How do you find a good coach?
We've all done courses that have been a waste of time, money and energy. Yet, finding a great coach isn't easy, is it? There doesn't seem to be any way to know in advance how good (or bad) a coach will be.
Or is there? There are a few benchmarks that make the difference between average and special coaches. And strangely, your first point of due diligence is located right on the sales page in the testimonial section.
I wanted 200 gm of coffee. The Russian behind the counter was only willing to sell me 50 gm.
My idea of a great coffee, was instant coffee, Nescafé to be precise. At which point I was introduced to New Zealand's amazing coffee culture. To improve my coffee taste buds, I first moved to a slightly fancier brand; a Dutch barista-style coffee called Moccona.
It consisted of coffee granules in a reasonably sized jar. However, that wasn't enough. My journey to becoming a coffee-snob involved buying a pack of pre-roasted coffee called Gravity. Shortly after, I ran into the Russian.
The Russian ran a boutique roasting company not far from my house
When I needed coffee, I'd go over and order about 200 gm (about 7 ounces). Until the day he decided not to sell me that quantity. He was only willing to sell me 50 grams (about 2 ounces). “You live close by,” he said. “What's the point of buying coffee and letting it oxidise for the whole week? When you're out of coffee, you come back and take the next 50 gm.”
A good coach is like my Russian coffee “dealer”.
Good coaches know that you can't consume massive amounts at one go, and so they slow you down so that you get a far deeper, richer experience. Over the years, I've had the luxury of having good coaches. Coaches that take speed up your progress. And there are also the bad coaches, who in their own way, teach you what good coaching is all about.
In this series, we'll take a look at how you pick a good coach that moves you forward on the journey from a “Nescafé” to a delicious “brew of excellent coffee”.
In this series, we'll cover three factors that will help you spot good coaches.
Factor 1: Look for the “End Point” in the testimonials
Factor 2: Focus on the next play
Factor 3: Rollercoaster design
Factor 1: Look for the “End Point” in the testimonials
If the sky is filled with cirrus clouds, what will the next 24 hours bring?
Cirrus clouds are those feather-like clouds you see high up in the sky.
In fact they're so high up at 20,000 feet that they're composed exclusively of ice-crystals. But here's an interesting fact: if you see a sky filled with cirrus clouds, you'll get rain and cooler, if not cold weather within the following 24 hours.
What's fascinating about this fact is that almost all of us have seen those fairy-like cirrus clouds, because they can cover up to 30% of the Earth's atmosphere at a time. Even so, we've missed the obvious—that rain and cold soon follows.
Missing the obvious is something we tend to do a lot when trying to find the right coach—or even the right course to attend—online or offline. And that obvious fact is in the most obvious place of all, in the testimonials. Almost every coach or coaching system will have testimonials, and it's through scanning the testimonials that you're likely to find a lot of incredibly valuable information.
But what does a mere testimonial reveal?
Here are just some of the things you should look out for in the testimonials. Let's say you joined a class to learn to make sushi. When you finish the class, what would you expect to be able to do? Silly question, isn't it? Almost all of us would “want to make sushi”.
That's why we joined the class, and that would be the end point, wouldn't it? Which means that as you scanned through the testimonials, you should see row upon row of words talking about how the attendees were able to make flawless sushi. In fact, we'd be a little concerned if we didn't see testimonials with a clear end result.
Yet when we sign up for courses, we don't bother to check the fine print of the testimonials
Let's say the course makes some bombastic claim like how you can treble your client list in 60 days. Now we know what to look for in the testimonials, don't we? The testimonials should talk about how everyone (yes, everyone) saw a 300% jump in client growth.
Instead, you rarely see any talk about 300% growth. Most of the testimonials seem to talk about the amazing quality of the videos, about the stunning modules in the course or how the person conducting the course is a great teacher. Almost none of the clients talk about the fact that their list numbers have gone up 300% or more. And if such a testimonial does sneak in, it's probably just one of the many testimonials that seem to say little or nothing.
