• Lauren Maxwell

Don't call me Coach

Labels. We’ve all got some: woman, wife, sister, daughter, job title. We assign value to our labels, and from time to time change them up: wife might become divorcee, job title might be replaced with a new one. And our list of labels seems to grow as we do: parent is added for some of us, or an upgrade to Professor from student. Labels are all around us and we each have plenty of them.

One label I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with, and that I have a particular disdain for is that of ‘Coach’. If you’ve ever worked with me or heard a rant (workwise or at a BBQ), you’ll be familiar with my thoughts on this one.

Throughout my career I’ve had a number of job titles: case manager, rehab counsellor, manager, career practitioner, consultant, checkout chick, senior, team lead, sandwich artist (one of my favourite) – the list goes on. And one thing has been a common key skill I’ve used through most of these roles, and that is coaching (verb).

If we remember back to what we learned in primary school, we know that a verb is a doing word. An action word. A word that describes what we are doing. And in that context, sure, coaching has been a significant part of my career and a skill that I’ve become expert at.

But it’s not my label.

Over the past two decades there’s been a sonic boom increase in ‘coaches’ . Now I’m not talking about coaching the verb, here I am being very specific in my use of coach as a noun. A label, job title. Suddenly Coaches are everywhere, and in every realm of life. Life Coaches. Health Coaches. Mindset Coaches. Money Coaches. Feminine Empowerment Coaches (what the hell even is that? Femininity is social construct, and empowerment has nothing to with it….wait, I’m off topic).

As with any emerging field there’s a huge variance in skill level and experience. Many of us come to the coaching (verb) field with extensive expertise in our area of practice, however there is an abundance of marketing to attract newbies to be Coaches (noun), without prerequisite or previously relevant skills.

To prove a point about how easy it is to obtain a ‘qualification’ as a coach I took up an offer of one such advertisement, presented to me on Facebook for a Life Coaching Certificate for the grandly sum of $25 US Dollars. To complete the certificate, made up of multiple choice answers took a total of 39 minutes of my time. I completed the whole thing on my mobile phone, with slow internet, while I was in the waiting room as my mother had a PET scan to check on her cancer (so you know, giving it all my attention). I can now register with coaching organisations internationally and am eligible for insurance under the title of Life Coach. No training in professional boundaries, ethics, or understanding what I can and can’t do….apart from ‘guiding the client’. No critical thinking.

With my screenshot certificate.....I didn't pay for it to be printed and sent to me

In contrast, to be eligible to register with professional bodies for both rehab counselling and career development, I had to demonstrate my competence and level of expertise in the fields which initially required university study for rehab counselling, and a huge number of hours in the field to demonstrate that through my work I was now indeed an expert in understanding all aspects of career development needs throughout someone’s life. On top of this, in order to keep my registrations I need to demonstrate year in and out that I am maintaining my skills through professional development, and must adhere to an ethical framework in which I confirm that I recognise my own skill level and understand the importance of not messing where I’m not capable.

Now, I’m not trying to bag out Coaches here – hell, some of my best friends are Coaches, or in the profession of coaching others in their field. What I’m trying to do in the simplest terms is to highlight the extensive spectrum of those who coach (verb) and those who are Coaches (noun). In many ways it’s a bit like exploring the differences between a Chef and a Dietitian. Both could coach you on what to eat, but one has the expertise to do so safely.

So, what to do to get the most out of your Coach (noun)?

  • Have a minimum standard. I’d suggest a Diploma level of qualification, no less. This means that the person you are paying in a professional capacity has at a minimum at least 200 hours under their belt of study and practical skills. This is the generally accepted minimum for registration with professional bodies in specific areas of knowledge. Simple way to know what someone’s quals are – ask them!

  • Look beyond the shiny marketing. There’s a lot of fabulous marketing out there at the moment, but have you noticed that much of it’s the same in the coaching space? An abundance of smiling, laughing, lithe bodies drinking vegetable juice – pretty much describes the mass of Instagram influencers right? It also describes marketing for Coaches across every realm, offering you the solution of happiness and ease in the area you’re troubled by. But what exactly are they selling, and why are they the expert you should pay to see? I refer you to point one.

  • Beware of salespeople. Now this is an interesting crossover, the Coach X Supplement or Lifestyle Marketer hybrid. Often known as Health Coach, Wellness Ambassador, Healthpreneur, or another play on words using health or wellness in their title. They may well be qualified to provide coaching around health, but if their training is solely around the supplement they’re trying to sell (usually through multilevel marketing), then you need to run. This is a real bugbear of mine, because the titles they use can be so misleading and convey knowledge in the health field. I’m also continually annoyed about the bastardisation of the words of health and wellness. Again, I refer you to point one.

  • Work with someone who can coach you in the area you need. If you’re after career guidance, see a specialised career development coach – you’ll find us listed at www.cdaa.org.au . If you’re after a fitness coach, see someone who’s a qualified personal trainer or exercise physiologist. If you’re after a dietary coach, see someone who’s a registered dietician or tertiary qualified nutritionist. If you’re after a mindset coach, see someone who’s a trained counsellor, psychologist, or accredited mental health worker. If you’re after a Business Coach, see someone who has studied business or commerce. Think about it, when we go to see a doctor for a specific issue we choose one who works in the field we need – we don’t go and see a orthopod for appendicitis do we?

So go ahead if you’d like and call me a Coach (noun), but I think it would be far more meaningful if you said that I coached (verb) instead.

Lauren is a Rehab and Career Development Counsellor, who after nearly 20 years of helping people adjust to life after a major health change, wants to make sure that women everywhere are proactively making educated choices about their lives. She's an unabashed nerd, total chook and cat lady, and is mildy addicted to Netflix. You can work with Lauren one on one, catch her running workshops, or grab her e-workbooks at www.headstrongwomen.com.au

#headstrongwomen #coaching #personaldevelopment #laurenmaxwell

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