are released from the pituitary gland and go to block pain signals in the nervous system. This indirectly causes the release of dopamine which is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. (You can find more on Wikipedia or in the article cited below*). So – exercise makes us feel good.
How can exercise help? Here are a few things to ponder:
Endorphins – our natural, intrinsic ‘opiates’, make us feel better
Self-esteem – think body image, goal achievement and improved resilience
Reducing the risk of depression – physical and psychological
Slowing the racing mind – body and mind become tired
Sleep patterns improve – serotonin levels are better after exercise. The reduction of ‘rapid eye movement or REM sleep has an anti-depressant effect.
A study by the Department of Health (2011) found that increasing from no exercise to just three times a week lead to the likelihood of depression falling by 30%.
And this is just the start!
TAKING ACTION, BEING ACTIVE
There is still a stigma around mental health and Mind describe a cycle to break the stigma which means that we need to learn about it, listen to people, be open to what they are saying and recognise the illness for what it is.
From a sports and coaching perspective, we also need to understand some of the possible barriers that exist to getting active. The ‘Four Corners Model’ put together by the Football Association, (http://www.thefa.com/learning/coaching/the-fas-4-corner-model) is a framework that can help us to look at how we develop our sports people. In the context of mental health and physical activity, it can be used to create an understanding of barriers to exercise. This could also be used in the preparation of specific programmes or sessions and helps us to see our clients from a holistic perspective.
Physical – travel, medication for example
Social – lack of self-esteem
Psychological – anxiety in new situation
Technical – not knowing the rules of the game or lacking skill or experience
It’s helpful to understand this and it underlines some of the things that we can do to help. I can think of examples in equestrianism, but also in other sports or forms of exercise. Sometimes the barriers are greater than others, sometimes they look bigger because facing them and dealing with them just seems insurmountable. It might be that small first step onto our own personal Everest ascent.
“As coaches we are there to enable other people to achieve their goals”
It is all too easy to wrapped up in our way of working and of coaching, so the opportunity to think differently brings new ideas and new plans. Having been unable to go out coaching since lockdown, it has been great to ‘meet’ coaches from sports as varied as football, squash, paddle and adventure sports, and many others. The group coming together through UK Coaching has inspired me and reminded me that ‘coaching is coaching’, we are there to enable other people to achieve their goals.
Leadership and Personal Coaching – topics from coaching conversations
After many hundreds of hours coaching, I see some repeating themes, so I’m hoping that this series of info sheets will add a little background to conversations that I’ve had, or will provide a start point if you are thinking about having coaching.
Circles of Concern and of Influence
We all worry about ‘stuff’. It’s a normal, human thing to do. The problem comes when it overtakes our lives. It is also a fact that some people worry more than others and some people are more proactive when it comes to dealing with the things that life is throwing at them.
We can look at this in a number of ways, but essentially it is about understanding how we perceive this ‘stuff’ and deal with it for ourselves.
One way to start unpicking this is to look at circles of concern and circles on influence as described by Stephen R. Covey (in his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Within the circle of concern are the things about which we have little emotional or mental connection and/or the things which we cannot control. Within the circle of influence lie the things that we can make a difference to and which we can affect by our own actions in some way.
Separating these two types of ‘stuff’ is a good start in understanding and then changing how we approach the things that cause us worry.
As an example, change is a big topic, but you’ll probably already know that being in control of change makes things feel more comfortable than when we are subject to changes made by others. Being proactive, rather than reactive, helps us to gain a better feeling of control and to feel more positive about what is happening with the ‘stuff’ around us.
We can make a start by identifying some of the things on our mind and then placing them into the ‘concern’ or ‘influence’ section. For example, we can’t change the weather, so this would go near the outside edge of the concern circle, but if we are considering what to have for tea, then that sits pretty well into the middle of the influence circle.
Let’s suppose that we are really worried about the big family picnic that we’ve organised for our Aunt’s 70th birthday. We’ll want it to go well, of course. Where does it sit in relation to our circles of concern and influence? That will depend very much on our own approach to ‘stuff’. A reactive person might fret about the weather, but a proactive person will make a plan B. A reactive person might worry about the caterer getting the order right. A proactive person will check the order and communicate with the caterer to see how preparations are going.
In this way, the reactive person keeps all their concerns out there as concerns, but the proactive person is bringing elements into their own influence and effectively increasing the size of the inner circle. (And, at the same time reducing the size of the concern element by taking back some control over ‘stuff’).
