How to find an effective coach

Modern day advertising bombards us with two messages: something in our life sucks and we need someone (or something) to make it better. If there isn’t an app for that, or a product to purchase, then we need a service provided by an individual or group to fix the problem.

One such service exploding in popularity is coaching.

Coaches and mentors now operate in all arenas; business, sport, relationships, health, education and religion. No matter how routine, bizarre or intimate the issue, there will be an expert available to offer guidance. But with so many experts available, how do you choose someone who, you know, might actually be able to help you?

As someone who has been coaching fitness, lifestyle and health for almost ten years, I’ve worked closely with hundreds of individuals. I’ve also worked alongside, hired and fired scores of other fitness trainers. In this time I’ve learnt a thing or two about how to recognise good coaches from bad assholes.

So what do I look for when hiring fitness coaches? Experience? Education? Previous results? Chiseled buttocks and a 6-pack?? While some of these attributes are obviously important, there is a universal truth which is of much greater significance:

Good coaches give a shit.

Sounds dumb, right? But you’d be shocked at how few coaches I encounter that understand the importance of empathising with a client. The need to understand where an individual is coming from, why they need help, and a burning desire to guide them where they want to be.

I once read that a good coach should treat each session and individual with the respect and empathy that they would expect their own mother to be treated. That’s a pretty damn good place to start.

So, beyond checking qualifications, experience and past results, how do you choose an effective coach? And how do you identify the rare breed of coach who actually cares about you and your progress?

Regardless of the area in which you need guidance, here are five tips to help you find your mentor:

Word of mouth. If a friend, family member or colleague recommends a coach for you then half of your search is complete. They will already have vetted the coach and will be able to give you the pros and cons of the coaching process. Be sure you value the opinion of the person making the referral. People love to say they have a coach, regardless of the progress they may or may not have made!

Meet up first. Whenever possible, arrange to meet up for a chat so you can ask questions. Some coaches operate online which makes meet-and-greets difficult. However, even online coaches should offer an introductory Skype session or phone call. Meeting up allows you to make your own judgement, rather than simply accepting their marketing. Trust your gut.

Find a personal connection. In any initial meeting you should ask and be asked lots of questions. The passing of information is crucial at this stage to make sure you are both on the same page. However, you should feel like the coach is trying to get to know you as a person, to find common ground on which they can share their experiences to help you. If you are nervous about starting a new business, or believe that you don’t have the willpower to lose weight, finding a coach who has successfully gone through this process themselves will help motivate you to take the plunge.

Have a look online. Although websites are no longer the requirement they once were, almost all coaches will have some presence on the internet. With the rise of social media, you can follow the thoughts and actions of many coaches in great detail. It’s easy to spot bad coaches on social media, particularly in the fitness industry. If they flood their feed with posts urging you to buy their supplements/e-books/apparel/training programs, then sadly it’s pretty obvious where their motivation lies. Do not be swayed by the number of followers a coach has gathered. In my experience some of the best coaches spend very little time on social media. They are too busy actually helping people!

Do a trial. Not all coaches will offer you a trial service or session for free. You don’t get to sample the menu for free before you decide on a restaurant! But you should be offered the opportunity to try some coaching without having to commit to a longer term agreement. A good coach will offer feedback after this trial on where you need to focus your efforts without pressuring you to into further sessions. An excellent coach will ask for feedback from you. This builds mutual trust.

If you follow these steps and are excited to continue with some form of coaching, chances are you’ve found your mentor. Hold onto these individuals for as long as you can. A gifted coach who genuinely invests in you, your progress, and your achievements is worth every penny of your own investment.

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