Research Paper By Chris Accornero
(Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES)
In Sports Illustrated 2013, Andre Agassi wrote:
When you start out on the journey you think it is all about taking in experiences to fulfill yourself. But it’s not. The greatest experience is changing someone else’s experience of life. And once you come to that realization, it becomes your foundation, the ace in your pocket, who you are…. When you see the world through the lens of others, that’s when you find yourself.
I’m sort of a quirky writer and take many months to start putting my thoughts together. I tend to get stuck with the title for weeks before the writing begins. I just finished a career in higher education so I thought I would use the university setting for my case study. Then the title came. I first had to ask, however, what is so unique about the college years that would contribute to the development of coaches.
A starting point might be to seek clarity and understanding of the meaning of coaching, or a beginning point that addresses the foundational assumptions that we make about who, how and what contributes to the preparation of people in their college years. In choosing this topic, I am assuming that a college or university would be a good training ground for the coaching profession. I am proposing a planned direction of sorts that the college student can choose that would prepare them for coaching. Thus I begin this chapter with the view that a convergence happens, during the college years, that connects the dots of coaching, preparation and launching for those who will be the future leaders of our society. In that convergence, what development, inner change, growth and nurturing takes place in the college years to prepare young people for a future in coaching?
The 2013-2014 academic year was my last of a 40-year journey in higher education. The first fifteen years were spent at public universities, teaching and coaching undergraduates. I took a 4-year break to do my doctoral work, continued for another fourteen years of teaching and administrative work at seminaries and graduate schools and then closed out my academic career back with the undergrads. It was a privilege to serve both undergraduate and graduate students, helping to develop people from the young age of 16 to those in their later years of growth, well into their 50s.
For my own growth and development, it was significant that I had academic coaches all along the way. The most transformative time, however, was in my doctoral process, when I met Dr. Charles Van Engen at Fuller Theological Seminary. From the first week on campus, Chuck became my encourager, helping me to develop my voice and vision. He modeled, taught, mentored and opened dialogue with me and other developing leaders. In reflection, I can see the intention in his work and life – the components of how he invested in us. Daily life-giving water was poured on all of us as Chuck connected with each of his advisees, walking with us on the road as we discovered and strengthened our voice of leadership. It was very evident from one’s first encounters with Dr. Van Engen that he was not the typical professor. He had all of the credentials in education, experience, talent, languages, publications and titles to exercise leadership and lecture from the power chair – but he chose instead to be among us.
One of the most transformative times for my development was in the middle of a classic Van Engen lecture. We were taking our evening break when someone asked Chuck to further explain the comments he had made the hour before on leadership development. In this particular lecture, he gave us a picture of leadership development that I still pass. I used it as a model for the college students that I coached to give them a glimpse of the essential components of their development. It is a model that might serve us well as we think about engaging potential coaches during their college years.
Chuck used metaphors and imagery quite often in his teaching and coaching. The story he told us in this particular lecture started with an image, as he painted a picture of a stadium with the stands full of people in all stages of preparation for their work in communities around the world. These people looked like us – people of various ages, life experiences, ethnicities – women and men who were eager to learn about their place in leadership. In the middle of the imaginary stadium, on the grass field, there were a number of current and past leaders, each with a cup of coffee or tea or other beverage of choice in hand. Each leader’s cup was a different size, color and shape, filled with a beverage that was fixed exactly to their liking and taste. I’m sure that Chuck was one of those leaders and that he had a cup of coffee – café con leche y azúcar or was it azúcar con leche y café?
I can’t remember whether this was an original metaphor or one he had heard elsewhere, but the word picture that Chuck painted is what I see today when I consider how we might develop coaches during their formative college years. It is a model of sorts for leadership development that has been so valuable in my work with undergraduate students and some current clients who are in degree completion programs while working full time. It is about seeing the college years as a time when doors are opened – open doors that provide choices and possibilities. My reasoning goes back to Chuck’s story and the invitation to come down on the field. We were asked to envision bringing our cup – getting up from our seats, coming to the field with OUR beverage of choice. Through the intentional act of moving out of the role of observer and spectator, we shift and move forward, out of our current engagement and thinking about finishing college, into a new place that converges with current learning and the historical concepts of coaching.
