Professional coaching has existed for more than 20 years, and until recently, coaches concentrated on life, corporate and executive coaching. But now health and wellness coach training programs are appearing, and some personal trainers are beginning to transition their business into coaching. Wellcoaches — an organization that’s been a leader in the field and is affiliated with the American College of Sports Medicine — points out that “professional coaches have long been recognized for their skills in helping athletes, sports teams and executives perform at their best. Now, professional wellness coaches are helping change the lives of people seeking lasting improvement in their health and well-being.”
As a personal trainer, you typically act as the expert, telling your client what to do and how to do it. But a coach plays a different role. Through thoughtful questioning and dialogue, a coach helps guide the client in finding answers for themselves and gaining the self-confidence necessary to succeed in adopting a healthy lifestyle.
The length and frequency of coaching sessions vary. Typically, the initial session is about 90 minutes; during this time, you help your client establish their underlying motivations and a vision statement. You’ll also help them figure out what their greatest obstacles will be and determine some strategies for getting around them, as well as setting three-month and weekly goals. Follow-up sessions can be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Most coaches charge at a rate similar to that of their personal training sessions.
Coaching can help people overcome one of the main reasons diets often don’t work — the person hasn’t “yet connected their heart and their head,” says Ellen Goldman (www.ellengcoaching.com), a longtime personal trainer who’s started a coaching practice. “They logically know they need to lose weight,” she explains, “but they haven’t connected with the deep-down emotion of really why it makes a difference to them.” The coaching process helps people do this so that they build confidence and a foundation to work on.
A few of the trainers we interviewed made a strong connection between spirituality and taking care of their bodies. The chain of thought on this seems to be that by nurturing the physical self, mental benefits are created, which beget emotional health, and finally the spiritual is realized. Some trainers bring religious beliefs into the equation by their belief that by polishing their “gift” of a body to high levels, they honor with gratitude that which has been given to them by a higher power. By being on the inside track as a professional and already fit, you may want to do some reading on the other areas of human enlightenment, in all its forms, so you can help your clients bridge the mental, social and emotional challenges they face with changing their bodies.
Ellen Goldman has been a personal trainer for years, but she was intrigued by the psychological impact coaching could have on struggling clients. “When I became introduced to coaching and started looking at the psychology of behavior change, I began to see tools that would help people make significant change,” she says. “I’m slowly building my coaching practice with the hope, over the next few years, of transitioning more hours into coaching and fewer hours into training.”
Goldman likes the flexibility of coaching, which can be done over the phone (Wellcoaches has a web-based platform allowing coaches to interact with clients). She’s based in New Jersey, but she has clients who live in California and New York, and she’s worked with clients from Colorado and Illinois. As she puts it, “I love the idea of having a business I can have anywhere.”
The challenges of coaching
Coaching isn’t something you become good at quickly. Becoming a high-quality coach takes months or even years of training and practice. In fact, according to Wellcoaches, “learning and growth for coaches never stop, just as for clients — it is a lifelong journey.”
With the profession being so new, many people don’t know what coaching is, so marketing is an important aspect of a successful coaching practice. “Some trainers are jumping on the bandwagon thinking this is an easy way to bring in another income source,” Goldman says. “They’re going to find that it’s not so easy, because you’re trying to sell a product that people don’t understand and they can’t see.”
At the same time, because the field is young, you can become a pioneer and get in on the ground floor. In fact, there’s a parallel between coaching and the early days of personal training when the general public still needed to become familiar with the service. “Now everybody would like to be working with a personal trainer,” Goldman says. “I see wellness coaching following a very similar route.”
In order to get the word out, Goldman has approached friends who are health-care providers about placing brochures in their businesses. “I’m finding that [in] my community, I’m kind of rewriting who I am, because people know me as a personal trainer,” she says. “I have to get out there and say I have a new service that I’m offering.”
What you’ll need to do
Certification organizations for wellness coaching likely will become more and more prevalent — so carefully check out any particular organization before signing up. Wellcoaches is affiliated with the well-established American College of Sports Medicine, and offers a comprehensive 13-week training program leading to certification. Make sure any organization you do business with is equally credentialed.