The difference between counseling and coaching


Have you ever experienced a time when you did not know how to do something?

Jasen Williams Teen Columnist, The Friday Flyer

Jasen Williams
Teen Columnist, The Friday Flyer

Did anyone ever begin to begin to give you a life lesson, despite the fact that you merely did not know how to accomplish a task?

Not that life lessons are bad – in fact, getting as many of those as possible seems to be important in our childhood and adulthood. But I am talking of a different kind. Allow me to illustrate.

When I was in Boy Scouts, we decided to venture forth on a mountain biking trip. The troop had been there before. Exciting stories of steep, swooping trails and rocky heights filled the meetings as we began to prepare for the campout. At the time, I was “second in command,” or better known as ASPL in the troop.

And the funny thing is, even to this day, that I am not a confident bike rider – at all. Seriously, I can hardly get down the street without wobbling into a crash to avoid a parked car. It’s bad.

With a mere week before the campout, I decided not to go following a time of deliberation. For the sake of others’ safety and my own, I decided to skip the bike ride and and get ready for the next backpacking campout. We had a campout every month! I hadn’t missed in a long time, so it seemed an okay thing to do.

I called my “boss,” or SPL, and explained that due to my lack of skill and concern for the safety of everyone involved, it might be better if I bowed out. The answer was as follows:
“Jasen, you need to learn to overcome your fears. Believe me – I know that persevering through fears about commitment and new challenges is a tough job, but you will be such a better person because of it. You must learn to summon up the courage to fly to new heights so that you can grow and help others along the way.” And so went the lecture about overcoming my fears.

It appears that there are two lessons to be learned from this exchange. First is that there is all the difference in the world between counseling and coaching. Secondly, we need to be able to identify and appropriately respond to these needs as up-and-coming leaders in the community.           I believe that the mistake that my boss made was misidentifying the difference between coaching and counseling. Coaching is the skill-based teaching that would address, for example, the technique involved in kicking a soccer ball. Counseling is the softer-skills mentorship that addresses the attitude that one has when kicking the ball.

Suppose you are mentoring Bob Imaginary in baseball. He throws his glove at teammates and shouts curses at the coach. But, he is the only guy on the team who can catch the ball and bat with any notable success. What is needed here? Do you need to talk to him about his throwing technique? Or do you need to address his behavior?

Clearly, this is a behavioral issue! No trick questions asked here. Now look at Bob’s cousin, John Madehimup. He is the most cheerful and diligent teammate; and yet, even with lots of practice, he cannot throw to save his life. Do you begin to berate him for his fear of throwing well or scold him for his laziness in practice? No, you simply coach him by giving pointers on his throwing form and positioning.

Another thought that I would ask you to consider is that some of the best leaders are those who listen much, much more than they speak. Even when they do speak, they give direct advice only when asked, while indirectly saying much more through their example and actions.

In the case that they do give direct advice, great influencers tend to do so by planting seeds of thought, letting you do the thinking in order to come to the conclusion. Why spoon-feed people when they can learn to handle the utensil themselves?

Give them the supplies, the expectations, the support, and the reason, and the learners and future leaders will thrive. Sometimes, the counseling aspect requires merely an adjustment of perspective. If someone wants to help but is doing it the wrong way, a wise leader will react accordingly.

In Scouting, a useful method to introduce the art of teaching others is summed up as EDGE: Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, and Enable. After initially describing the concept and goal, you then give an example. Then, you help and empower the student to do the same.

My father and I like to modify it to EDGEM, the “M” standing for the word “Monitor.” Check in with the student to see what they have done and how they have implemented it, being prepared to help where necessary.

In our pursuit to cultivate ourselves and hone leadership skills, these ideas are an important function of the team dynamic. As we finish out this school year, please join me in assisting those who simply do not know, while counseling those who don’t care.