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Promoting reflective learning and empowerment through youth coaching

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Abstract

Some young people face challenges in managing society's individualized freedom of choice and requirements. In relation to this context, youth coaching methodology is developing. Knowledge is needed on how coaching can facilitate youth empowerment through reflective learning. In-depth interviews with three youth coaches were conducted and related to a strategic search for literature. Analysis identified three topics; empowerment through collaboration, the ethical boundaries of a coaching contract and coaching to strengthen reflective learning. Aspects influencing the collaborative partnership between coach and young person need to be considered.
Journal of the European Teacher Education Network
2018, Vol. 13, 71-81
Promoting reflective learning and empowerment
through youth coaching
Petra Røise
University College of Southeast Norway
Drammen, Norway
Abstract
Some young people face challenges in managing society’s individualized freedom of
choice and requirements. In relation to this context, youth coaching methodology is
developing. Knowledge is needed on how coaching can facilitate youth empowerment
through reflective learning. In-depth interviews with three youth coaches were conducted
and related to a strategic search for literature. Analysis identified three topics;
empowerment through collaboration, the ethical boundaries of a coaching contract and
coaching to strengthen reflective learning. Aspects influencing the collaborative
partnership between coach and young person need to be considered.
Key words: Reflective learning, empowerment, youth coaching.
Introduction
The growth of coaching can be seen in the light of today’s society being perceived as
hyper complex. The individualised human being must deal with a number of compelling
choices in a society characterised by increasing diversity and change (Sommer, 2012).
Emphasis is placed on the human ability to reflect on and evaluate choices of action in
order to choose a solution (Krange & Øia, 2005). Reflexivity becomes a necessary
competence in order to navigate through today’s society (Stelter, 2009). In this context
coaching has emerged and can be seen as a tool for self-reflection (Stelter & Law, 2010).
Young people are growing up in a time when each person experiences responsibility for
themselves, their actions and the consequences of these actions (Illeris et al., 2009). This
individualisation contributes to increased freedom and choices. Where new forms of
freedom open up for today’s youth, opportunities to fail also arise (Krange & Øia, 2005).
A major challenge in today’s society is to ensure that young people master the transition
from youth to adult, living in such a way that they are able to support themselves and live
independent lives. The Norwegian cross-national Ungdata study shows that the current
generation of Norwegian youth is well adapted, but stressed (NOVA, 2014). The
challenges associated with the problem of dropout in school attendance in Norway are
well documented (Sletten & Hyggen, 2013). This may be an explanation for why
programmes for empowerment are increasingly targeted at youth (Mohajer & Earnest,
2009). Combined with the rise of coaching as a dialogue method in working with youth,
the concept of youth coaching for promoting reflective learning and empowerment needs
to be explored.
On empowerment and coaching
Coaching can be described briefly as a dialogue that aims to facilitate the learning and
action of the person who is being coached, who is known as the coachee. Issues addressed
Promoting reflective learning and empowerment through youth coaching
72
in coaching are related to the personal or professional development of the coachee,
focusing mainly on the present and future (Tveiten, 2013). Key tools used during the
coaching dialogue are open questions, promoting positive prospects and commitment to
action (Røise & Börjesson, 2017). Open questions require reflective competence and
insight into one’s self-identity (Giddens, 1991). They emphasise the ability of the
individual to observe themselves, put emotions into words, justify actions and construct
a narrative about who they are and about their relationship with their social environment
(Aagre, 2014).
Research on coaching youth shows that coaching, which in part anchors positive
psychology, has the potential to make an important contribution to youth mental health
(Norrish & Vella-Brodrick, 2009). An extensive research project from the Netherlands
indicates the important role that coaching can play in preventing dropout from vocational
education (Steeg, Elk, & Webbink, 2012).
The term “empowerment” can be described as “the development and use of the
individual’s resources and powers, as well as counteracting and reducing stress and strain
the individual experiences as obstacles to experiencing control over his own life” (Stang,
2003: 142). Empowerment is about a redistribution of power from expert to user or
coachee (Tveiten, 2007). The purpose of coaching is to facilitate such empowerment.
