by Alex Sylvan

The coach approach: a motivation method for boys

Teacher Sitting Talking To Male High School Student  Outside Smiling

Much has been written on the topic of motivating adolescent boys. After all, we all want our sons to become adults who can reach independent decisions that are ethical, sustainable and inspirational.

In the past, the debate on motivating young men in educational environments has basically boiled down to two theories: the use of the whip or the carrot.

But coaching is changing all that.

What is coaching?

In an educational sense (i.e. off the footy field), coaching is a one-to-one conversation, built around a coach asking the coachee open questions – those that require more thought and more than a simple one-word answer.

The coaching approach creates awareness and shifts accountability for action to the coachee.

Why coaching works for boys

Research consistently shows that boys are more likely to meaningfully pursue goals that they have devised themselves, rather than ones that have been written for them. The success of coaching in an educational setting stems from this sense of ownership. Coaching enables young men to create awareness of their own goals. This ownership is a strong motivator for boys, empowering them to develop their own options, as well as self-created motivation, for reaching these goals.

Coaching also helps boys developing a stronger sense of belonging, whether this is within their family setting or a classroom/tutor group. Through coaching, boys feeling that they are being seen and heard (rather than simply told what to do), and thus respected – a major driver of motivation in young men.

How to be a great coach

Coaching isn’t just for teachers. It’s powerful parenting tool to help you keep your sons motivated. However, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, a successful coach must have skills in active listening, goal-setting processes, powerful questioning techniques, emotional intelligence and trust-building.

It’s a tough gig, but here are some tips that might help you get started.

Male High School Student Talking To Teacher By Lockers In Hall Way

  1. Active listening

Engaging in goal-based discussions with adolescent boys can be frustrating. While as adults we have the maturity and experience to understand the importance of planning and delaying gratification, we are often faced with a wall of defiance that cannot see past the next ad break. To combat this, we often raise our voice. And our boys simply switch off.

In coaching, a key skill is active listening; as a coach you must remove your own ego from the conversation and listen out for what your son/coachee is trying to say. When you do talk, remember to affirm and clarify what your son/coachee said rather than challenging or trying to shape it to suit your own values.

  1. Asking powerful questions

Once you have started to engage in active listening, you are in a position to ask powerful, open questions that help your son/coachee create further awareness about his own choices. Questions such as “what are your aspirations?” and “what is the first step that needs to be taken” offer the chance to look into a future where things are going better and help your son think about the best first step towards an ultimate goal. They are powerful because they provoke the coachee to take positive action that’s focused on a solution or an end-result.

  1. Emotional intelligence

Building the awareness of the emotions of ourselves and others as a conversation progresses is probably the hardest skill to master in coaching. What emotions lie behind your son/coachee’s words? Try and bring genuine presence to the conversation, as well as the vital element of empathy. This will help your son/coachee through challenging periods and help avoid conflict.

Whether in the home or the classroom, coaching can be a challenging process, both for the coachee and for you as a parent or teacher. However, when you consider that coaching: helps boys to discover their inner strengths and passions; gives boys a voice in their own learning and development; nurtures self-worth and identity; and keeps young men motivated, I believe it’s a challenge that’s worth taking on.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Alex Sylvan is a specialist in coaching and boys’ wellbeing. Alex teaches at Brighton Grammar School – an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about