The following definition of ‘Coaching’ was put forward by Sir John Whitmore, widely acknowledged as the father of coaching for performance:

"Coaching is unlocking people's potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them."

Coaching involves both a mindset and a skillset.

  • Mindset: You are resourceful, with inner strengths, capabilities and wisdom. As a result, you will often be able to identify the solution(s) to the issues you are experiencing
  • Skillset: This is about how to structure your thinking about your issue in order to find a solution that works for you.

Let’s now explore how this might work in practice in this exercise which compares and contrasts the impact of the questions we might ask ourselves about our issues.

Coaching Exercise

Think of an issue which is real for you currently, reasonably important, and not yet resolved. This can be anything relating to your studying or your life more generally.

Coaching Exercise Block 1

1. Answer these questions about your issue

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Who is affected as a result of the problem?
  3. Whose fault is it?
  4. Why are you stuck?
  5. What will happen if you do not find the answer?

2. Reflect

Think about the answers to the questions you asked yourself, reflect upon what you now think and feel about your original issue. Has anything changed?

Coaching Exercise Block 2

3. Ask yourself these questions about the same issue

  • What is the issue?
  • Who is involved?
  • Imagine you are your own best friend. What do you say to yourself?
  • Imagine this issue has been resolved. What is different and better?
  • What would be a first step towards a solution?

4. Reflect

Think again about the answers you gave, reflect upon how you now think and feel about your original issue.

It is useful to consider the differences between the 2 sets of questions. The first set assumes that the issue is someone’s fault, and goes down the route of exploring the problem further. The second set of questions assume that there will be a solution and that you can find this solution for yourself as a result of your inner wisdom. They are designed to facilitate your thinking on what the solution/s might be and what you will do about it. 

The learning from this goes to the heart of what coaching is about-your starting point is the assumption that people are resourceful and capable of identifying a solution and way forward for themselves. By asking powerful questions, you are holding up a mirror to the issue, enabling development of new perspectives and new thinking, so you can move forward with your issue. As a learner, you can use this approach to develop your skills in self-coaching, through increasing your ability to reflect, become more self-aware and to have a structure to help you think through challenges and opportunities.

Your personal tutor (or academic tutor for medical students in Year 1) may be familiar with these approaches too, and may use coaching skills in their conversations with you to support you in your studies.