With their mandates, their beliefs and ideologies, coaches have power and influence in
the dialogue (O’Broin & Palmer, 2010). For example, sports coaches and teachers
conduct youth coaching as part of their work. Their position of power and their
relationships with the young coachees leads to ethical responsibility (Townsend, 2011).
According to Mohajer and Earnest (2009), the relational aspect of empowerment in these
relationships is unexplored and needs further study.
Goal
This article follows up on Mohajer and Earnest’s call and explores potential challenges
in the coaching relationships when coaching youth in particular. It also highlights how
coaching can help promote reflective learning and empowerment for young people. The
following questions about coaching youth are investigated:
What are the ethical responsibilities of youth coaches?
How can a youth coach promote empowerment?
Method and Analysis
This article is based on research findings from a mixed-method exploratory study. The
first data materials of this research project are based on in-depth interviews (Kvale &
Brinkmann, 2009). Three key informants were selected, based on their extensive coaching
education and long experience with individual coaching of youth (Patton, 2015).
Informant 1 worked as a self-employed youth coach, Informant 2 as a teacher in a high
school and Informant 3 was a national team trainer in an individual sport. The interview
questions focused on how they specifically coached youth and the ethics of their coaching
practice.
An interview protocol was used for obtaining information during the interviews.
Petra Røise
73
Explanatory participant information was provided, enabling the participant to feel
accepted as an expert on the topic. All the interviews were anonymised in the transcription
to ensure that the informants could share freely from their thoughts and experiences. An
analysis of the transcribed interview data was conducted with an inductive approach
(Patton, 2015). One of the categories that emerged was ‘Empowerment’.
In order to further explore the category of empowerment in the context of coaching youth,
an expanded strategic literature search was conducted on the databases Eric, Academic
Search Premier, Oria and Oda, using the search terms “Freire, “empowerment”,
“coaching” and “youth”. The search was limited to articles published after the year 2000
and resulted in 89 hits. Articles related to the empowerment of young people with medical
diagnoses and sports coaching were considered irrelevant. The following ten articles were
included:
Blackburn, J. (2000). Understanding Paulo Freire: Reflections on the Origins, Concepts, and
Possible Pitfalls of his Educational Approach. Community Development Journal, 35(1), 3-15.
Cleary, T. J. & Zimmerman, B. J. (2004). Self-Regulation Empowerment Program: A School-
Based Program to Enhance Self-Regulated and Self-Motivated Cycles of Student Learning.
Psychology in the Schools, 41(5), 537-550.
Green, S., Grant, A. & Rynsaardt, J. (2007). Evidence-based life coaching for senior high school
students: Building hardiness and hope. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(1), 24-32.
Mohajer, N. & Earnest, J. (2009). Youth Empowerment for the Most Vulnerable: A Model Based
on the Pedagogy of Freire and Experiences in the Field. Health Education, 109(5), 424-438.
Norrish, J. M. & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2009). Positive psychology and adolescents: Where are
we now? Where to from here? Australian Psychologist, 44(4), 270-278. doi:
10.1080/00050060902914103
O’Broin, A. & Palmer, S. (2010). Exploring key aspects in the formation of coaching
relationships: Initial indicators from the perspective of the coachee and the coach. Coaching: An
International Journal of Theory, Research & Practice, 3(2), 124-143.
Sloan, C. (2013). Teenagers in the Ivory Tower: Engaging and Retaining Traditional College
Students. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 45(2), 35-39.
Stelter, R. (2009). Coaching as a reflective space in a society of growing diversity Towards a
narrative, postmodern paradigm. International Coaching Psychology Review, 4(2), 209-219.
Stelter, R. & Law, H. (2010). Coaching narrative-collaborative practice. International Coaching
Psychology Review, 5(2), 152-164.
