The Inner Game Can Coaching Young People Bring Benefits that Mentoring can’t?

Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Michael de Val (United Kingdom).

The background

The Private Equity Foundation is supporting an initiative in Shoreditch funding ‘highly trained coaches’ providing one to one support for 14-19-year-olds. So far the reception has been positive. As one Head Teacher put it, “We’ve had lots of initiatives, I would say this one offers perhaps more potential than anything else I have seen.”

With the huge growth of mentoring schemes in schools through the 90s and into this decade (it is estimated that by 2000 there were 750000 volunteer mentors in DFEE programs in about one-third of UK schools) is there anything new in an approach that relies on trained coaches?

How is youth coaching different?

At its simplest, it is a collaborative process in which young people discover answers for themselves through the use of questions. Once you start ‘telling’ or ‘training’ ‘teaching’ then you are not coaching.

Topically ‘coaching’ also has a sporting pedigree. Tim Galwey in his book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ broadened the applications of coaching skills to just about any pursuit including education. He argued that individuals have tremendous inner resources but their ‘self 1’ – the thinking egoic “teller” or “chatterbox”- can sometimes impede and obstruct them. He worked with players in ways which tapped into their enjoyment of learning. He described this as finding an ‘inner intelligence’ – their self 2- which they can learn to trust.  

This approach echoes in Ken Robinson’s 2009 book   ‘The Element’ a brilliant insight into developing creativity. He argues cogently that we need to ‘personalize’ education and to build achievement by discovering the individual talents and passions of each child. This model, Robinson asserts, makes “mentoring and coaching the vital pulse of a living system of education.”The main element in such an approach is to encourage young people to follow anything they have enthusiasm for.

Are mentoring and coaching really different then? Or do they overlap? In his book ‘Mentoring Students and Young People’, Andrew Miller pointed up some of the differences. Mentoring can be either highly focused on a specific outcome or, holistic –looking at all the influences at work in a young person’s life. The latter approach is more often used with ‘at risk’ groups.

Mentoring can also be student led and so nearer to the ‘coaching’ model or mentor led spanning approaches as varied as befriending, counselling, tutoring as well as coaching.

One crucial issue emerges. What is the power balance within the relationship? Coaching by external trained coaches tends to equalise the power balance away from any ‘collusion’ with the dominant values or ideologies of the program or institution. In a more equal power balance is it fair to assume that young people can better find their individual enthusiasm and their goal?

The content of good youth coaching

The first job of the coach is to build Rapport with the young person- get on their wavelength. Time spent here is well invested.

Second, establish a goal. If there is no goal then there is no coaching.  This will involve discovering what’s really important to the young person about learning or work.A coach will ask: what’s important to you about this? And ask again, what else? If you keep going and are a bit unreasonable in insisting, what emerges can sometimes be an epiphany for the young person and the coach.

Then a trained coach will make sure that the goal is either SMART (specific/measurable/achievable, realistic/ time bound) or ‘WELL FORMED’ a definition borrowed from NLP. It will be absolutely positive in its language (we can all tend to want to avoid things rather than aim for a positive) and will take into account where the young person is in their life right now.  A trained coach will make sure there are specific measures of success and stepping stones to it and will ask about how this all fits into their life in general.

Good coaching requires structure. For example, the ‘GROW’ model is a tried and tested methodology looking at the Goal, the Reality of the present situation, Options and Ways forward. The final piece is important. A good coaching session will always result in agreed action by the person being coached.

Tips for youth coaching

  • Invest time in building rapport with the young person. Affirm the equality of regard and commit to confidentiality within reasonable bounds to establish trust.
  • Elicit the values that drive. Use simple ‘wheel of life’ techniques to identify areas for improvement.
  • Use powerful questions and set a goal.  What do you want? What’s important to you about this? What is getting in the way? What resources have you got to support you?
  • Get them to a confident place. Get them to go back to a time when they felt confident and help them learn from that. List the things they already do well. Create a coaching space where they step into a confidence ‘spotlight’.
  • Get them to dream. Practice relaxation techniques. Try the ‘Disney’ approach of getting them to adopt separate roles. The ‘dreamer’, the ‘realist’ and the ‘critic’.
  • Get under negative mind sets. Challenge those iceberg beliefs and use both evidence and past experience to counteract low self-regard.

Evidence that it works

The ‘Think Forward’ program which uses some of the above coaching approaches and crucially employs trained coaches, achieved success in Tower Hamlets where all but six of the 320 teenagers who had been coached went on into post sixteen learning or work. The Shoreditch program is more ambitious intending to roll out the program to 15 schools and 1500 young people by September 2012. Sir Alisdair Macdonald Head Teacher of Morpeth School is on the record as saying this scheme offers more potential than anything else he has seen.

An evidence is not as prevalent as faith in coaching. However the leading trainer of youth coaches in the UK ‘The Coaching Academy’ points to the established track record of its MAGIC youth coaching program. ”It is known to help young people achieve dramatic and positive results in their level of motivation, assertiveness, goal achievement, initiative and ability to communicate with confidence.”

Looking forward

The outcomes of the expanded ‘Think Forward’ program using trained coaches will no doubt be watched with interest for evidence of success. The huge expansion of coaching in the U.K. for personal performance, be it in work, personal or other realms of our lives, is however, a useful pointer for how we can develop  new coaching and mentoring approaches in our schools and colleges.

Learn more about coaching

The Private Equity Foundation: ‘Think Forward Programme’

The Inner Game of Tennis: W.Timothy Gallwey Random  House Paperbacks

MAGIC (Youth Coaching Programme)

Teach Yourself Confident Coaching: A Vickers and S Bavister

International Coaching Federation at:

International Institute of coaching


The Project

Approach: Think Forward. Progression Coaches

Started: September 2011

Leaders: Private Equity Foundation. Contact:


The schools: 15 comprehensives in Islington.

Hackney. Tower hamlets

Location: East London

Pupils: 1500 over 5 years

Age range: 14-19

Intake: The NEET rate in Shoreditch is 21%higher than the rest of the country. The aim is to reduce the rate by 50 over 5 years


Credit Source:

Michael de Val (United Kingdom)


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