The reality is that every client should reach a clear “End Point”
If you're about to sign up with a coach, your goal is not vague, is it? Which is why if you run into a coaching program, whether it be offline or online, ask to see the testimonials or reviews. Peer carefully through them and you'll find the first clue to locating a coach that's focused on results instead of just another barrage of information and blah-blah.
But that's just one of the points to look for, in a good coach. The second is “the focus on the next play”. What's the next play all about?
Factor 2: Focusing on the “next play”
Think of a GPS for a moment and you'll get an idea of how a coach tends to work.
A GPS knows your starting point, and knows where you need to go. Yet, at all times, the GPS is tracking where you are. It's focused on your current situation and the the traffic that's building up or easing around you.
Good coaches are like walking-talking GPSs themselves
They are focused on the next turn, not something that is going to come down the road. They have that end point in mind, but right now the only thing that matters is the next left or right turn; the next play.
One of my earliest coaches in New Zealand was Doug Hitchcock
Doug was a coach who focused on the next play. He got me to do my goal setting and I wrote down half a million goals. Doug was the one who pulled me back and got me to get the tiny bit done, then the next and the next. “Keep to just three goals”, he'd say and then he'd get me to work on the first one.
This concept of focusing on the next play is what I use today almost 17 years later. When I write an article, it's not about the article, it's about the stages of the article. First the idea, then the outline, bit by bit, play by play. When I look at projects that I haven't finished, it's because I didn't pay attention to Doug—and every brilliant coach's simple advice—focus on the next play.
When looking for a coach look for someone who has a GPS-like functionality
And to be like a GPS, that coach can't have too many clients. If you're considering a course where you can't see the number of likely participants, you're probably signing up for just another dose of information. A good coach is likely to have a fixed number of clients, not an endless number.
You can't watch the next play of a client if you have 500, 200 or even 50 clients. That's just too much activity for a coach to handle and it's almost certain that many clients will simply slip through the net and not do as well as they hoped to do so.
There's a difference between a rally and true coaching
You wouldn't send your kid to a class with 200 other students—let alone 50 students. So why sign up for a coaching program like that yourself? If your goal is to hide among the other students, then it's a good strategy. However, if you want to dramatically move forward, find yourself a coach who can help you focus on your very next move.
In my early twenties, a good friend of mine taught me to do the dance called the “jive”
I wanted desperately to go out and dance well. My parents are great dancers, but that wasn't helping me at all on the dance floor.
So great was my desperation that I joined a dance class, but I was just one of many at the class. Many sessions and months later I was no better than before. I have come to realise that the same story plays itself out for the all the classes where I failed. Whether it’s photography classes, the Spanish class, watercolours—pretty much every class where I hadn't learned skills was simply because I didn’t do my due diligence.
In every situation, I was crammed in with others and the only goal of the coach was to get to the “End Point”. In every situation, the end point wasn't a clearly defined scenario, but merely a point where the class term ended.
It's not like no attention was given to us at all, but it's impossible for a trainer to do what Doug Hitchcock did. Or to get the same level of support that Phelps got from Bob Bowman.
Like a GPS, every turn is just as important as the final destination. And good coaches, pay close attention to these points. Even so, a great coach has one more trick up his or her sleeve. It's the system of “rollercoaster design”.
Factor 3: Rollercoaster Design of Training
My first tour of New York was done at a screaming pace.
I was with my friend, Mark Levy, Author of “Accidental Genius”. Mark is a great guy, but he also wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything in New York. We set out early that morning from New Jersey and went through New York at breakneck speed.
I guess I remember the day so very clearly even though it was back in 2004 because it was all go-go-go. A frenzied tour through a city, with no stops, is sometimes the way to go when you want to see all the sights and have little time. However, when you're looking for a coach, one of the main factors to watch for is what can be called the “roller coaster” learning design.