Watts, R. J., Diemer, M. A. & Voight, A. M. (2011). Critical Consciousness: Current Status and
Future Directions. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, (134), 43-57. doi:
10.1002/cd.310
An analysis of the literature was done against the category Empowerment’, which had
resulted from analysing the interviews. The articles were analysed with the interviews in
mind, in a deductive manner. The research focus was on finding similarities or tensions
between the informants’ narratives and the main message of the articles. This resulted in
the following interlinked categories:
Empowerment through collaboration
The ethical boundaries of a coaching contract
Coaching to strengthen reflective competence
Ethical considerations
The researcher’s interpretative framework for the current study has been formed by
practice as a youth coach and a university college teacher in the field of Coaching,
Counselling and Youth Knowledge. The involvement in youth coaching can on the one
Promoting reflective learning and empowerment through youth coaching
74
hand be regarded as a disturbing factor when doing research, while on the other hand this
experience can be considered a resource (Tjora, 2012). Particular effort was made by the
researcher to avoid selective attention or selective interpretation during data collection
and analysis.
Although, based on three in-depth interviews, there are few grounds for generalisation of
the findings, these analyses can act as a starting-point for discussion and the further
development of empowerment through youth coaching.
Discussion
Empowerment through collaboration
According to Freire, “a dialogue requires an intense belief in man, a belief in its ability to
create and recreate, to create and reproduce, believe in its pursuit of a richer human worth”
(Freire, 1999: 75). Coaching is based on such humanistic values. It is based on the belief
that humans have the ability and willingness to evolve if circumstances make it possible
(Gjerde, 2010).
Such a form of trust is a precondition for dialogue (Freire, 1999: 75) and for the
relationship between the coach and coachee to develop. In this collaboration, a coach can
encounter dilemmas and situations that assume ethical awareness about what is right and
wrong in human relations. The relationship between the coach and the young coachee is
characterised by factors such as power, dependence and closeness. Thus we find ourselves
in the ethical landscape by which all relationships between humans are characterised.
According to Kversøy, ethics can be described as wanting to do good and wishing each
other well. Without these elements, the concept of ethics and moral may have no purpose
(Kversøy, 2013: 93). Or as the informants put into words:
I think I am genuinely fond of them, I genuinely care. (Informant 2, teacher, female).
Not deciding what’s best for the person, it’s an ethical point of view. Believing in
that person, all the questions I ask are about believing in the coachee. (Informant
1, self-employed, female).
In the coaching literature, the meaning of symmetry in the relationship between the coach
and the coachee is often emphasised (Tveiten, 2007). Symmetry can be seen as an ideal,
something we strive for but never achieve (Stelter, 2012b: 57). As young people are
vulnerable and influential, new perspectives on the coaching relationship, adapted for
young people, are required. Youth coaching that is adapted to the complex society needs
to emphasise, more than previously described in the literature, a form of power
management between the coach and the young coachee. An ethical challenge in youth
coaching is that the relationship between the coach and the young coachee is characterised
by a power imbalance. Young people who are empowered often show perceptions of high
self-efficacy and a sense of personal control (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004). How can the
element of power in the dialogue be managed in a way that the dialogue contributes to
empowerment?
In this study ethical challenges arose for coaches in terms of being both a teacher and a
Petra Røise
75
coach, or being both the trainer of a national sports team and a personal coach. For
example, the sports trainer expresses that talking to an adult in a position of power may
seem paralysing to a youth. The teacher experienced, when asking students about their
future goals for their schoolwork, that students sometimes gave her the answers they
thought their teacher wanted to hear. She perceives her students to be trained to expect
that teachers want them to increase their performance. When we look into how this affects
the relationship with the young person, we can see parallels with business leaders. A
leader who wants to make use of coaching in his or her role will face different challenges
from those faced by an external or internal coach without managerial responsibility. There
are two reasons for this. First of all, the relationship between leader and employee differs
from that between a neutral coach and the focus person. Secondly, the effect of tools and
skills can be experienced differently by the coachee if the coach is his or her leader
(Gjerde, 2010: 26). Just like the teacher and the sports coach, the relationship is not
neutral. At a professional level, the teacher and the coach need to relate to society’s
mandates. A teacher’s efforts are measured by curriculum goals and the sports coach’s
are measured by results. Both are evaluated in relation to the prevention of dropout. A
pitfall in the coaching dialogue would be if these mandates became their agenda for
coaching with students and athletes. When informants say coaching does not always
work, a possible explanation may be that this is related to their positions of power beyond
the coaching dialogue.