There’s more to it than this, but it is one tool in our armoury and something which arises in coaching conversations from time to time and which might help to separate things out from a different perspective. I hope it’s useful.
I had the good fortune to be pointed in the direction of the UK Coaching Connected Coaches site and today we had a healthy conversation about language.
During lockdown, most of us outdoor coaches are really feeling the lack of contact as well as the lack of fresh air and our chosen sport (or sports). In true positive fashion though, we are starting to look at how we can work effectively in a virtual social space and to explore the slightly elusive positives of this time.
It is great to be included with people from such a cross-section of sport and for me, it’s also fascinating to see the cross-over with the work that I do as a coach in education and business organisations.
I wasn’t alone in thinking that it might be a time for supporting our clients (sports people or other coaches) in really thinking carefully about what we do, and an esteemed colleague from athletics suggested that one thing that we could work on was being much more careful and specific in the language that we use.
Reflecting on our online conversation I am reminded of the number of times that I’ve gone down the line of ‘why?’. Now, Root Cause Analysis or ‘The 5 Whys’ are well known tools in leadership but neither of these quite get to what I am seeking to achieve in coaching. Nonetheless I believe that they have a part in helping us to understand the value in delving deep into things that we might be just taking at face value, so as little aside, let’s have a very quick look.
Root Cause Analysis does what it says on the tin and is valuable in itself because it heads for resolution of cause, not just overt symptoms, and is therefore often useful in an organisational environment as it considers:
How it happened
Why it happened and then
Actions for preventing reoccurrence
‘The 5 Whys’ tool is another from that massive Toyota Toolbox which also brought us ‘nemawashi’ – the idea that we need to walk the shop floor to fully understand what is happening (before we can then understand why). It can get right into the possible causes of single or multiple problems by gaining an understanding of events at different levels in a chain of events or sections of a business process.
As a tool for coaching, I adapt it to vary the process, using carefully chosen open or closed questions to filter and define what is really happening, either in a physical process or in someone’s understanding of that process. Quite often the initial answer that we get from a question is quick-fire. For example, “How did that feel?” might well elicit the reply, “Good”. Unfortunately this a) doesn’t give us any specific information on what was happening and b) hasn’t encouraged real reflection on the process.
It is in the further questioning that we really start to get to the bones of it all. And this is, perhaps, where we can use the time and space (which sounds a bit sci-fi!) that we currently have to explore these things in the detail that they deserve, leading us to yet better results. One element is the use of silence which is a well-accepted tool in the box of coaches, but it’s a tricky one to use well – especially in a possibly fast-moving physical environment. (Time and space, time and space!!) Let’s use it now.
So, perhaps an example would help. (I’m sure all coaches could translate the following conversation into their chosen field – I’d love to know how your conversations go!)
I’m helping someone to ride the perfect (haha!) 20m trot circle. I will give them some basic rules (handrails, if you like) and send them away to explore. Let’s suppose that things are going well, so after a few minutes we’ll regroup and discuss what is going on, it might go something like this:
Me: ‘Tell me about that” (I am deliberately keeping this broad and creating an opportunity for any kind of answer).
Client: “Well, it was pretty good” (So, this is my opening for exploring what good really was. I’m also doing a little internal dance because they haven’t said, ‘ugh, it was awful’!)
Me: “In what way was it good?” (Open question, which may well generate a moment’s silence and thought)
Client: “The rhythm was good, but it wasn’t quite a circle” (We need to keep our clients focussing on the good things, but we’ll return to dealing with the rest later)
Me: “What was good about the rhythm?”
Client: “It stayed the same”. (I’m pleased with this because it’s what we are after, however, I want my client to be able to go away and replicate it so that they can ‘self-coach’ when they away from their coaching session).
Me: “How did you know the rhythm was good?” (And it is at this point that I start to get rather blank looks, because they have given me a good answer – what else could I possibly expect??)
Client: “The hoofbeats were even one-two, one-two, all around the circle”.
Me: “Great. It looked like a super rhythm to me too. As well as hearing the hoofbeats, what could you feel that helped you to tell that the rhythm was good”.
Client: “Boris, ” (lets just call the horse Boris for now shall we?)…”didn’t rush off”. (This is good too, because it means that Boris is finding some balance. This gives me a clue, as coach, that there might be something else which will be significant).
Me: “That’s a good feeling then and it’ll make things easier, won’t it? What difference was there in the feel through the reins?
Client: “I didn’t feel him taking so much weight in my left hand”.
Me: “Brilliant. So when you are working on your own, how will you know what good is with reference to the rhythm?”
