6 Ways that Engage Young People in Coaching

Mental Health & Wellbeing Consultant - Jonny Baker | Worth-it

Jonny Baker
Consultant & Coach

Senior Mental Health & Wellbeing Consultant - Liz Robson-Kelly | Worth-it

Liz Robson-Kelly
Managing Director & Coach

February 2021

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a personalised, usually, one-to-one intervention. The coach will work closely with the young person to support them to set their own aims and objectives for their programme of coaching. The coach’s role is to support the motivation and empowerment of the young person through the development of self-awareness, self-regulation and responsibility that enables them to achieve their aims and objectives.

At Worth-it, we have developed an approach to coaching young people that enables them to develop wellbeing and resilience and help prevent mental health problems. Our work and research have shown us that integral to the success of coaching is an effective coaching relationship. To make this relationship effective, a coach will spend time engaging a young person in the process of coaching.

How does a Coach engage a young person in Coaching?

Let’s explore this in more detail. These are number of ways a coach will take when establishing an effective coaching relationship with a young person. So how does a coach build the coaching relationship and the necessary engagement that is required when coaching a young person?

1. Seeing the ‘Whole’ Young Person

Coaching is a holistic practice. The process of coaching creates an opportunity for the young person to develop socially, emotionally, cognitively, and academically. When coaching young people, rather than seeing stress, or anxiety, for example, that needs fixing, we work with the ‘person’ we see in front of us. We put aside judgment and also any information that may have been given to us through referral processes or access to support pathways.

It is through this non-judgmental and holistic view of working with the ‘whole young person’ we build the essential connection that makes the coaching relationship so effective. When the young person understands that we are interested in who they are as a person, and can see them how they are, rather than what someone has said or written about them, half the work is done, and engagement often takes care of itself.

2. Clarifying Expectations

It is really important to offer a choice when inviting young people to engage in coaching. A young person should never be ‘sent’ to coaching. An offer or invitation to enrol or participate in a coaching intervention sets the process of coaching off on the right track.

The coaching relationship is built through an established way of working built on equality and trust. It’s really important as coaches that we spend time establishing this agreement to work in partnership. This is done through an ‘engagement’ session, an initial and essential step at the start of any coaching intervention with a young person. Through this engagement session, we ask young people about their expectations and desired outcomes they would like to gain through the process of coaching. We explain what coaching entails and how the young person thinks and feels about accessing the support in the form of coaching. 

Through this conversation, expectations can be clarified. We can enhance, or back-up the young person’s expectations in explaining the necessary commitment and accountability for both parties and the outcomes that are achievable. If both parties are happy, a mutual understanding (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P83) can be established and the Coaching can begin. This ensures that both the Coach and the young person are on the same page from the outset. It can help to make a note of these expectations and agreements, as it might help to refer back to these later on in the process.

Robson-Kelly and van Nieuwerburgh (2016, P81) propose “a (useful) model for coaching young people at risk of developing mental health problems”, which “could be used as a resource to explain coaching to coaches, trainee coaches or young people” (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P88).

3. Building Rapport

Establishing rapport is a core skill in creating engagement. You need to enter the young person’s world and this cannot be done if there is a complete mismatch in voice quality, body language, or feeling. Our awareness and compassion help us to identify and pace ourselves to the level of energy in the young person. Once this is achieved we can balance this rapport with an objective awareness (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P83) and use well-aimed questioning to begin to explore new possibilities and difficulties to overcome, which facilitates the energy of the interaction to move to new places.

4. Matching Curiosity to the Level of Engagement

In engaging a young person it helps to be curious about them, but only to the extent that they are willing to share who they are. If your level of curiosity is meeting with resistance, turn it down a notch, just be with them on the level that they are willing to share. This may mean backing off on the questioning a bit until they show a hint of engagement. 

Interested in becoming a Coach?

Find out more about our Worth-it Coach Training.

5. Framing Avoidant Behaviour as an Initiation of Trust

Trust is built and earned gradually by both the coach and the young person. When a coach frames avoidant behaviour as an initiation of trust, it helps us to reach people who at first may seem unreachable.

Many people have had experiences, where it has felt like those in parental, or guiding roles have not consistently been there for them and have betrayed their trust (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P84). A common way of coping may have been developed by the young person to put behavioural barriers in place, distancing people from making connections with them, so that only those who really care can get through. If you care for someone, even when they are resisting, or being avoidant, then there is little doubt you are consistently there for them. The amount of time it takes to succeed in this initiation may be equal to the volume of betrayal this person has experienced.

Patience and perseverance are essential for managing this stage or engagement. The choice to re-engage or remain engaged in the coaching process must be offered again in these situations. If the young person feels the coaching is not for them it is important to respect their decision. Often the young person will still choose to remain in the process of coaching even though their trust seeking behaviour may seem to be telling you otherwise. This incongruence between language and behaviour can be reflected through gentle but challenging feedback. Working creatively can also help with engagement, for example using drawing, card games or even going for walks while coaching can help young people build trust and engagement. 

Our reaction to unengaged, or negatively engaged behaviour can often be triggering for us. This is natural and it can take a significant investment of emotional management on our part. When we do make this investment and commitment to the coaching relationship, it is valued by young people (De Haan, 2008, as cited in Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P77) and we can find a way-in that can reach those who may never have experienced this kind of connection, making them more reachable in the future. Not only this, but it is enormously rewarding for us too. This investment can develop our own resilience and help us to see people and the world in a new way.

6. Look After Yourself

The coach is responsible for managing and maintaining the coaching relationship. This takes practice and energy. However, we are not superhuman. Of course, this investment in young people can take its toll, so it is important that we too have someone to turn to who can support us.  This is where suitable training, coaching, CPD, peer support and supervision are essential for coaches working with young people. It is also important to remember the coaching relationship was made through an agreement between a Coach and a young person. 

The coaching relationship is built on a set of barriers and ethical principles that underpin the coaching profession, these provide a clear set of expectations and boundaries. These boundaries may at times require you to refer young people to other professionals, especially if their needs outweigh your skills or the remit of the coaching support you can provide. Being aware of and managing these boundaries are key to practising successfully as a coach.

At Worth-it, we provide coach training to practitioners, such as Youth Workers, Teachers, Mentors, Pastoral Leads and TAs, who work in schools or settings and want the skills, knowledge and understanding to coach young people. An integral part of our Worth-it Coach Training Course is the inclusion of peer support. 

Interested in becoming a Coach?

Find out more about our Worth-it Coach Training.

de Haan, E. (2008). Relational Coaching: Journeys Towards Mastering One-To-One Learning. Chichester: Wiley.

Pritchard, M., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016, March). The perceptual changes in life experiences of at-risk adolescent girls following an integrated coaching and positive psychology intervention group programme: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. International Coaching Psychology Review11(1), 57 – 74.

Robson-Kelly, L., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016, March). What does coaching have to offer to young people at risk of developing mental health problems? A grounded theory study. International Coaching Psychology Review11(1), 75 – 92.