We’re in a relationship where I am perceived as a much bigger person of power
than I am aware of. For some just talking to the national team trainer can be scary
enough. (Informant 3, national team trainer, male).
Besides their professional agenda, the relationship between coaches and youth is
asymmetric in the sense that trainers, teachers or coaches have both specific competences
and adult status that the young person is naturally lacking. Freeing this relationship
completely from this element of power may be an unattainable utopian ideal. But the
power in relationships between adults and youth can be managed so that young people
can be empowered.
Power can be used in either a positive or negative way. The positive possibilities can be
linked to the professional practice. ‘Power over’ is to be regarded as the private, non-
professional demeanour (Damsgaard 2010). A constructive, professional perspective on
power is to use it in a good, supportive way. In a positive sense, power can act by helping
and supporting, searching for resources, finding and using them (ibid). This can be done
by providing space for empowerment and mastery. In this provided space an atmosphere
of trust needs to be created for the young coachees to utilise the personal power that is
made available for them.
Power management is a precondition for coaching to benefit the coachee. Good power
management can be defined by whether the dialogue partners appear to be competent,
coping and active (Kversøy, 2013). According to Freire, the validity of the arguments can
no longer be based on authority, but on both dialogue partners being mutually responsible
for a common learning process (1999). This will terminate a contradiction in power
between the young coachee and the coach. Now, the coach and the coachee are both
experts and non-knowers (Stelter & Law, 2010). In order to apply this philosophical
approach to dialogue, a coach needs to implement an almost heroic act, namely to
disempower him- or herself in order to facilitate space for the empowerment of young
Promoting reflective learning and empowerment through youth coaching
76
people (Blackburn, 2000). A coach needs to be prepared to respect the young coachee’s
knowledge as being as valuable as their own, and be prepared to take on board the reality
of a young person’s life (Blackburn, 2000). Then, the room for negotiation and
understanding of each other’s perception of the world is needed (Mohajer & Earnest,
2009). This concept of reciprocity emphasises the exchange of understanding and
learning through dialogue for both the young coachee and the coach (O’Broin & Palmer,
2010). By taking this reciprocity seriously, the coaching relationship can evolve towards
being more cooperative and collaborative.
Coaching for me is no self-help strategy. It’s a co-strategy. (Informant 1, self-
employed, female).
This attitude provides the basis for learning and empowerment through coaching (Sloan,
2013). A collaborative perspective on empowerment and knowledge development can be
specified by describing the process in a dialogue. Stelter and Law (2010: 160) suggest the
following points:
Both the coach and the focus person are experts and contribute to the process and
production of meaning and knowledge.
All participants are in change mode, where mutual development is possible.
All participants appreciate the knowledge created, while appreciating remaining
differences.
Mutual exploration is based on a generous listening.
The coachee and the coach contribute to a process where knowledge is created and
explored in partnership. In order to achieve such cooperation a coach has to be sensitive,
open, attentive and productive. According to Aloni (2013), these personal characteristics
are the most important tool in all humanistic dialogue.
The ethical boundaries of a coaching contract
The collaborative nature of the relationship between a coach and the young coachee can
be described as a dialogue partners. Such a partnership requires a mutual understanding
of responsibilities and the different roles of the partners. To facilitate this, the use of
agreements or coaching contracts is often used. Such an agreement can be made orally or
in writing, and may concern what the coach promises to do and what is expected of the
coachee (Geldard & Geldard, 2010). Such an agreement can contain information about:
For example, what I promise to do and what I expect from them. That I will provide
structure and they provide the content. And I do not tell others what we talk about.
