How to Coach Someone Remotely


There are many types of coaching, including academic, athletic, business, diet, fitness, music, and others.  Increasingly, coaches can work with students remotely, thanks to better phone and internet technologies.  If you are a coach, you may be wondering how to coach someone remotely.

First, start off the right way, including an honest assessment of whether you can help the student.  Also, set the expectations for coaching early on, so there is no confusion.  In addition, hone your remote coaching methods to be as effective as possible.  Finally, don’t forget about your students between sessions.

I’ll go into detail about each of the four areas above.  We’ll start off with the beginning of the coaching relationship, and go from there.

Off to a Good Start

Before you ever have a session with a student, there are a few things to keep in mind.  First, you should ask about the student’s goals.

Make sure that you are able to help with these goals.  This includes having the experience to coach effectively in these areas.

You should also assess your personality against your student’s personality.  If there is a clash, you may have “irreconcilable differences”.  In this case, the coaching relationship will not work well, if at all.  For instance, someone who chafes under micromanagement or “bossy” types will not like an authoritarian coach.

In addition, you should determine the structure of the coaching sessions in advance.  This includes things like rate of pay, frequency and duration of sessions, and managing time zones or other challenges.

Finally, you should establish the medium for coaching, and prepare your coaching tools accordingly.  The medium could be anything from phone calls to Skype video conferences to email, or some combination.  The tools of the trade would then be a phone, a computer with a webcam, and perhaps a good microphone.

Student’s Goals

Before signing a new student, ask about his goals and time frame for the coaching.  If the expectations are unrealistic, let the student know right away.  It is dishonest to allow a student to operate under unrealistic expectations so that you can earn a fee.  This is true even if you are a good coach and work hard to help your student improve!

In some cases, a student will insist upon hiring you, even if you tell him his expectations are unrealistic.  Perhaps your reputation precedes you.  Perhaps the student thinks he is an exception to the rule.  Use your best judgment in these cases.  Be aware, however, that some students will blame you for failing to reach an unrealistic goal.  This is true even after you inform them ahead of time!

In most cases, you can “talk the student down” to a more realistic goal, or a longer time frame.  This should be up to the student, but again, make sure to give him all the information you can.  Tell him how much improvement you have seen in 3, 6, or 12 months, in your experience.  Also, tell the student how much time will need to be spent each week, outside of coaching sessions.

Personalities

If you can help the student with his goals within his time frame, then you should think about personalities.  First, you should make sure you know your own personality.  This will affect your coaching style.

Example – Dominant Coach Personality

If you have a dominant personality, then you will likely do well with a student who likes to take and follow orders.  However, you should keep in mind that in the long term, you will want to coach the student out of this behavior.  That is the only way a student will grow: by learning to think for himself and overcome challenges on his own.

On the other hand, there will be trouble if your student also has a dominant personality.  He will want to control the sessions and relationship at every turn.  This will conflict with your style, and one of two things will happen.  Either one of you will break while silently resenting the other, or the coaching relationship will end on a bad note.

If you do not have a dominant coach personality, you might be more inclined to guide students in their journey.  Instead of ordering your student around, you will answer questions and let him learn more on his own.  This will speed his path to independence and mastery of your discipline.

However, some students might be “lost souls”, or are looking for strong guidance to give them purpose.  A coach with a less dominant style might not be able to provide this purpose.

Remember that you can alter your style slightly based on the student’s personality type.  However, you can only change so much from your “core” personality type.  In some cases, the personalities will not match.  In that case, it is best to be up front and tell the student that you can refer him to another coach.

Structure (Rate, Duration, Frequency, Time Zones)

At this point, you have decided that the student is someone you can help and are willing to work with.  Now, it is important to establish the terms of the coaching sessions.  You should communicate your rate: the cost per hour, week, month, or for some other term.  However you decide to do it, make sure that the rate and time commitment are clear.

