From the Hockey Rink to the Conference Room: Do Professional Coaches Need Relevant Field Experience?
I know most of America is focused on football and baseball this time of year, but hockey season just started! As we try to predict who will win the Stanley Cup, the National Hockey League's (NHL) top prize, knowing who is behind the bench may offer a valuable clue. Since 2004, 12 of the 13 NHL Stanley Cup Champion head coaches were former professional ice hockey players.
I recently attended the Association for Talent Development (ATD) Government Workforce conference in Washington, DC. It was a great conference, and I recommend it to federal employees and those in federal government contracting. One of the conference panels was on effective coaching and how an organization can support it. Much of the session emphasized developing "soft skills," with little mention of technical knowledge and experience in the field being coached. Part of this may be due to a focus on existing federal employees as internal coaches, assuming they already possess the relevant experience. But what about external coaches (i.e., those outside the organization)? Is experience in the client's field beneficial for an external professional coach?
In this case, I am referring to coaching as a process for fostering change and growth to address professional challenges. I understand that professional coaching is not the same the public and private sectors, and coaching in sports is undoubtedly different. It stands to reason, however, that knowledge of the discipline being coached, gained from field experience, broadly helps provide context and relatability, regardless of the sector or field. For instance, shared experience can help establish a common lexicon between the coach and client, resulting in more productive sessions.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) describes eight Core Competencies organized into four domains: Foundation, Co-creating the Relationship, Communicating Effectively, and Cultivating Learning and Growth. The table below provides the ICF coaching behaviors that could benefit from experience in the field.
While effective coaching may not require experience in the client's field, the above table shows some common themes where that experience could be beneficial. Understanding the client's environment and context may be enhanced by having worked in a similar environment. Appreciating the nuances of client challenges can inform strategies for overcoming them. Field experience can help the coach understand what may or may not work and better define measures of success. For instance, a plan for the client to "be more vocal in meetings" may depend on people's roles in those meetings. A coach who has attended similar meetings in that field can empathize and help the client develop a strategy that accounts for roles and expectations.
Of course, it can be argued that field-specific experience may hinder a coach's objectivity. Also, regardless of the field, the nature of work is evolving, so experience from years prior may be obsolete and counterproductive. Therefore, I suggest coaches with field experience maintain self-awareness and, if they are drawing from that experience, ensure their knowledge is current. Coaches should focus on their client's experience foremost, striving to remain objective and leveraging their subjective knowledge only when it is an asset.
Let's debate this! You may want to start by researching the one exception to the Stanley Cup-winning coaches in the last 20 years with professional hockey experience.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!