Client: “From the sound and feel of the hoofbeats and whether I’m taking a different contact through the reins”
So, we move from a simple word, to a definition of that word which is specific to that rider, in her context when she rides a 20m circle on Boris. She has described it in her own words, so it should be meaningful and easily remembered.
In other coaching, it works well too and helping clients to consider the real meaning of words means that they can celebrate small things, or succeed in keeping things in perspective by understanding exactly what ‘happy’, or ‘good’ or ‘difficult’ really mean for them.
Being locked down gives us all far too much time to think, so I’m not going to philosophise ad infinitum, but I would like to share a couple of very small things which brought me an involuntary smile this morning.
I’m always encouraging people to celebrate their small wins, so here are some small things that I am celebrating.
I just love daffodils. They are my heralds of Spring and bring early brightness to unleafy hedgerows.
They are great in the sunshine as their colour is heightened, but in dull weather they bring light into a grey morning.
In the wind, they bend and sway, but stand up again when the breeze lessens.
I love my chickens. They are all rescues and I’m happy just to see them in a good place. They can free range, and are cheerful in their scratching around the field or the barn – looking for tiny specks of food that I don’t even see. After a horrid fox attack on the outdoor coop, we bought them a garden shed which lives inside the barn now. We put nest boxes and a stepped set of perches in and I get real pleasure from seeing them happy in their little home. They chatter away while I work down there and get under my feet in the most unannoying fashion.
Egg in the nest
Another of the joys of having chickens as pets is that they lay eggs. Even after years of keeping hens, I still smile when I find an egg. If it feels warm I love to feel it against my cheek. A new gift from our feathery girls (and some had no feathers when they came to us) is always valuable. They have perfect nest boxes on their ‘shed-home’, but far prefer to wander around the barn and find a cosy, dark place with soft hay. They’ll sit there and throws bits of nest material over their backs and cosy up into their nest to lay. The challenge for me is finding the latest nest. (The queue of chickens can be a give away – they seem to like to sit in well-used nests!).
Early lettuce seedlings
A further thing that made me smile today was the sight of my lettuce seedlings just pushing up through the compost. Yes, I expected them to grow, but the promise of homegrown salad again is a wonderful feeling: especially when it is still cold outside (even in the greenhouse). These are brave little seedlings, daring to push out into a currently chilly place.
Understanding different perspectives Most people have a clear idea of what a coach is, maybe even what a coach does. The difficulty is matching it with what we, as coaches think we are, and with what we actually do. OK, so my pictures are a slightly extreme set of examples, but I have been wondering if it’s about time for a total re-brand. The idea of ‘coach’ seems to be so ingrained in people’s minds, that it proves tricky to get people to fully understand what coaching is and what it can do for them. What keeps me going, standing on my soapbox, is that people who have had (high quality) coaching are generally sold on the idea. It’s just those who havent experienced it that we struggle to convince.
In some ways the challenge that needs unravelling is all about detail, semantics even, and being rather pedantic in our own use of the term. I spent many hours discussing and writing assignments for my coaching qualifications on the subject of coaching versus mentoring. I’ve had similar conversations with my sporting colleagues – they used to be ‘instructors’, then ‘trainers’, and now… ‘coaches’. The real problem is that people – and often our potential clients -no longer know what to expect.
Should we define coaching?
Maybe it is pointless to get hung up on the niceties of the language, because the key thing is to be able to communicate with people around us in a language that is meaningful to them. If any of you have done battle with research papers and ended up almost screaming for clear, plain English, you might know what I mean. Another common frustration might be the use of jargon (and most professions have it), which isn’t helpful when relaying information to a lay audience: it needs to be readable. I have a friend who is a great research scholar, but she spends a significant amount of time re-writing her work for blogs so that they are accessible to people outside academe. It isn’t dumbing down, it isn’t damaging our language, it is about communicating appropriately for our audience. So, for these reasons, we need to know what our potential clients think coaching is, rather than insisting on what we believe it to be.
Selling the idea
It really isn’t new – we need to provide what our clients need (if we can’t then they need signposting elsewhere). Marketing our services isn’t about what we can do, it is about matching what our clients want with the strengths, skills or experience that we have. If we turn the marketing equation around like this, it immediately makes more sense to look at the possible outcomes of coaching, rather than offering ‘coaching’. Working in this direction also means that listening to what our clients want becomes central to the conversation and the plan. It sounds obvious, but these basic tenets of business so often get lost in the moment.
So, what might coaching be?
