“What is an absolute must for a space for young people to run successfully?”
It’s a question I’m often asked in my career as youth worker, young person’s coach and mentor. This time, the question was directed at me by my line manager, who was conducting a Youth Team reflection session.
“Hmmm,” I mused as my face contorted with deep thought. I was two months into my new career, and I’d had a challenging few months trying different ways to get young people to open up to and engage in conversations about important topics that shape their identities and lives.
Then came the lightbulb moment: “They have to be fun!” I exclaimed.
Fun, is something done for enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure. Take a moment to think of something you do that fits this description. Got something? Did you find it hard? If this took you a while, don’t despair. The world we live in has a way of stripping away our inner child and we struggle to “find the time” to run around and play. Or perhaps we don’t think that fun or ‘play’ have places in our adult lives.
So, what does this have to do with the Coaching within Education?
From my experience of coaching, mentoring and working with young people, partaking in activities or centering conversations around what they do for fun has been my route into their world. It has become my foundation block for building rapport, connection and encouraging a trusting relationship. Other side effects have included reconnecting with my playful side, increased health and wellbeing and a lot more laughter in my life!
The science is simple. If you’re having fun with someone, you feel good. If you’re feeling good there’s a pretty good chance you’ll like the person you’re with at that moment. With time, we begin to trust and listen to what these people have to say. Getting to this point takes time, energy and patience, but it’s something that cannot not be skipped. With reference to Stephen Covey: if you’ve got three hours to chop down a tree, spend two of them sharpening the saw, and see how easy the final hour is.
I once worked with a 13-year-old boy whose mum had come to me for support. I asked her what he did for fun to which she replied, “He’s always outside on the trampoline trying to do flips.” And that’s exactly where we have our first session, outside on the trampoline. I found out what he enjoyed most about jumping up and down trying to do backflips, what else he wanted to try to learn, and what he’d been finding difficult: I found out his motivations, his goals, and his fears!
For the next few sessions we focused on figuring out the process for him to be able to do a back flip without the trampoline. Each week we spoke about his progress, what he’d learnt and what the next step was. You might be wondering what all this had to do with his wider life, but when the time was right I transferred all of this and placed it into a scenario he was currently finding difficult. In this instance, it was problems he was currently having with a teacher in school. I then used the hypothetical situation of ‘the backflip’ to frame a discussion about this challenge. Guess what, he spoke openly and confidently because I was now speaking in a language he understood. The time spent building the right communication paths through having fun led to this activity being my method of exploring bigger, underlying life topics.
This learning point and coaching example, amongst many others, inspired the content I have put together for the training day.
We will be focusing on some basic yet vital aspects of the application of coaching young people: getting to know them, building trust, and the use of tools and guidance. What I will be presenting has been the core building blocks for me to create successful relationships with the young person I’m coaching, and for them to value the space provided.
At the heart of the training day, and these three steps, will be the importance of making the coaching process fun, how working together collectively is better than working in isolation, working through practical activities that promote a proactive approach to a young person’s mental and emotional health and wellbeing, and how to apply this to your own approach as a coach.
Be ready to discuss, engage, listen and most importantly, have fun!