20 Youth Coaching Tips - Part 1 of 3
Updated: Jan 20, 2022
There are some big differences between coaching adults, coaching young adults and coaching teenagers. Some coaches jump into their new youth coaching role thinking it won’t be too different from their previous work with adults, only to find out their younger clients don’t engage with them, don’t complete their homework activities, don’t make much progress or find the coach too “formal”, “pushy”, “serious” and that they ask “too many personal questions” or were “boring” (not my words!) and subsequently quit. Through my years coaching young people and mentoring youth coaches, teenagers and youth workers, I’ve picked up many essentials in the practice that I’d like to share with you. I’m still learning, especially from the young people I work with, so I’m not saying these are the top 20 tips in youth coaching. No, not at all, they’re 20 of many more. However, maybe these 20 tips can help you a little on your youth coaching path. So, here’s seven to start with:
· Create a written bio, with photos, to send to your prospective young coachees before meeting. A one or two-page bio could include information about you, your interests, values and hobbies, your coaching service, what coaching is etc. The trick is to keep it simple, fun, visually attractive and not to use long words that won’t be understood. You could even make a video bio for the young person to get-to-know-you better and to break the ice a little before you’ve even met. A separate document explaining what coaching is and isn’t with frequently asked questions, can be really helpful too.
· Seek to train in and understand the needs of young people today. Youth today face an array of issues that adults may never have experienced in their lifetime. The global opportunities available to young people, and threats, are constantly evolving. We’re living in a fast paced, globalised, connected and modernised world. We may struggle to empathise with the issues faced by young people unless we raise our awareness and challenge our opinions on them, such as social media pressures, online risks, addiction, the climate crisis, career opportunities, pressures to achieve and an overwhelming access to information; some of it not age appropriate. Teenagers and young adults can be vulnerable to difficulties in their mental health too, so this greater understanding of the current world they live in, their perception of it and how to work with youth effectively is very important.
· Don’t jump into coaching in your first session together. Use the time to get-to-know each other and to find out about your young coachees needs, fears of coaching, strengths, hobbies, personality and maybe their aspirations. Let them know what will happen in session one too, so they’re prepared for it. You may find a few fun activities in your coaching toolbox helpful. Flashcards, images, music, coloured pencils, figurines, stickers, paper, jamboards, a relevant video to discuss etc. along with your creativity and imagination can all come in handy.
· Find out what the young person’s learning style is. This will help you to tailor your coaching approach to support their personal learning journey. On that note, it’s important to recognise that you can’t take learning out of youth coaching. Informal education is intertwined into the process. You can research more on informal education at https://infed.org where you may begin to notice some of the similarities, and differences, to youth coaching. This article by Infed is worth a read: Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. (1997, 2005, 2011). ‘What is informal education?’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. https://infed.org/mobi/what-is-informal-education/. In many instances your young coachees may be learning about themselves, on a much deeper level, for the first time. Many new terms, concepts and even theories will be raised through coaching that they may not understand e.g. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or core values and no matter how much they search inside of themselves for the answers, they may not have the answer because they simply don’t understand. Visual aids, storytelling, metaphors, factual and educational websites, TED Talks, worksheets and analogies may become some of your strongest tools in this instance. This doesn’t mean you use the coaching session to teach. However, you can recognise gaps in knowledge that may help the young person grow. Use the time in-between sessions or a relevant activity during the session to help them learn. As a coach though, don’t set a predetermined plan or agenda for your session, just be prepared to go with the flow and access that toolbox as-and-when needed.
· If it’s safe and appropriate, then maybe ask the young person to give you a tour around their centre, school or college etc. This is a great ice breaker in the first few sessions and takes away the formal feeling of sitting down together at a table. You’ll also get to know a lot more about the young person’s education, talents, likes, dislikes and current setting. If you’re working on a virtual basis, then maybe the young person can describe their favourite place to you, their school or work environment. Google Earth or university websites can come in handy for virtual tours.
· Never assume what the young person needs coaching for. Find out their coaching needs and desires. These may be different to what a parent, sponsor, university or school hoped for. The young person is your client and therefore it’s their needs you’re working with, not the hopes and goals of others. Although, these areas may indirectly be improved upon through the general progression and personal development coaching can bring. Ownership and desire to change and grow is key, so we must go with the flow and explore the needs and goals of the young coachee.
That’s it for part 1 of ‘20 Youth Coaching Tips’. Keep an eye out for Part 2 and 3.