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Types of interpretation in coaching examples

This is an excerpt from Foundations of Professional Coaching With HKPropel Access by James Gavin.

This dialogue illustrates the different types of interpretations that can be derived from a client’s statements. Some may be more potent than others, although all have the purpose of moving the client forward rather than diving into analysis.

Background Information

Jenna, a 27-year-old financial analyst, has been working with a coach for six months on a multifaceted program to build confidence at work and compete successfully in an amateur tennis tournament. In tennis, she performs well in training but invariably makes errors in competition that she almost never does in practice sessions. Over the past few sessions, Jenna made these remarks, which the coach noted:

Comment 1: Even at work I seem to clutch whenever I feel someone is watching. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder.

Comment 2: I want to win so badly that I make stupid mistakes because I’m trying too hard.

Comment 3: I hate competition.

In this session, Jenna wants to focus on a recent loss in a tennis competition against an opponent whom she always defeats in practice.

Comment 4: I can’t believe it. I threw the game away. She can’t play anywhere near my level, yet she trounced me yesterday. I’m such a loser.

Adding Implied Messages

Coach: Jenna, it sounds as if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, like someone who is determined to lose.

Connecting Messages and Adding Implications or Conclusions

Coach: Jenna, I can really hear how disappointed you feel with yourself, and I sense from other things you’ve said—like about work and about trying too hard—that when the spotlight shines on you in competition, you “clutch” and make stupid mistakes. There seems to be something in this about not being able to perform well when it counts the most.


Coach: Jenna, I hear you . . . how disappointed you feel with yourself . . . like you set yourself up for failure. Yet maybe there’s another message in this. I remember your telling me one time that you hate competition. Perhaps some part of you is trying to get through to you that how you are engaging in this game doesn’t work for you. You do well in practice because you’re having fun. As soon as you define the situation as competition, the fun exits—and this overaggressive, angry competitor that you don’t want to be comes roaring out. How might you come to experience competition as fun?

Theory-Based Interpretation

Coach: Jenna, I can see how upset you are and how you’re blaming yourself for all this. Things you’ve said to me over the past few weeks make me wonder whether this all might be about a fear of success. You know that your inherent skills are far better than what you demonstrate when you’re competing, and you’ve also said that you hate competition. Yet you continue to place yourself in the limelight at these kinds of events. You do what you don’t like or even hate under conditions that you normally find upsetting, like having people watch you. Then, no surprise, you fail, almost as if you set it up to happen that way. I guess the unknown in this little theory is what it would mean to you if you were to be successful at something that you wanted so badly.

Metaphorical Interpretation

Coach: Ouch . . . it seems like you’re really hurting and upset about this. I have an image of you tying your shoes together before you go out on the tennis court and saying to everyone watching, “Look at me. I’m going to make it as difficult as I can for myself to win.” It reminds me of that children’s story, The Little Engine That Could, except you’re saying, “I know I can’t. I know I can’t. I know I can’t.”

More Excerpts From Foundations of Professional Coaching With HKPropel Access



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