A Possible Model for Developing Coaches
We might use this “field” as a prototype for a way to work with people in their college years, with the possible components of Phase I – Invitation and Sample Course/Webinar; Phase II – Storytelling and Introductory Courses; Phase III – Convergence and Deeper Coach Training; and, Phase IV – Transformation and Coaching Practice. These four components came to mind as I re-read Van Engen’s October 2005 article in Global Missiology, “Toward a Missiology of Transformation”. His idea for this article was to get us to think together about how we might “transform” mission praxis and missiological analysis. Nine years later, as I consider how a model of transformation might be developed for working with future coaches in their college years, the stories and conversations around the conference table come back to mind. Chuck gave us many challenges that helped us read and engage historical and current professional praxis with new eyes, while allowing our own definitions, our own voices develop.
I offer this idea or possible model for creating a degree program for “Coaching”, to develop people in their college years. It starts with the “Invitation”.
Phase I – Invitation and Sample Course/Webinar
The Invitation is to come to the stadium, no matter your condition or background – come and watch, listen and learn. Chuck was saying that it does not matter what degree or training one pursues. Many college students have a sense a calling on their lives and what their future work might be in any number of fields or specialties – why not an “invitation” to be a coach – to have a degree in Life Coaching or Transformational Coaching or…. The idea is to come to the metaphorical stadium to meet others who are also preparing for their future work.
This type of preparation, in the college years, looks a lot like what Chuck did for us during our seminary years. In this potential model, there is a different depth of conversation and understanding, where the professors, as the coaches, are the ones who open the doors, hold safe places and say “come on in”. With the invitation, the professor/coach:
- Instills confidence at the core level
- Affirms voices, hears students, invites them to bring their voices to the “field”
- Sees the individual and opens the door to honest dialogue
- Launches the students into their future work – into coaching
The Invitation should be to come to the college or university and join others who are wondering about their future as well. It should be a call of sorts, that identifies a safe place for growth and learning without judgment – a “let’s see what the Divine has in mind for you” open door. Just writing this reminds me of the many times over the last 40 years that I have “judged” a student at first encounter – freshman year – even first semester. I have been most surprised four years later by those I was so quick to label. They are now serving around the world as God’s change agents. As people seek further education through the formal structures of colleges and universities, we might “invite” them to consider a degree program that would prepare them for coaching.
Phase II – Storytelling and Introductory Courses
Storytelling in the imaginary stadium involved watching and listening to those on the field, as they wove the historical conversations into current theologies and theories. It was like watching a tapestry being woven – a common and easily visualized metaphor. I have used the tapestry image along with the stadium story in coaching students, helping them weave and tell their own stories. I’m sure there are many ways that life stories are told around the world – in symbols, pictures, music, drawings, paintings, weavings, collages and written words – all contextually and culturally influenced. Storytelling in coaching is central, a core practice:
- We begin as coach and client by telling our stories - infusing life, love, and energy into each other – wondering how we might “fit” for a longer conversation.
- Each coaching session is held in a safe space, where the coach carefully listens to the client’s voice and the stories that are woven for that time, that session.
- It is life-giving to have our story voiced and valued.
Developing coaches must seek and learn to find a firm foundation in the history and experience of those who have gone before them. The stadium story implies that we find our strength and fullness of self as we bring our cup – as we intentionally walk down the steps, onto the field and stand among. Our stories get added to theirs.
In the college years, what if the first assignment, first semester, was to start a journal, an electronic portfolio, where pieces of the college years were collected. The student would have an academic coach assigned at Phase I, the Invitation, and that coach would be a consistent, encouraging voice for the four or five years, helping the student grow their portfolio, their story. These potential coaches could then learn from their professor/coaches and fill their cups (portfolio) with experiences, writings, memories, writings and ideas out of the stands, onto the field. They might even record a video or audio piece that would chronicle their journey through the college years – maybe like a Facebook timeline.
Phase III – Convergence and Deeper Coach Training
Convergence happens as we see ourselves from the long view, the inclusive view that takes in the various ideas, theories, practices and cultural understandings from the global view above, below, with, beyond and among the wide variety of people who cross out path.