In addition, communicate the length of the coaching sessions.  For example, decide if you will meet for an hour once per week, or 30 minutes twice per week.  A student who needs more frequent encouragement and feedback might do better with more frequent meetings.  Also, a student looking for faster results might wish to meet with you more frequently or for longer sessions.

Finally, working remotely means that your students could be anywhere on Earth!  Make sure to find out what time zone your student resides in.  Then, calculate the lag (make sure you go in the proper direction when converting times!).

In these cases, it is probably best to decide on set meeting days and times each week.  The difference in time zones will make collaboration difficult.  Always include your time zone (for example,  “EST” or Eastern Standard Time) when you suggest a meeting time in an email or on a call.

Medium

Now you have “signed” your student by agreeing on a rate and meeting times.  It is time to consider how you will communicate.  This will depend on what you are coaching for, and the type of feedback you need to give.  Remember that you can also use any combination of these methods.  Ultimately, you will need to decide what works for you, by tweaking your methods.

First, you can simply use a phone call to communicate.  This allows you to communicate without the overhead of a computer.  Also, it does not require an internet connection capable of supporting video calls.  If you are doing academic coaching, you may be able to walk a student through a concept over the phone.  You can also ask questions about challenges and achievements during the week over the phone.

You can also use email to communicate with students.  This is a good supplement to phone conversations.  If there is any confusion over the phone, you can send an email with attached pictures.  You can either draw pictures on your computer, or draw them by hand and scan them in.  I find that email is also a great way to send reminders about meetings and work.  You can also do this by text.

In addition, you can use video conferencing, such as with Skype, to communicate.

This method might be necessary if you need to give feedback on a student’s technique.  For instance, in fitness or sports training, you will need to critique and correct a student’s form.

You can also use have a student send you pictures or video.  Then, you can review them on your own schedule.  However, the best feedback will be in real time, so that a student can improve right way.  After all, you don’t want a student to spend even one extra day using the wrong form!

Tools of the Trade

The tools you need will depend on what you teach, and how you communicate.  Obviously, you need a cell phone for calls.  You need a computer and an internet connection for email.  The internet connection should be strong for video conferences.  If you are going to scan in handwritten plans or pictures for your students, then you should have a scanner or copier.

In addition, you should have some type of software that allows you to keep track of students.  This will make it easier to log session information and update plans between calls.

Finally, you should consider some type of billing software.  First, this will allow you to keep track of the session time and hourly rate for each client.  You can also keep track of what you have charged, and what you still need to bill for

You can certainly keep track of this information with pen and paper.   However, a software system will make it easier on you.  Also, some of this software “talks” directly with tax software like TurboTax.  This will make your life easier when tax season rolls around in April!

Expectations for Coaching

Before you start working with a student, you should make your expectations clear.  Sometimes, you might need to remind the student along the way.  Making expectations clear and sticking to them prevents you and the student from wasting each other’s time.

Considerate Use of Time

It is inevitable that someone will have to cancel or reschedule eventually.  When you need to reschedule, give your student as much notice as possible.  Use email, text, and/or voicemail to let him know.  On the other hand, ask your student to give you at least a day’s notice for cancellations.  That way, you can take on another student, or another commitment, during that time.

In the case of repeated cancelled or rescheduled meetings, consider whether the student is taking the coaching seriously.  You should also consider charging for cancelled sessions with less than 24 or 48 hours’ notice.  If there is no penalty, then your student might start to cancel and reschedule meetings carelessly.

You should encourage your student to make the most of the time you have in coaching sessions.  In addition, you should also be fully present, and 100% engaged in the meeting.  If a student does not have enough questions to fill up the available time, encourage him to think of more for next time.  You can also have some questions prepared to prompt your student to share more about the struggles of the week.

Accountability

As a coach, you should be a knowledgeable resource for your student.  You should also go the extra mile to answer any questions to the best of your ability.  In addition, you should take any other responsibilities seriously.  This includes sending out session summaries, answers to questions, and billing statements.

