The Coaching Culture of America

When you see the word “coach” what is the first thing to come to mind? I suspect many people will think of a sports coach. This could be their high school football or gymnastics coach, kids soccer coach, or a celebrity coach such as Tony Dungy. The American perspective of a coach is deeply rooted in sports coaches. This reality has recently challenged me to ask the question, “What exactly is a coach?”

Picture a high school soccer coach – what is their role as a coach? Parents send children to learn under that coach to increase their skills in soccer. Many parents recognize they do not have the expertise to teach their children the fundamentals of soccer; therefore; step aside allowing someone with more skills to teach their child. The coach will use exercises and techniques to help the player become better. At a larger view, the soccer coach builds up the skills and ability of another person.

The idea of a coach has moved beyond sports to include other areas of life. Another common type of coach is a fitness coach, also referred to as a personal trainer. They use their knowledge and experience to help others increase their physical skills and abilities. Nutrition coaching is another form and has existed for decades in America, ranging from Weight Watchers to Stronger You. Physical health is only one realm in which coaching is heavily utilized. Is it the only genre coaches are used? By no means!

The metaphor of body, mind, and soul is utilized to describe a completed human being. We’ve looked at how people use coaches to better the physical body, let’s look at the mind. In the past ten years, life coaches have been on the rise, helping people to create the life they have always desired and manage the challenges life brings. This type of coaching often emphasizes the mind and how one views situations. Mental health counselors are not called coaches, but their aim is to use their knowledge and experience to help, or ‘coach’, individuals to pursue and create better psychological health. For almost 10 years of my career I worked as a mental health counselor. The most significant learning from that decade was this: my role was to present options for clients to develop their own mental health, yet I could not make anyone change. The idea of, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is used by many sports, health, and other coaches describing their roles to provide opportunities for people, not force them to change.

Another type of mental coach today is a business coach. Using the same perspective, business coaches seek to help individuals grow in their knowledge and skills in business. Today, I work as a business coach where I come with an inquisitive mindset, seeking to walk alongside my clients in personal and professional discovery. I pose questions giving opportunities for self reflection on how my client approaches business and the problems they face, encouraging them to grow as a businessman or woman. The idea rests on the same foundation as a sports or life coach – give the client the opportunity to become a better version of themselves

Coaching of the soul has been around for millenia, though rarely called coaches. Pastors, rabbis, imans, and the like, walk alongside others to be a support on their spiritual journey. A few of my friends received graduate degrees in Spiritual Direction, with the desire to walk alongside people in the quest for spiritual growth. I can clearly see my spiritual growth was supported by mentors and key leaders in my church throughout my life. My spiritual faith would not be where it is today without their support.

The American culture utilizes coaching in almost all areas of life to help people grow. Whether a golf backswing, a nutrition plan, how to handle conflict at work, or a spiritual journey, coaches help people grow into better versions of themselves. I’ve worked as a mental health counselor and business coach, while the entire time having therapists and business mentors walk with me along the way. I know I don’t have all the answers and often become biased towards my own ideas. Coaches have helped me see new perspectives, hone my skills, and grow into the person I am here and now. I will ask you the same question I am asking myself today. What area of your life could you use a coach to foster growth and health? Gaining help from others is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength, admitting you are human, not knowing all the answers, and being eager to be supported by others on the journey into the best version of yourself.

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