What Is Coaching? (And my Experience of The Co Active Coaching Model)

Whether or not they can answer “what is coaching?”, every student at the Coactive Training Institute (CTI) begins just like everyone else: in Fundamentals.

The Co Active Coaching Model

Walking into the classroom is your first test of strength and open-mindedness. The room is comparable in size to a small stage but is barely full. The new students’ eyes narrow and drift suspiciously to the circle of chairs on the furthest side. This circle is only adorned by a few diagram posters, hung with blue putty (“tacky”), and the seats are plain and unassuming. They have neither armrests, nor desks. How will the class take notes? 

A waft of freshly brewed coffee inevitably pulls the new arrivals away from their confusion. At a refreshment table opposite the chairs, they begin to pour warm coffee into styrofoam cups. As pale sunlight illuminates the whites and greens of the walls, murmured ‘good morning’s and half-smiles quickly evolve into eager conversations. 

Lorry Schneider is as entrenched in his conversation as the students are in their own, so it would be hard to pick him out as the group’s leader if you didn’t know whom to look for. 

The student he’s chatting with is explaining – in answer to Schneider’s question – why she chose to take a “coaching class”, and he looks as enthralled as if she were telling him how her sister had sprouted wings and married the Queen of England. 

Schneider’s had practice getting people to open up. 

He began his own coach training through CTI in October of 1998. 

So… What Is Coaching?

Schneider is a Co-Active Coach. 

A coach’s job is to guide people from where they are, to where they want to be. 

Put simply, he meets with clients to talk through their problems. 

“Where you are” and “where you want to be” are vague notions, but coaching seeks to fill in the blanks. When coaches discuss a client’s challenges, their aim is to establish what a client doesn’t like about their current life, and then develop actionable goals to change that. 

CTI is an institution that trains and certifies coaches, through the ‘Co-Active Coaching Model.’ ‘Fundamentals’ is the first of their five core classes. After a student has completed these, they move on to the CTI certification process, which provides international recognition. 

Working with a coach is often a process of omnipresent, never-ending, exhausting self-reflection, self-improvement, and self-awareness. 

So why do so many people swear by it?

My First Day of Co Active Coaching Training

When I took ‘Fundamentals’ in November of 2018, I had to learn to be as open to change as clients were expected to be. 

It wasn’t long before my group learned that there were no desks in our classroom because we weren’t going to do much writing.  Most of the space was empty because it was there for us to practice in. 

One afternoon, we all stood in a circle in this space, wearing name tags… which labeled us with a coaching skill. The only exempt student was standing in the centre of us all, as our collective client. 

When our teacher pointed at someone, they were supposed to take over the coaching from the previous student and use their coaching skill to improve the client’s experience. We went on for ten minutes, teasing details out of our peer. Each student stepped into the circle when it was their turn and made space with a cheery smile when someone else took over. 

The skills on our tags were not complicated, just as the steps of a dance are simple – until, one after another, they form a waltz. 

The Co Active Coaching Model offers simple 'dance steps' that, when assembled together into a coaching session, form the 'dance' that is coaching.
Individual coaching techniques are like dance steps that assemble to form a ‘waltz’.

A woman across from me was labeled with ‘Acknowledging.’ This meant she needed to recognize the client’s situation, which would help them feel seen and understood. For example, “It must be hard to prioritize your personal goals when you live with three other people.” 

Each new player swayed cautiously into the limelight, and our chatter, encouragements, and suggestions made up the music they stepped to. 

The man to my right had sloppily written ‘Silences and Pauses’ on his tag. His skill was to not rush into his response and allow silence to fall, so that a client could absorb a powerful thought or feeling. 

Each student’s new skill left a mark on the waltz’s shape. 

My own tag had an acronym: AWGO, or, Articulate What’s Going On. This skill involved repeating what the client had just said… back to them, concisely. We were taught that AWGO often triggers a new thought, perspective, or idea from a client. 

What I didn’t realize would happen simultaneously with learning to be a better coach, is that I would receive skills to be a better human.”

Jonathan Carroll

As in a ballroom, where new steps could be remembered and passed on, we too would recall each skill clearly.

Devotees of the coactive coaching model swear by these teachings. 