Remember that accountability is a two way street – and remind your student of this!  For every hour spent with you, your student may need to spend 3, 5, or even 10+ hours per week practicing on his own.  As the coach, your job is to help your student to improve as quickly as possible.  The student’s job is to put in the time to practice consistently!

Commitment

If you agree to coach a student for a length of time, be sure that you can reasonably commit to that.  Leaving your student in the middle of a program is a terrible way to build your reputation!  Even if you want to quit coaching and take a job, you should make plans to finish coaching your current students.  If you cannot do that, then make arrangements to find another coach to fill the gap.

You should also impress upon your student the importance of making a commitment to improve.  The student should have a goal in mind, believe he can achieve it, and take steps necessary to make it happen.  As the coach, you will help to set a realistic goal, break it into steps, and guide the student along the way.

Preparation

You and your student should both be completely prepared for meetings.  As the coach, you need to review the student’s profile and any relevant information that you have recorded.  Prepare questions for the meeting, which should be specific to the student and his goals.  Make the questions open-ended, or ask questions that have follow-ups.

Example

Did you have a chance to try the strategy that we discussed at our last meeting?

Did you notice any improvement?  What specifically improved?

Was there anything that got worse, or did not improve?  What specific things?

Knowing what you want to discuss in advance will give the meetings structure, and will prevent wasted time.  You can also send some of these questions to your student before the meetings.  It is always a good idea to think about what went well, what went wrong, and how to improve.

Your student should prepare by reflecting on some of the questions mentioned above.  He should also bring relevant questions to the meeting.  You might also ask your student to keep a log of how much time he spent practicing each day.  Keeping track of the time might reveal the time of day that is best for the most rapid improvement.

No Distractions

Finally, both you and your student should commit to a meeting free of distractions. If you are chatting via Skype, this means no YouTube, Pandora, or anything of the sort running in the background.

The only exception for either coach or student is a spreadsheet or text file with your meeting notes.  You should also silence or turn off your phone!

The same applies to phone meetings.  You and your student should not be eating, doing laundry, or multitasking in any way while on a call.

Even when sending out emails to your student, don’t try to multitask.  Otherwise, the content or message of the email could be unclear or confusing.  This will annoy your student, and it will waste time for both of you.

Remote Coaching Methods

To coach someone remotely, there are a few different methods you can use to be more effective.  First, you should be prepared with an agenda, but you should let the student start off the conversation.  You should also help the student to develop habits that support his goals.

In addition, you should encourage the student when he does good work, but also call him out when he falls short of a commitment.  Finally, you should act as a mirror, so the student can see his own strengths and weaknesses.  Eventually, you won’t tell him what is wrong; instead, you will lead him along so that he can see it for himself!

Let the Student Start

It can be tempting to push your agenda on the student.  You are the coach, after all.  However, make sure that you answer at least one big question before jumping in to your agenda.  This shows the student that you are sensitive to his concerns.  It also allows you to see where the student is struggling, or where his doubts are coming from.

Habits Lead to Goals

It is important to set goals, so that you and your student know when your work is complete.  However, setting goals without a plan for action is destined for failure.

For instance, let’s say your goal is to maintain a clean house.  Keeping a clean house is not an event, but rather, it is a lifestyle.  You can either spend one day of the week cleaning extensively, or spread out the tasks throughout the week, a little each day.  If you only clean up when the mess becomes overwhelming, you are not keeping a clean house.  You are reacting to what you don’t want: a messy house.

The same can be said for gaining muscle, or losing weight, or any other goal.  You should not be passive until you see something you don’t want, and then fight it.  Instead, you should set up actions that become a habit.  These habits should support your goals, and make them happen automatically.

Example

Your student wants to lose 20 pounds, and keep the weight off.  A bad plan would be “run every day until the weight comes off.”

