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7 Qualities of a Great Health Coach

by: Jennifer Wannen
Published: October 13, 2016
Updated: June 23, 2022

Coaching is more than an occupation. For the most dedicated among us, it’s a calling—a calling to assist others in living the full measure of their vitality. It’s an opportunity to guide people through what may be one of the most impactful transformations of their lives. It’s a chance to earn another’s trust and to offer our fullest knowledge, our earnest commitment and our genuine connection to the people we’re privileged to call clients. Our vocation moves us to help our clients create their best lives, but how do we cultivate our best potential as coaches? What traits can we develop to rise to the top of our profession and to embody its highest ideals?

1. Great coaches come at health with a holistic perspective.

Each coach may bring a particular expertise to the table (e.g. physical training, advanced nutrition, yoga, etc.) that influences his/her personal style and specialty offerings. That said, good health coaches should be not only well-versed in all major dimensions of healthy living, but they should promote the critical intersection of those dimensions for overall vitality.

In keeping with this perspective, good coaches ask questions that go beyond logistical choices and schedules. They want their clients to develop and commit to an overall vision for their lives and for the lifestyle that will support that vision. Clients may come to coaching with a goal of dialing back a chronic condition or losing weight, but a true long-term solution doesn’t come in a handful of strategies. It comes by creating a sustainable, personal path to well living. A great coach understands this and can help clients make this happen.

2. Great coaches value relationships.

Anyone can study health sciences, but guiding another person effectively and compassionately through a health transformation is a whole other ball game. Coaching employs science and strategies to direct behavior change, but the calling itself is about people themselves.

How can we build rapport and trust? How can we show a client that we care about their personal experience and encourage them in ways that motivate them as individuals? How can help clients imagine a better life and illuminate for them the positive changes that occur on the way to their ultimate goals? How can we let them feel both understood and emboldened?

These are the questions that reside at the heart of coaching. Our knowledge offers us tools, but the process only begins and evolves within the ongoing interchange with our clients. Each relationship, like each health journey, will be a unique path for us and for them.

3. Great coaches understand the art of holding space.

Non-judgmental listening and empathetic communication qualify as necessities for effective coaching. As coaches, we cannot hear our clients’ stories, we cannot take in their experiences, we cannot respond appropriately or effectively if we cannot receive what they share with us.

When we listen without judgment, we’re present for the client where he/she is now at this point in his/her journey. We’re not evaluating that person on where he/she doesn’t measure up. We simply meet the client in their present space and condition. Empathic communication means we can identify with and understand the feelings and challenges of a client. We share in ways that underscore this compassion.

However, we don’t personally take on the feelings of our clients. We don’t set out to fix them. We don’t assume we have an answer for their feelings. When we hold space, we create and protect a space to contain their emotions and experience. The client doesn’t transmit his/her feelings but puts them in the middle, in this safe space, where both of you can witness their experience (whether it’s a difficult insight about self-sabotage, an emotional memory about their weight or health as they were growing up, or a desire for a particular kind of life) and view how it influences their current situation.

As coaches, we can help a client unpack what they bring to that holding space while respecting their ownership of this contemplation. We can ask sensitive but impactful questions that encourage the client to glean insight for the best way forward.

4. Great coaches practice and expect integrity.

A successful health coaching partnership founds itself in trust. Clients share very personal details of their process and past. Coaches make a commitment to their clients’ success. Both sides lose if one party doesn’t operate out of honesty and solidarity.

A good health coach respects a client’s confidentiality at all times. He/she shows careful discretion when exchanging information with another care provider. All medical releases are clearly drawn out, and communication remains above board.

A good health coach shares plain-speaking guidance and straightforward expectations. He/she follows through with each promised resource and arrangement and honors each client’s time and offers value for a client’s investment in each session or other service.

In keeping with these commitments, good coaches expect integrity from their clients. They anticipate respect for their time, investment and business as well as accountability for a client’s part in coaching success. They count on a client’s genuine commitment to behavior change and ongoing willingness to receive and follow coaching guidance for the full cycle of their partnership.

5. Great coaches understand healthy boundaries.

When we think of boundaries, we often imagine limitations, restriction within our connections, but this is a misconstruction. Boundaries offer clarity of purpose, which allows a relationship (personal or professional) to grow healthily within and around that core purpose. They keeps us focused and, as such, foster depth as well as ease and efficiency within the coaching partnership.

We’re not wasting time pursuing or tending ancillary offshoots of our primary aim. We’re not squandering the emotional assets of a relationship by resenting being taken off course or taken advantage of in our work with a particular client. We keep things clean. The roles, expectations and conditions are clear and transparent at all times.

6. Great coaches cultivate a growth mindset.

You’ll find many people in the gym (or life) who believe they’ve been gifted their personal talents or athletic prowess. They stake their identity in the presumption of that “gift.” While a very unusual few of us may be born with an outlier’s predisposition for extraordinary achievement in a certain area or activity, make no mistake—all of us work for the health we have.

Great coaches aren’t enamored by talent, and they won’t indulge self-aggrandizement. In their sessions, recognition comes from what you do, not what you think you are (or aren’t).

Growth mindset, a theory first put forward by psychologist Carol Dweck, promotes our ability to advance through effort (as opposed to “fixed mindset,” which presumes aptitude is static).

Of course, coaching inherently centers around improvement through supported, strategized action. Some coaches, however, make this mindset more of an ingrained lesson and limitless vision within their work with clients.

7. Great coaches are avid lifelong learners.

Finally, great health coaches don’t rest on their laurels. They know there are always new studies to read, new ideas to discover, new spaces to move into for the success of their business and their clients. They’re curious about better information to guide those they serve and are flexible in the methods they choose to employ.

Health coaching calls for our ongoing engagement in the fields of nutrition, fitness, stress management, sleep health, disease prevention and holistic wellness. The loop of study and experimentation continually yields new insights. Learning more means bringing more to the table for our clients.

Thanks for reading. There’s much more to these process techniques and to their use with clients. To learn more, subscribe below to learn more about becoming a Primal Health Coach.

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