The hardest course I took while working towards my Bachelor’s in Sport Psychology was MOST DEFINITELY Counseling Techniques. This class involved practical applications of counseling techniques and strategies and was a hands-on course. This meant that it required us to act as a therapist for another student, and then get critiqued by other classmates and graded by the professor, who so happened to be a licensed Clinical Psychologist.
Something that becomes glaringly obvious, VERY quickly, in a course like this:
People love to hear themselves talk. Really, REALLY, love to hear themselves talk.
All of us do. I’m not exempt. I, actually, might be one of the worst offenders.
Unfortunately, talking AT people is not conducive to counseling or coaching in the majority of situations. There is a time to talk and instruct, but learning to listen to effectively gather information is a critical skill to develop.
Some of the more impressive sessions occurred when the “therapist” barely said anything, but rather reflected and gave feedback until the “patient” eventually came to their own conclusion about their particular problem after a thorough examination (which is one of the reasons for therapeutic counseling).
Reflecting is a powerful technique that allows you to get clarification on what your client is talking about, encourages further exploration, and let’s the client know that you are listening to them and processing the information that they are giving to you.
A coach and client are talking about the client’s current workout schedule. After listening intently, the coach reflects by summarizing what the client has said:
COACH: “So, what you are saying is that the 5-day per week workout routine isn’t working for your schedule?”
COACH: “Tell me more about what isn’t working…”
This is repeated as long as necessary for full, effective communication to occur.
In the event that the coach reflects, but is incorrect, this ISN’T a bad thing. In fact, it is a GOOD thing, as the client will (nearly 100% of the time) simply correct the reflection, which provides additional information and allows the dialogue to continue.
COACH: “It sounds like you feel as though your nutrition is your biggest reason for poor recovery from your workouts, correct?”
CLIENT: “No. I mean, we are still improving the diet, but I think the main culprit is my lack of sleep, lately.”
COACH: “I see, I wasn’t aware that your sleep has been suffering. Talk to me more about your evenings and what has been going on…”
It’s almost like magic. The only BAD part about this is that it take a whole lot of practice and a whole lot of talking to people in real-life situations in order to really get proficient at this. Sorry, people, but this is not a skill-set that you can master by simply reading about it in a textbook. Hell, I have been formally trained in this and it is still something that I feel i need a TON of work in.
Learning the art of listening, or, rather, the art of keeping one’s mouth shut….it’s easier said than done. But, it is a foundational skill and one that leads to using other, more advanced skills (i.e. “challenging”).
At the end of the day, by using this skill as a coach, I have ultimately found that the client will often tell me the information I need to know EXACTLY how to coach them….
And by using this skill with me, in a coach/athlete relationship, I end up telling them EXACTLY what to work on in accordance with what they need.