Welcome to the Innovative Conservatoire

ICON Seminar 5

Dartington, UK


The Coach and Expertise

Robert Schenck

Last updated August 20, 2013

Does a coach need to have experience or technical knowledge in the area in which he is coaching?

The answer is no – not if the coach is truly acting as a detached awareness raiser. If, however, the coach does not fully believe in what he espouses, i.e. the potential of the performer and the value of self-responsibility, then he will think that he needs expertise in the subject to be able to coach. Iam not suggesting that there is never a place for expert input, but the less good coach will tend to overuse it and thereby reduce the value of his coaching, because every time input is provided the responsibility of the coachee is reduced.

The ideal would seem to be an expert coach with a wealth of technical knowledge too. It is, however, very hard for experts to withhold their expertise sufficiently to coach well. Let me illustrate this further with an example from tennis. Many years ago several of our Inner Tennis courses were so overbooked that we ran out of trained Inner Tennis coaches. We brought in two Inner Ski coaches, dressed them in tennis coach’s uniform, put a racket under their arms and let them loose with the promise that they would not attempt to use the racket under any circumstances.

Not entirely to our surprise, the coaching job they performed was largely indistinguishable from that of their tennis-playing colleagues. However, on a couple of notable occasions they actually did better.”

From Coaching for Performance by Sir John Whitmore by Nicholas Brealey Publishing, pp 41-42.

For the previous inspiration exercises that we did at the Innovative Conservatoire, I brought things that were crucial in my musical and professional development. This time, I used a quote that meant a lot to me right now in my project of applying coaching principles to teaching situations.

To my surprise, I had already noticed in my experimentation that where my expertise was greatest and most specific (one-to-one flute teaching), there lay the most resistance to letting go of my role as instructor. This puzzled me, so I was pleased to find this quote when reading about coaching. My first guess had been that my experiments were to begin with the one-to-one teaching, which at the surface appeared to be closest to an actual coaching session. In addition, the quote also reflects the essence of the difference between coaching and instructing and lifts up some of the basic principles and ideologies behind coaching.

The quote was strongly confirmed at the Dartington seminar, for instance in the difficulty many of those trying out the role of a coach felt of staying off of the question at hand, not expressing identification with the coachee, and not giving expert advice when the coachee’s subject was close to their own world.

My image is of a frog by a pond speaking with a young bird about how to fly.


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