Learning about coaching: reflections of a trainee coach

What is coaching? What is it like to work with a coach? What is the difference between a coach & a mentor? Some reflections on learning how to coach with RD1st Relational Dynamics techniques…

Over the past few months, I have been training with Deb BarnardRivca Rubin on the RD1st Relational Dynamics Coaching & Leadership course. As trainers, Deb & Rivca often work with clients like Arts Council England and the Clore Leadership Programme and I was selected (alongside 3 other artists from across the UK) to receive a bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company to support my attendance and accreditation.

I’ve found the course really stimulating and challenging – a process of un-learning and re-learning many things that I had previously taken for granted. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting some of my reflections on what I have been learning about coaching.

Image credit: Coaching by NY – CC BY-SA 3.0

For a quick definition of the different types of coaching, take a look here.

What is a coach?

As an arts professional and educator, the position of coach as a facilitator of learning is a useful and interesting starting point. Through the practice of listening and careful questioning, my role as a coach is to help coachees to identify and elicit their own solutions to the challenges they face.

Training in RD1st techniques has confirmed my belief that individuals always have the answers to their own problems, but can often benefit from working with someone else to help them to more quickly and effectively identify answers and work out ways to act on these insights. In this sense, personal empowerment comes from within the individual, and the coach is there simply to speed up and concentrate this process – the focus of our sessions is on unlocking this potential.

Image Credit – CC0 – Public Domain via wikimedia

What is the difference between a coach & a mentor?

The key skill of the coach is not as ‘subject expert’ (drawing on specialist knowledge in a specific field), as ‘mentor’ (reflecting on own professional or life experience) or as ‘trainer’ (instructing in specific procedures or techniques) but instead rests in asking the right questions to help the coachee work through their own challenges, behaviours, thoughts, ideas and potential solutions. In this way, the coach uses their communication and questioning skills to provide a much needed space for the development of the coachee’s own self-awareness, critical and strategic thinking, and devising their own individual, sustainable practices.

Coaching is a process that is rooted in the present – the here and now – rather than focussing on the future (mentoring / career development) or past (counselling / therapeutic interventions). It is about moving to the next stage by identifying and solving immediate problems or issues. The 200% relationship between coach and coachee, where both minds and attention are focussed on the coachee’s situation (2 x 100%), allows the coachee to:

  • choose where to put their focus – identifying clear, manageable goals and actions
  • more quickly understand existing personal blocks – working out what is stopping you or holding you back, or identifying distractions, self-criticism, fears etc.
  • declutter thinking – freeing up headspace to think succinctly and in focussed ways, or expansively and creatively, as appropriate

What is it like to work with a coach?

At times, coaching can be about exploring the ‘worst-case scenario’ as a way to neutralise fear, jumping perceived hurdles with hypothetical thinking (“So, if you had all the time you needed, what would you do?”) or even considering whether you need to take action at all (“What would happen if you did nothing?”). As a coachee, it can be an intense experience – profound, sincere, emotional, enlightening, insightful and at times difficult – as you work through your thinking, starting to recognise self-limiting beliefs or patterns, shifting and re-framing thoughts that may have previously gone unquestioned and imagining future situations (through future pacing or similar techniques). Each session leads to new self-knowledge – from starting point to progress new thinking on topics, to turning points or major breakthroughs.

Within the coaching session, this happens in a safe and non-judgemental space where the coach’s role is to support the coachee to make beneficial changes, to be alongside the coachee on this journey and (through their questioning) inspire, motivate and prompt new self-learning.

My course fees have been funded and attendance supported by a bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company and I’m very grateful for the opportunity this has presented me. If you are an artist, arts practitioner or arts organiser, you should consider becoming a member of a-n (they aren’t paying me to say this!) who work on important national campaigns like Paying Artists, research & publish numerous resources and offer professional development training opportunities (and useful public liability insurance) to members.

Rachel Dobbs
is one half of LOW PROFILE, an artist and educator based in Plymouth, UK. Rachel works on a range of arts and education projects, has a long-term interest in creative approaches to community development and runs workshops, teaching & training sessions for a range of formal & informal groups including students, arts practitioners and communities – contact me for more details.

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