Instead, you should create an action plan that, when repeated, will create the right habits.  These habits will lead naturally to weight loss.  In addition, if your student keeps with the habits, he will keep the weight off, as intended.

In this case, you might tell your student to run every other day, and lift some weights every other day.  He should spend one hour per day exercising.  This should be done at the same time every day, followed by a healthy breakfast.  He should also plan for a healthy lunch and dinner.

All of this would be overwhelming at once, so you might start off with running every other day until the habit is established.  Then, add in weightlifting every other day.  Then, add in healthy breakfasts, and so on, until the healthy habits are firmly in place.  If the goal has not already happened, it will happen in time, with the right habits in place.

Helping your students to see how the right habits lead to making goals can help them in other areas of their lives: career, relationship, and so forth.

Encourage and Call Out

You should encourage your student in his goals, and praise him when he does good work.  However, don’t let repeated slip-ups go unnoticed.  If you pretend nothing is wrong, that does not serve you or your student.  Call out the student when he makes mistakes, and help him to improve.  If practice is not leading to improvement, find out why by asking the right questions.

Act as a Mirror

As a coach, part of your job is to help the student grow in such a way that the general skills he learns can be used in many areas of life.  One such skill is reflection, or seeing things as they really are.  This includes seeing yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.

At first, you may need to call out a student on weaknesses and mistakes, as stated previously.  However, in time, the student will be able to recognize his own mistakes.  Allow him to do this, and ask questions that “lead the witness” ever so slightly.

For instance, ask the student to walk you through a technique.  When forced to slow down and think about the steps, he might realize what is going wrong.  Then, you can discuss how to improve.

Between Sessions

The time between sessions is just as important as the time spent in sessions.  As the coach, you can send out reminders, update student information, prepare answers to questions, and plan the next meeting.  As the student, you can spend time practicing what you learned, think up questions for the next session, and reflect on your performance during the week.

Reminders and Clarification

Between sessions, you should send reminders to your student.  This could mean reminders about strategies, tactics, and techniques you discussed.  It could also mean reminders about preparing the next meeting by reflecting on this week’s performance.  If your student has any questions, you should respond promptly with clarification.  It is worth making a note of these questions on the student’s profile.

Profile Updates

I already mentioned that you should keep a profile for each student.  This includes information such as duration and frequency of meetings, rate of pay, goals, action plan and habits, and weekly progress.  You should also log meeting notes along with the student profile, so that you can update accordingly.

For instance, one of your students meets a goal and sets a new one.  You should keep track of that in the meeting log.  Then, update his profile to reflect the new goal.  It is a good idea to send some version of the meeting log to your student each week.  It does not need be as detailed as the version you keep.  However, it can give the student a good recap of the meeting, and remind him of what to work on.

Have an Agenda

An agenda helps you to run smoother meetings.  First, it gives you an outline of what you want to discuss during the meeting.  An agenda also keeps you on track, since you don’t spend too much time on any one topic.  In addition, it gives you time to answer student questions at the beginning and end of the session.

If you sometimes run out of time during meetings, it is a good idea to rank the items by importance.  You can always send an email with information about less important items later.

Write Notes and Reflect

This is really for your student, but as the coach, it is your job to remind him to do this!  Practice makes perfect, but you will gain much more from practice when it is mindful.  When something goes well, think about the causes.  When a mistake is made, think about the source of the error.

Look for repeated mistakes, and think about how you can prevent these mistakes from happening.  It all comes down to habits, so think about establishing repeatable actions that will help to prevent these mistakes.

Conclusion

Remote coaching can work well, when done correctly.  Some students may be hesitant to hire a remote coach.  They might think that they will not receive the same level of care and feedback as they would in person.

It is your job to leverage technology to provide the best experience possible, and be available to your students.  If you want to learn more about the equipment I use, check out my post on the best telecommuting tools.

I hope this answers some of your questions about remote coaching.  Please leave any comments below.

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