Coaching qualifications present yet another conundrum to circumnavigate. It’s partly the sheer volume of coaching qualifications available, partly the vast array of course structures, content and design, partly the lack of a globally recognised professional coaching qualification*, partly the enormous range of coaching approaches and partly the hefty price tag attached to some courses. What appears on the surface to be a simple decision like weighing up the pros and cons of buying a pair of shoes can quickly dissolve into a far more complex and daunting challenge.
Taking a step back in time, it wasn’t part of a premediated strategy to qualify as a coach and establish Reach for More. I gained my first formal coaching qualification by pure chance. It was one of those brief, in-passing conversations with a colleague who was a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Trainer. It wasn’t a premeditated choice followed by hours trawling the Internet or seeking advice from more experienced and worldly coaches. After further verbal exchanges with the colleague around the subject, and despite being deeply circumspect around certain aspects of NLP, I made the decision to enrol on the Practitioner course. From a logical perspective, I believe it’s hard to criticise a subject where you don’t have sufficient depth of knowledge to articulate your argument, so I decided to learn more. Additionally, the course rather conveniently provided a welcome distraction from the oppressive summer heat whilst living in Abu Dhabi.
I’m a self-confessed life-long learning junkie so this desire to deepen and widen my knowledge has meant that the time and financial investment that I’ve dedicated to my coaching career once all added up is eye watering (I’ll touch more on that later). Believe me, it’s beyond tempting to sign up for yet another course that’ll add more breadth or depth to my coaching portfolio. However, I’ve gradually come to appreciate that there are times when it’s more appropriate to consolidate and refine the skills and knowledge I already have without simply adding more into the mix.
“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know”
Daniel J. Boorstin
An entire market has spawned selling services to coaches; new courses promote yet another model, theory or simply the latest scientific research. This constant growth boosts the long-term development of the profession. However, it’s a fine line to a darker shadow side exists which feeds on our engrained growth mind-set as coaches. We’re often easy prey for those who are continually promoting that we must invest even more time and money on our development. This darker shadowy side has created a perception or even expectation that a “proper” coach must have developed their own model or theory, which has been created as part of a coaching business development pipeline including a book deal, basic online course, advanced course…
From the opposite perspective, I’ve encountered a particular breed of coach who completely side steps this, with the belief their former business and life experience constitutes sufficient knowledge and skills to negate the need for a formal training course or accreditation. I’ll leave that comment as simply food for thought as the notion presents sufficient material for a blog post (or thesis!) in itself.
As you are kindly taking the time to read these words, I will assume that you are not like me who happened to be in the right place, right time, through the power of serendipity, chance, or luck and have fallen into coaching but are taking a calculated and deliberate first step to discover more about coaching qualifications. A solid foundational coaching qualification will be sufficient to kick start your career whether that’s developing knowledge and skills within your career or going solo as a coach. Here are my four key recommendations based on the benefit of hindsight:
As a starting point, I’d recommend a basic “coaching skills” course that’s predominately experiential with a low trainer to student ratio where a substantial component (minimum five days) is face to face delivery that focuses on practice, practice and yet more practice alongside the theory. This sets a solid foundation on which to develop theoretical knowledge through any combination of reading, writing, discussions, online sessions and logging coaching “hours” afterwards.
Online courses are widely available, though I currently believe face-to-face interaction between learners is invaluable. Over the last eight years I’ve formed strong friendships and partnerships with peer coaches that now form the basis of my network. These invaluable connections have helped celebrate my successes over a glass of wine or cup of tea, provided a shoulder to cry on in moments of despair, listened for hours with compassion without solution-eering or slipping into “Jim’ll Fix It” mode and collaborated on creative business projects.
From both personal experience and word of mouth recommendations, “The Performance Solution” and “Barefoot Coaching” are companies that are firmly established within the British market and run high quality regular accredited coaching courses.
Course accreditation still isn’t a factor that’s immediately considered when choosing a coaching course, though this is slowly changing as coaching becomes more professionalised*. Accreditation is the figurative stamp of approval from an external, neutral, provider on the course content, delivery and quality in line with professional standards. Basically, I’d steer clear or as an absolute minimum dig into the details and ask some serious hard hitting questions if a course isn’t accredited.
I’d definitely look for course accreditation through either International Coach Federation (ICF), Association for Coaching (AC), or European Mentoring, Coaching and Counselling Council (EMCC). For example; the ICF “Code of Ethics” and “Core Competencies” (I’d recommend checking both documents out if you’ve not encountered them before) have been regularly updated to support best practice as the coaching profession has evolved over the last twenty years. Every accredited course links back to these competencies and specifications to maintain consistent global professional standards.