(Informant 1, self-employed, female).
A coaching contract formalises the partnership and distributes roles and responsibilities.
It can also describe what is implied by confidentiality.
They must be very sure that what we talk about stays between the two of us. I think
that is very important. (Informant 3, national team trainer, male).
The informants emphasise confidentiality as a precondition for trust and the willingness
of young people to disclose. Youth expect confidentiality and loyalty in the counselling
relationship in the same way that they expect it from peer friendships (Geldard & Geldard,
Petra Røise
77
2010). But confidentiality is also linked to ethical challenges. On the one hand,
confidentiality is a precondition for trust and productive collaboration. On the other hand,
a coach can gain insight into aspects of the young coachee’s life that are not suitable for
coaching. A coach may lack the competence or a mandate to be a suitable dialogue
partner, or the situation may not be suitable for a coaching approach. The confidentiality
that a coach can offer is limited and one needs to be open about that (Geldard & Geldard,
2010). For example, abuse, addictions or other psychiatric illness need medical and
therapeutic treatment. When the coach becomes aware of such issues, he or she needs to
discuss with the coachee a referral to other more suitable counselling. The informants
express beliefs that not every personal issue a young person struggles with can be solved
through coaching. The limitations of coaching and the coach’s confidentiality are
expressed. The importance of dealing with referral in an appropriate, professional manner
is also emphasised.
It’s also important that if I’m going to refer, I’ll tell the young coachee what
information I’ll give and stick to it. (Informant 3, national team trainer, male).
This confidentiality and an articulated clarity about role distribution in the coaching
dialogue is one way of managing the coach’s power and respecting the coaching
partnership.
Coaching to strengthen reflective learning
According to Illeris, reflection can be defined as afterthought. One reflects or thinks more
closely about a problem or an event (2006). Navigating today’s society requires an
individualisation, a process which involves extensive reflectiveness and self-assessment.
Stelter (2012b) describes empowerment as a term that emphasises people’s ability to
counteract their disempowerment and prove themselves capable of doing something
about their life situation. Feire calls this human liberation (Blackburn 2000). “The aim is
social change as well as learning, which makes these ideas especially relevant to the
structural injustice faced by marginalized youth” (Watts, Diemer & Voight, 2011: 43).
Some young people possess the necessary reflective skills in order to make use of the
freedom of choice and opportunity presented. Lash refers to them as to as reflexive
winners. Others seem to experience challenges in dealing with such forms of self-
management and are described as reflexive losers (Lash in Illeris et al., 2009: 50). One
informant described the following:
It’s probably easier for some to ask very specific questions. And sometimes I can
achieve more in a dialogue by being very specific. I have to consider how capable
the coachee is of dealing with the open questions. The young athlete should not sit
and feel stupid. They can do that if there are questions they cannot answer.
(Informant 3, national team trainer, male).
This research shows that it can be challenging for young people to answer the coach’s
open questions and to be self-reflective. They can, for example, respond by answering, “I
don’t know” or being silent. The challenges of dealing with silence in the dialogue, when
young people do not answer the open questions, are described. This is explained from the
perspective that the young coachee does not yet have the cognitive capacity to reflect on
the questions, or that they are modest or just that the open questions are unfamiliar.
I think it’s harder to deal with younger athletes because they may not have the
Promoting reflective learning and empowerment through youth coaching
78
reflective capacity that adults have and they are not used to it either. (Informant
3, national team trainer, male).
In this example the youth that struggle with answering open questions are described as
reflexive losers, incapable of utilizing the coach’s open questions at this point. This raises
the question of if, in the coaching relationship, this perspective can be used as an excuse
by the coach when the coaching process does not produce the desired results? In which
way does this perspective inhibit an empowerment process?