This idea of convergence, in my opinion, is at the core of the International Coaching Academy’s mission from the beginning – for theologies and hearts to converge and strengthen each other. Students come to ICA from a global community, numerous countries and cities to converge for deeper understanding and preparation. They have all grown and developed during college years and/or in various professional contexts which bring a richness of experience. Many, however, never had the “stadium” experience – were never invited during their college years. Convergence came for me, during my college years, when I realized that I was uniquely gifted and prepared for a particular part of a larger, divinely inspired enterprise.
So the question becomes, can a coaching degree program be designed in such a way that we help those in their college years move toward convergence? Can we coach, develop and grow the unique person, helping them chip away at the awkward stone block to reveal what is already deep inside? Can we polish and smooth out the rough edges without changing the uncut gem? It occurs to me in a new way, here, that the Invitation and Storytelling incorporate each unique individual cup/story. Their cups remain the same, with their individual character, as they join the others on the field to expand the circle and transform their surroundings – change their world.
Phase IV – Transformation and Coaching Practice
We are asked to join the conversation on the field – to get up from our seats and bring our own cup to the circle. In 1992, twelve of us took a course with Chuck on Urban Ministry, now called Encountering the City. We didn’t know when we started, but Chuck had in mind that we might write a book together. He and Jude Tiersma-Watson had wondered if we might be able to sit around a table each week, talk about our contexts of ministry and each write a chapter. We brought our cups to the field. We wrote and published a book, “God So Loves the City” because our professor/coach saw the power of the collective urban story and we all saw a model develop out of the voices that were raised around the table. He gave us encouragement and support for our academic work and our personal development. When Los Angeles burned during the 1992 race riot, Chuck allowed us to work out our ethnographies by crying, talking and laughing together. He was our emotional net and created a safe place. We found that we could succeed at little things when life became difficult.
Like other master coaches, Chuck walked with us, listened deeply and helped us understand his “theology of transformation”. It is an understanding of the Divine initiative that involves “Trans” and “Formation”, “discontinuity and change coupled with continuity and recreation”.
During those years of graduate study, my colleagues and I talked at length about transformation. Now those conversations come back to mind along with Van Engen’s view that transformation calls for contextual understanding of how the Divine One is among us, for wrestling with the relationship of the Divine and culture in thousands of different contexts worldwide.
This transformation is what we talk about in ICA and not merely a change of religious affiliation or civilization or education, or a change of ethical behavior; it is not merely socio-economic and political betterment. Rather, this type of deep transformation entails the new formation, the re-creation of whole persons – of all and every aspect of their lives, each in their particular context in terms of knowing, being, doing, serving, and relating to one another. It has simultaneously personal, social, structural and national implications. It involves reconciliation with self, creation, others and the socio-cultural structures – and it comes through coaching.
It was at the table with Dr. Van Engen that I was coached and mentored. He created a safe place where I could go deep inside, discover and develop in a way that has kept me moving forward on the streets, in the cities, in the noise of an ever changing and hurting world. From this world view, I have taught, trained, mentored, coached and launched so many out of their college years. They are around the world living among the people they love, speaking life transforming words. What a privilege it has been to have a place that has allowed me the opportunity to pour into these young women and men. It has been scary and awesome at the same time, knowing that I am a trusted coach and mentor, that these young ones come, sit in my office and bring their cup and join the conversation. The doors are wide open.
A Final Word
This case study, of a professor and coach in the “college years” was chosen to speak to the possibility of creating coaching programs that could be offered through colleges and universities. These early years, especially for the traditional 17-21 year-old undergraduates, are so rich, so important, and offer us opportunity to develop and train a new generations of coaches in a unique way.
The International Coach Federation defines coaching in the following way:
Professional coaches provide an ongoing partnership designed to help clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has.
It seems that such an honored and amazing profession has a place in higher education for training and developing its next generation of practitioners. Instead of all of the money, publicity and emphasis placed on athletic coaches in the United States, how about putting more time and resources into offering Life Coaching, Transformational Coaching, Business Coaching and other creative degree programs. If I had the opportunity to start my career as a professor over again, I would specialize in Coaching.