There is a consistent element in the background of all professional athletes. From a very young age, they had a coach helping them to develop. For many kids, this coach was also their Dad or Mom (Tiger Woods being a good example). A coach provides guidance, encouragement, discipline, training, and also acts as a role model for the kids as they strive to impress their mentor and improve.
So, why aren't we providing the same support for our non-sport superstar kids when it comes to their careers? Unfortunately, parents are led to believe that studying hard at school and getting good grades is all it takes to build a career. So as long as we make sure the kids get their homework finished we have done our job, right? This may have been true in the past but these days getting through school is at best, the minimum requirement for a successful career. From today, make a commitment to become your child's career coach.
There is no coaching without trust. For our kids to open up to us and talk about their ideas and worries they have to feel safe. They have to know that they will not be scolded, told they are stupid, belittled or ignored. While chatting with a 5 year old about her plans for the future may seem premature, it is never too early to start building an environment of trust and security between you and your kids ( There is more on listening to our kids in the article: Listening to your kids will help them get a job). The goal is to become a confidant for your son or daughter so that as they get older and need to start making decisions about their future they will feel comfortable coming to you for advice and coaching.
"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."
- John Wooden - Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee as both Player and Coach
Trust will lead to communication. As a coach, we need to be able to reflect our kid's ideas back to them so that they can examine them in a new light and make a decision about how to proceed rather than giving them the answer "we" think is right. Tim Coomber, an Executive Coach and Managing Partner with ChangeManagementJapan states that a successful coach is one who is able to maintain neutrality and work exclusively for the benefit and needs of the one being coached. Jacinta Hin, a Life/Career Coach echoes this need for objectivity. "You don't bring your self into it, and certainly do not lead the client towards something just because you think it will be good for them." The challenge, is applying this to a coaching relationship between a parent and a child. It is OK to dispense advise and knowledge but it has to be done without upsetting the balance of trust. We know so much more than our kids. We have gone through it all and know all the answers and it is extremely hard not to turn from coach back into Dad or Mom and start dictating how things will be. With younger kids we may offer more advice and share our knowledge but as they grow to high school age we will need to pull back and give them room to explore their own ideas.
For older kids (high school) a more systematic approach can be used to provide some structure to the discussions about careers and future. Chris Lamatsch, an Executive Coach and President of Executive Coach Japan, designs custom programs over a set time period for each client focusing on practical areas such as research, informational interviews, resumes and networking to achieve a clear goal (getting a job). Try laying out a timeline with your daughter at the beginning of her freshman year of high school. What can she accomplish this year related to her future career? Let her answer and create her own goals. We are adding value by initiating and facilitating the process not by choosing her interests for her. Tim Coomber often uses psychometric assessments to initiate the conversation with a client. There are a lot out there and they should be used to start the process not end it. Tim suggests Hollands 6 Personalities or a personality profile, an early and well-known example of which is Myers Briggs but cautions that the use of such assessments may require experienced interpretation to be most effective. It might be fun to take the assessment along with your son and compare results.
Kids, unlike seasoned executives, are not signed up for this. Given a choice they are likely to turn down an offer to be "coached" (Hint: Don't give them a choice!). Because of this difference, kids are not necessarily committed to making the effort needed. If we do not coach our kids, someone else will fill that void. It is likely to be their friends, or maybe the TV. Even the school career counselor may have motives that do not align with your child's (some career counselors are judged by the level of the college the kids they counsel get into).
Jacinta states that coaching succeeds when, "...at the end of the day you want the client to make the right choices based on self knowledge and aligned with who they are and what they want; their strengths, personality, passion." Isn't that what we want from our kids as well?