I had a eureka moment last Spring whilst working with senior leaders in schools. In education, there are clear set-ups for coaching which are roles that are supportive, informative, guiding and training. In some words, then, closer to mentoring in my book. This means that, mostly, if you are taking to educators about coaching, they will have this idea. If you talk to someone in the caring professions, they may well jump to the other end of the continuum and start by imagining counselling (and that really isn’t coaching).
One day the Head Teacher was talking about a ‘coaching’ session that she had attended which had really got her thinking becasue it was novel. Her coach had used some great tools and practical exercises to create analogies for where she was and where her team were, what the barriers were and where they wanted to get to. It was a new approach and challenged her view of coaching. It helped clarify the terms for me, highlighting how differently people view coaching.
In truth, coaching is made up of myriad elements and it is this that probably makes it so difficult to describe accurately. We might look at the way that a coach reaches their objectives, very often they’ll describe themselves through the tools that they use, for example’I’m an NLP practitioner’, or, ‘I’m a mindfulness coach’. Alternatively they might look at the specific challenges that they’re going to address, ‘I’m a career coach’, ‘I’m a transition coach’, ‘I’m a performance coach’.
I’m making no value judgement here, but here is the question: how can we separate all these elements when home, health, career, lifestyle are all entwined in each of us? How can we know that a particular coaching tool will be a panacea? Don’t we need to understand exactly what each of our coaches will need?
Let’s think about ‘Talent’. Just what is talent? It is a widely used word, but in sport coaching we are careful how we apply it and this got me thinking…
We might say that someone has a talent for sport or a talent for leading people or a creative talent. Current thinking is that it is about the hours that we put in to make things work. It is about the effort and commitment that we make which leads to successful outcomes. Do I hear you say ‘no, I could never do this/that/the other, of course there is such a thing as talent’?
One of the things that I love about my work as a coach is the transferability of coaching principles.
Let’s think about that. If we start with sport, it helps to illustrate the point. Consider a Ladies netball team. Do they have physical attributes in common? How about great bowlers – do our best cricketers have anything in common? How about Gymnasts? Sport climbers who almost run up impossible-looking rock faces? Rowers? Ask yourself, are they tall? Short? Well-built? Wiry? Can you see a rugby prop doing gymnastics? For sure, we can all make a difference to our body shapes, but only to a degree. We wouldn’t expect the best sport climbers to be powerful rowers. We wouldn’t expect our netball players to be gymnasts or ballerinas. There is no judgement in this, it’s just the way we are. We build on our physical attributes and learn the motor skills for our sport. We develop patterns and neural pathways which mean we don’t have to think everything through from scratch.
Although there may not be a direct comparison, it isn’t a huge leap to accept that we are born with a certain nature and then, as life goes on, we build on early interactions to develop ourselves into who we are today. It means we are all different, we all have strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. We may have great ‘emotional intelligence’, we might have excellent practical skills, we might be very creative, we might love a challenge. This is the fascination with people: we are not the same. And this is where the challenge comes in when we have to work with those different people….
I think that talent is maybe something rather more subtle than we first thought. It is the intrinsic ‘wiring’ of our brain, or the shape of our body plus commitment and practice in what we want to do.
It is all a question of degree, of our expectations. Somehow we need to identify realistic expectations. If we’re not built to be jockeys, then we must look to what we can do: if not flat race, then maybe a steeplechase jockey who can be taller. If we are too broad to be a sport climber, then maybe a mountaineer. For World Class athletes or for leaders of the World’s biggest companies, then we are likely to need a very specific body type or set of brain functions, but if we want to do well at a different level, then maybe there is nothing stopping us. Just because we can’t run a country, we shouldn’t give up on helping at a community level. Just because we aren’t brilliant with numbers, it doesn’t mean we can’t run a business. If we are great with people, then perhaps we should look at jobs that need those skills, if we are practical and logical and risk averse, perhaps we should look at jobs that need that. If we love numbers, then there are jobs that need those skills. We don’t all have to climb the same career tree, there are people in diverse roles who can all reach the top. We can compete at a high level in sport or sports – there is no shortage of people succeeding in second sports because, given the right build, a huge part of success is mental. It is the determination and single-mindedness to focus on a vey specific goal – at the highest level this is usually to the exclusion of just about everything else. We need to pick our level, decide on the balance we want and then be sure that our expectations are realistic for the person that we are.
Finally, then, next time you wonder what’s stopping you from reaching the top of your tree, perhaps the first question is, ‘Am I climbing the right tree?”