Coach Training: Some Helpful Tips

coach trainingThere’s a lot of interest in coach training for staff or lay leaders in a church setting. There are also a lot of churches that haven’t seen much in the way of results for their efforts to teach coaching. I believe certain skills in the coaching approach (listening, drawing people out, and pursuing their hearts) are absolutely vital and transformational for the church in this generation, but to access the power of coaching we need to make some changes in how we try to reproduce it.

Here are some of the top problems in local church coach training, along with keys to solving those problems and making your coach training successful:

1. Teaching vs. Training

One of the biggest paradigm shifts and behavior changes you need to make to coach is to get out of the telling mode. Unfortunately, in church settings, our first instinct when we want people to learn something (even coaching) is to teach on it. So we sit our audience down in rows and start telling them not to tell–in other words, we are literally saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That doesn’t work so well.

Solution: Train the Way You Coach

Instead, use demonstration and debriefing to present coaching concepts instead of relying exclusively (or even mostly) on teaching. Then people discover the coaching paradigm through what they see, and own it. You are modeling coaching as you train, and training the way you want people to coach. I like to shoot for under 15% of the time in a training session being input, with the rest split between demonstration and practice. The Peer Coaching DVD Set contains some great examples you can use in your setting.

2. Event vs. Long-Term Training

Logistically, the easiest way to offer training in a church is to do it as an event: set up a weekend workshop, bring in a speaker, and recruit people to come for half a day or a day. The challenge with this approach is that learning to coach is about changing deeply ingrained conversational habits–and habit change only comes by repetition over time. There are plenty of studies and statistics that show that events without follow-up lead to little actual change in people’s behavior.

Solution: Train Over Time

Events are a great way to get started–just plan to follow them up immediately with opportunities for feedback and reinforcement. For instance, do the workshop, but schedule an 8-week class starting the next week where people can practice what they’ve learned. The Getting Started in Leadership Coaching outlines offered free in this newsletter are one great way to do it.

3. Immediate vs. Long Term Results

It can be easy to fall into the track of sacrificing long term transformation for short term results. I’ve worked with a number of churches who’ve tried to roll out a big coaching structure as soon as possible and then had to go back to the drawing board and start all over again. Pressure from the Senior- or Executive Pastor to get a structure going in a short time-frame is usually counterproductive. So is starting on a large scale with so-so motivation. One thing you must understand about coaching: it is totally based on internal motivation, so it will not work with half-hearted people.

Solution: Train a Pilot Group

I’m a big fan of starting with a small, highly-motivated group, showing measurable results, and then allowing the enthusiasm of the early adopters to infect the larger group. The most successful coaching implementations I’ve seen start with only a portion of the people the organization wants to train. If you have 25 people you are targeting for coach training, start with the 8 who really want it. You’ll have a much easier time picking up the others in a second round. It’s counter-intuitive, but one of the greatest mistakes churches make in coach training is to try to get everyone involved.

4. Training for Understanding vs. Training for Motor Skills

Imagine you went to an all-day teaching seminar on free-throw shooting. At the end of the day would you be any better? No–because your performance isn’t based on knowing how to shoot a basketball, it’s based on the motor skills you’ve developed through repetitive practice. Coaching is the same way: to be good at it, you’ve got to get the reps. Unfortunately, most church coaching systems are not designed with this truth in mind. We train church-planting pastors to coach one or two other planters on the side, or lay leaders to use coaching skills occasionally within another, primary role. Nobody ever gets enough practice to really excel.

Solution: Train Called Coaches

Ten lay coaches, each coaching five other leaders in role where their primary responsibility is to coach, will be much more effective than 25 coaches who only coach two others each. Find the people in your church who are passionate about helping others grow, and have an aptitude for it, and invest more of your training resources over a longer time in that smaller group. Create roles for them where coaching is what they do, not where coaching is a piece of something else. Have them coach each other (the best way to stay sharp as a coach is to coach another coach!) Only with this kind of focus will your coaches learn the motor skills to coach instinctively. In the same way that transcendent athletes can forget the mechanics and just play, coaches who get enough practice experience a quantum leap in effectiveness.

Tony Stoltzfus is a long-time coach, trainer, author and co-founder of a large Christian coach training school.