The informants reflect upon this. It is mentioned that some youth do not dare to answer
open questions truthfully, they answer only in order to please the coach. Then it may be
useful to ask again what they want. If the open questions do not work, a coach is not to
continue with the same questions. The most important thing is that the young coachee has
a good experience with the coaching dialogue. When it seems difficult for young people
to respond to coaching’s open questions, it is advisable to focus on getting to know one
another better, enhancing trust and a sense of security, in addition to mapping the young
coachee’s wishes and motivation for the coaching process.
At the start of the coaching, I think on a scale of one to ten, the youth’s trust in me
is zero. (…) They may have had other negative experiences with conversations. And
then it’s up to me to build trust. (Informant 1, self-employed, female).
Through patience and empathetic imagination, the coach will be able to facilitate a young
coachee’s process of learning to reflect on his or her own behalf. Such a skill is the
foundation of all coaching (Røise, 2013). As one informant puts it:
Take it easy, ask an open question and let them sit and think. It takes a long time
before the answer arrives. Sometimes it takes a very long time (...) But, simply
allow time to respond. (Informant 3, sports coach, male).
In addition, the purpose of such an empowering cooperative dynamic is to generate new
knowledge, as well as to develop the ability of interpersonal and intercultural
communication (Aloni, 2013). According to Aloni, this includes patience and tolerance,
openness and attention, self-control and empathetic imagination. An element of learning
in such a humanistic dialogue is emphasised. The coaching dialogue will help to develop
communicative skills to handle self-reflectiveness. In this context it would be
inappropriate and would inhibit learning to use terms like reflexive winners or losers.
Instead, emphasis is placed on the coach’s ability to practise empathic listening, build
relationships, create trust and contribute to simplification and sorting in a normal,
complex life.
I also believe that life is very complicated and in order to understand the
complicated, one has to make it simple. It’s an art. It’s art to turn the complicated
into something simple. (Informant 1, self-employed, female).
Conclusion
This article set out to investigate how youth coaching can promote empowerment and
what the ethical responsibilities of youth coaches are. The purpose of coaching is to
Petra Røise
79
promote empowerment and learning through reflection. This study explores the relational
aspect of empowerment when coaching youth. Empowerment can be strengthened by
emphasising the cooperative nature of the relationship between the coach and the coachee.
Both partners are mutually responsible for contributing to reflective learning and the
generation of new knowledge. By putting this into action the balance of power in the
dialogue is equalised. A coach needs to be prepared to respect the young coachee’s
knowledge as being as valuable as his or her own. This attitude provides the basis for all
reflective learning and empowerment.
The collaborative partnership between coach and coachee is formalised by a contract.
Such a contract states the different roles and responsibilities in the coaching relationship.
It also addresses confidentiality. This study highlighted the coach’s limitations when it
comes to keeping information to him- or herself. The coach has an ethical obligation to
be candid about such potential limitations. Under certain circumstances coaching might
not be the most appropriate method and other help is needed. This limitation, and an
articulated clarity about role distribution in the coaching dialogue, is a way of managing
the coach’s power and respecting the coaching partnership.
Some young people struggle with reflecting upon the open questions the coach asks them.
In order for youth to learn to reflect through the coaching dialogue, emphasis is placed
on the coach’s ability to listen empathically, build relationships and create trust. Through
this humanistic approach, a coach can facilitate reflective learning.
Coaching as a method is in continuous development and more research is needed to look
into how the method can be used most effectively in dialogue with youth.
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... Inspirert av Freire kan dette ses som en handling der forskningssirkellederen må vise «a willingness effectively to disempower oneself in order to provide the empowerment space» (Blackburn, 2000, s. 13). På denne måten er forskningssirkelen et kollektivt emansipatorisk anliggende, også for forskeren som leder sirkelen (Holmstrand & Härnsten, 2003, s. 132;Persson, 2016;Røise, 2018 Linda reflekterer over at denne utforskende tilnaermingen i starten av forskningssirkelarbeidet ga rom for å skape et felles oppmerksomhetspunkt. I Lindas utsagn kommer det til syne at å samarbeide om å finne problemstilling også er en krevende fase. ...
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