So what is the roller coaster design?
Even if you've never been on a roller coaster, you know somewhat how it operates. It sets off gingerly, then takes you up slowly and then throws you into a few screaming loops. What's important in roller coaster design is that there's a time to scream and a time to get your breath back. A coach should have “rollercoaster” modules in place when designing a training regime as well.
Almost any skill acquisition will have really tough sections
Which is why a coach must draw out the sequence of the course in advance. The coach or trainer must intersperse tough tasks throughout the training, but always go back to the easy wins. That way the person being coached doesn't feel like they're on the scream machine all the time.
Too much screaming is terrible for learning, but then so is too easy learning. If there isn't a scream session, the roller coaster is not much of a roller coaster. And while not one of us wants to battle it out through a course, there are going to be tougher sections in any sort of training. Sections the coach needs to figure out well in advance.
But it's not enough to have the roller coaster alone
The training system needs to have some sort of breathing space as well. Let's say you're learning to write articles. The course may start out nice and easy but then run into some difficult concept. Concepts that may need more time, understanding and practice.
Is there any leeway in the system or does the coach just barrel through? Is there room for an additional amount of practice? Can the coach take the participants on a detour for a while before getting back to the syllabus again?
Most training rarely has any breathing space. Instead, it's just like the NY tour. The coach takes the clients at breakneck speed across from one point to another.
And this need for getting mindlessly to the other point has real ramifications
You find that people drop out at a high rate simply because they can't cope with the intensity. However, the impact has far greater implications than just dropping out of a course or training. If you drop out of enough Spanish classes, for example, you tend to get the erroneous idea that you were never meant to learn Spanish.
Which is when the “give up” sign flashes madly in your rearview mirror. Granted, just putting in the roller coaster design isn't going to solve every problem. Clients can still go off track for many reasons, but having breathing space in terms of “easy assignments” as well as just “breathing space” to catch up, is critical.
Which brings us to a crucial juncture about how to do our investigations about coaches
It's easy enough to look at the testimonials for any coach. Almost every website will tend to have a string of testimonials that allow you to do your own due diligence. A quick look through the testimonials will clearly tell you whether there's an end point in place.
But how do you find out about whether the coach has a next play or some sort of roller coaster design in place? Unfortunately, there's only one way to tell, and that way is to call or email some of the people who you see in the list of testimonials.
The best way would be to e-mail them first, then get on the call and ask questions about how the course is conducted. Remember that what works for them won't necessarily work for you. If they became rich, famous or acquired skill, it doesn't mean you'll be bestowed with the same shower of goodness.
Which is why you should stick to the questions that involve the structure of the training. The structure is what shows you whether this is just a random run of endless information from start to finish, or instead, a well-thought out, well-executed course.
Finding a coach isn't easy.
Finding a great coach is a lot harder. However, in a rush to grow our business or improve our skill, it's easy to avoid doing the appropriate amount of due diligence. Or we may simply not know what to look for in a good coach. Many elements mark a good coach, but the easiest way of all is to get to the website and look for the testimonials. Then once you're there, read between the lines and the story of the coach will reveal itself to you.
One more thing: don't be afraid to bail out
I once went for a community college photography class. No, I didn't do any due diligence. I figured it was just $200 or so for the tuition and I failed to do my homework. In the first session itself, the trainer went off on a tangent. He talked endlessly about his family, and we learned almost nothing about photography. I didn't go back again. My brother in law also signed up for the course with me.
There wasn't any way to get a refund, so he continued to go for the rest of the sessions
As it turned out, they were all a waste of time. Trainers tend to show their colours very early. Sloppy coaches are sloppy right from the very start.
It's a good idea to bail out very quickly and to spend the time doing something else. Even with all the due diligence, you can make an error of judgment. However, once you've figured out your mistake, get out there quickly and use the time to learn something more constructive instead.
Next Step: Have a look at—Good to Great: How To Take Your Small Business To Greatness