Coaching Young People
Coaching young people, in my opinion, is one of the most diverse and interesting areas of coaching. It requires a basic understanding that teenage brains really are different, as well as patience while the young person takes the time to recognise that a coach is somebody they can trust and in whom they can expect a completely confidential relationship. Additionally, a non-judgmental persona is essential, as is the ability to recognise that any rantings are not personal but merely part of the young person’s attempts to make sense of a world that often appears to be filled with a series of obstacles placed to prevent them from getting to where they want to go.
Important areas for teenagers are
· Identity & appearance
· School & work
· Social & home life
· Quality of relationships
· Interests, thoughts & dreams
The Teen Brain
Young people differ from adults in the way that they behave, solve problems and make decisions; it is a time when the brain develops and grows significantly. The brain is already approximately 90 – 95% the size of an adult brain by the time a child reaches six years of age, however it still needs to change the way in which it functions before it can work in the same way as an adult brain.
This brain remodeling occurs chiefly during adolescence and continues until the child reaches their mid-twenties. These changes vary with each individual depending on hormone levels and when puberty commences.
As the teenage brain develops, those connections linked to thinking and processing which are no longer used, are reduced while other connections increase in strength. In theory this makes the brain more efficient. This process begins in the back of the brain with the decision-making part of the brain being remodeled last. This decision-making part of the brain, called the pre-cortex, is responsible for our ability to control impulses, solve problems, plan actions and think about the consequences of these. As a result, teenagers will frequently rely on the part of the brain which is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinct. This area of the brain is known as the amygdala.
As the teenage brain develops they will start to think about more complex issues, they will begin to see things from another person’s perspective and take a more logical approach towards solving them. Additionally, adolescents become more emotionally literate and gain a better perspective of the future as the brain matures towards functioning in the same way that adult brains do.
The most important part of any coaching relationship is trust. Trust takes time to build and without trust the young person is reluctant to open up. During this initial period I find it best to just listen and only ask questions to seek clarification. I don’t apply any pressure to persuade the young person to share their story or what’s happening in their life but I do offer a continued reassurance that their privacy is being respected throughout our sessions together.
Trust is important when encouraging young people to confide in me as the coach and to facilitate the coaching process. The young coachee must see me as someone in whom they can be honest and open with, where they can speak about things they haven’t previously shared with anyone else. How can we expect young people to open up if they don’t trust us? Trust is the foundation of the coaching relationship.
Changing Coaching so it’s more relevant to Young People
When coaching young people, it is important to establish a safe space for the young person to talk, and for them to know it’s up to them whether to continue the process. Young people are often referred by parents or schools so the process can begin with quite negative connotations. Frequently there is a ‘bad reason’ for the referral. Teens will often want to blame others for the challenges which they are facing; this does not help the young person to tackle these issues or problems, so I find it is a vital part of the coaching process to encourage the young adult to focus on moving forward rather than blaming parents, teachers or friends. It is important to get to know the ‘real them’, what they want from the sessions and what they can expect from you. It is also vital for the young person to understand that the coaching relationship is based on trust and that unless something said in the session will result in harm to the coachee or someone else, everything discussed remains confidential.
The issue of confidentiality can sometimes be controversial when a parent, school or other third party are paying the bill. When accepting young people as new clients I always ensure that the person paying for the coaching understands I will not be sharing anything disclosed during the coaching session unless the young person asks me to do so.
Using my experience as a teacher I find that the coaching relationship is especially successful if I’m able to identify the young person’s preferred way of learning. I can often ascertain this by listening and observing carefully how the young person communicates, both verbally and non-verbally.
Why do I enjoy coaching young people?
It is immensely satisfying to support young people to consider and recognise what is important to them and make decisions based on this. Often young people are confused about what is truly important to them and what other significant people have told them is important. Coaching can support them to identify what is important to them and to choose the steps they must take in order to move in the right direction. Teenagers are naturally apprehensive about what the future holds for them; this can lead to a lack of self-belief and a fear of failure, which can result in the young person not reaching for what they really want from life. Through coaching, I can challenge young adults to face these fears and to have the confidence to identify and take the steps needed to be successful in achieving their goals. Using coaching to identify the way forward helps young people to be less inclined to bow to peer pressure and more likely to feel happier in ‘their own skin’.
Sometimes when working with teenagers I have found that I am on the receiving end of their frustrations and anger; someone to vent any anger and injustices they feel, but this is in itself is rewarding because I know that not only is this beneficial for the young person’s mental health but it also shows that they trust me to be non-judgemental and to support them to find solutions for themselves, rather than providing a solution of my own choosing.
Coaching supports our next generation to identify why they have chosen the goal which they have set themselves and to choose small steps, which when climbed will lead to success. I feel privileged to be a part of such an exciting process.