Alternatively, opt for an academic organisation with a solid reputation, knowledgeable course tutors in the subject and potentially a dedicated coaching organisation e.g. Oxford Brookes University (International Centre for Coaching and Mentoring Studies), Henley Business School (The Henley Centre for Coaching) or Northumbria University.
Time and money are inevitably the two main limiting factors behind our choices of course or qualification. It’s necessary to look beyond the course fees and course length to consider the background factors such as travel, accommodation, follow up coaching sessions etc. Sometimes these hidden costs rapidly escalate so initial course costs double or triple. I’ve learnt my lesson and become far more astute with my decision-making process in relation to any CPD event, whether it’s virtual or face to face, and spend time thoroughly calculating the Return On Investment (ROI). It can be difficult to predict but try focusing on the question:
What is the most effective use of my resources (time, money, energy or otherwise) to support my overarching strategic priorities?
During 2017 I imposed a course ban on myself for a period of time where I only permitted myself to consider short webinar sessions and key annual conferences. This conscious proactive decision to focus on other areas within my business and life enabled me to fully embed knowledge from previous qualifications as opposed to simply diving into another. If you’re slightly nervous about your skillset or knowledge, the learning environment can offer a safety net or handrail that boosts confidence, though conversely it can (sometimes) develop into an unhealthy dependency. Be honest with yourself and link everything back to the big picture. Your purpose.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Coaching draws from an array of different backgrounds including positive psychology, mindfulness, relational, gestalt, psychodynamic, transactional analysis, sport, counselling, psychotherapy, neuroscience etc. This knowledge is applied within different realms and each discipline subsequently cross-pollinates to create new ideas, styles, skills and practice. It’s understandable how confusion can easily arise trying to find the “right” course. Everyone is different. There isn’t a single defined pathway to tread. Every coach builds on their previous professional and personal experience, personality and style to create a unique blend of coaching.
Flipping it around: “What qualification do you need to support your clients?”
The Numbers Game
Remember, this is really only the beginning. You’re on your way to opening the door to an entirely new world populated by advanced coaching models, psychometric profile tools and theories. Before you rush off onto this journey and commit many hours of your time and hard earned cash, I’ve pulled together some figures that illustrate the time and financial investment I’ve made.
The whole exercise is caveated by the fact that I had no clue how coaching would influence my work and life, and if I could start again I would be far more astute about which courses and qualifications I would have worked towards. Don’t get me wrong, everything has helped contribute to my coaching career and skillset in some way – it’s just that some have been significantly more influential.
If you’re detail orientated check out the table**, but in summary, I’ve collectively spent over £82,000 ($105,000) and 82 days on coach qualification and training (excluding time studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Coaching over an 8-month period and reading for a Masters in Teaching over 2 years).
This list is certainly not the definitive route on how to become a coach, it’s merely an example that reflects my coaching journey and highlights how specific qualifications influence my coaching. For example, the APMP and PRINCE2 qualifications are linked to previous project management roles and now add a solution-focused and pragmatic approach to my style (and they support embarking on any new project and running a business behind the scenes!).
There are also a few more figures to add into the equation beyond just courses, such as the need to maintain professional status and credibility through association membership. As I often work outdoors, outdoor and first aid qualifications are essential to safely accompany clients on outdoor coaching sessions, edging up the total figure even more.
Thanks for your continued interest in coaching. I’d be interested to hear what coaching qualifications you’d recommend.
This is the sixth post in the “Discover Coaching” series, where I’ve shared my responses to key questions that crop up again and again in conversations with potential coaches who have sought my advice on becoming a coach. I thought it would be helpful to consolidate my experience and ideas through this series of blog posts that would enable me to reach out further across my network.
Over the last few weeks I’ve worked through the following questions that offer an insight into my experience and resource recommendations.
What’s your personal coaching journey?
What coaching websites would you recommend?
How did you know what coaching niche to specialise in?
What coaching resources would you recommend?
What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve encountered establishing Reach for More, your performance coaching business?
If you know anyone who’s interested in discovering more about coaching, either to support their current role, a period of transition, an aspiration to be more coach-like or simply make the first step towards the coaching profession, I’d be grateful if you would share this post with them.
* The work by various professional coaching associations including the International Coach Federation (ICF) and other regional bodies has advanced the coaching profession in leaps and bounds over the last twenty years and will undoubtedly continue to do so. Head back to blog #2 for further details on various global associations and resources if you’re keen to discover more.
** These financial figures are approximate due the period of time and the time frame omits attending ICF Community of Practice webinars, reciprocal peer coaching rounds, ongoing reading and research.