I met one such student, Jonathan Carroll, during this Fundamentals class. 

As a long-time coach, Carroll joined the CTI training to hone his skills. Now, he has recently celebrated becoming  fully certified Co-Active coach. 

“What I didn’t realize would happen simultaneously with learning to be a better coach, is that I would receive skills to be a better human,” he says.

Jonathan Carroll recently became a certified Co-Active Coach.
Jonathan Carroll recently became a certified Co-Active Coach.

“I am a different person since receiving this training and use what I’ve learned every day, whether with my clients or with others. I feel very lucky to be living my purpose, on purpose!” Carroll’s energy and passion for the coaching discipline are near giddying and certainly contagious. He exemplifies what CTI wishes to instill in its students: finding your purpose and making it a reality. 

The Coaching Premise – CTI Style

Finding your purpose is the kind of question that humans have been wrestling with for centuries. 

We’ve been theorizing about purpose, be it our own, or the purpose of our species, since Plato, who determined that our purpose was to obtain knowledge. 

The coactive model takes a humbler route, suggesting that everyone has a unique purpose. Co-Active coaches utilize a few concepts in order to learn how to discover what their client’s purpose is.

The idea that “people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole” is a cornerstone of the co-active coaching toolkit. 

  • When someone is creative, they come up with innovative solutions. 
  • When someone is resourceful, they use what’s at their disposal. 
  • When someone is whole, they know that they have everything they need to take on a challenge. 

It’s designed to entice clients. 

As Schneider explains to his Fundamentals students, 

“when I’m working with a client, I’m trying to create a new default mindset that is creative, resourceful, and whole driven. My job is to bypass their saboteur so that they’re accessing their creative, resourceful, and whole side, and living their lives from that place. Which, in-and-of-itself, is incredibly transformative.” 

The Co-Active Coaching “Saboteur”

This saboteur is another concept which coactive coaches use. It’s the doubting voice in your mind, always judging, always criticizing. 

It’s an omnipresent annoyance, but an effective one. 

When you have a big presentation, it’s the one telling you that you haven’t done enough research, and no one will take you seriously. When you start a new hobby, it’s the whisper saying that you’ll never get good at it. When you consider a job switch, or a big move, it’s the list of reasons why you should stay where you are. 

This little devil on your shoulder is trying to keep you safe, playing small, because it cares. It’s well intended. But its impact can have rippling and deep-rooted consequences.

My job is to bypass their saboteur so that they’re accessing their creative, resourceful, and whole side, and living their lives from that place.”

Lorry Schneider

It’s critical to the co-active coaching model that clients are inspired by these concepts. 

If, at your lowest point, you can manage to believe that you are creative, resourceful, and whole, and that the saboteur is just a part of you which can be overcome, you can keep improving to achieve your purpose. 

Cate Creede is a CTI trained and certified coach who explains why the client must internalize these messages; 

“Adult learning is recognized to be most successful when it’s self-driven, self-discovered, and self-defined. People need to be engaged in exploring and defining the change they want.” 

As a leadership coach over the years, Creede felt like she was expected to always have something inspiring and life changing to say. 

Cate Creede is a CTI trained and certified coach
Cate Creede uses her CTI training and certification in her leadership coaching.

Now, she feels confident supporting people to find something life changing in themselves.

I’m an ADHD, Major Depressive… Coaching Client?

Clients who start to see a coach don’t always know what they’re in for. 

I certainly didn’t when, during my ‘Fundamentals’ class, I was chosen for group coaching. 

Lorry Schneider was one of my teachers, and the other was Pat Carrington-House. 

People need to be engaged in exploring and defining the change they want.”

Cate Creede

After asking for a volunteer, I watched them both scan my peers carefully. I only noticed that Pat’s eyes had settled on me when he called my name. His round face and hearty smile were inviting, but I detected a tiny glimmer in his eye – a challenge. 

This session was not meant to hone a specific skill, but to encourage us to bring everything we’d learned together.

The teachers had told us to be honest. 

When we practiced coaching, and we were roleplaying as a client, we were supposed to talk about something real from our lives (assuming we were comfortable). 

Having exhausted all my good discussion topics on previous exercises, I panicked when my first peer coach asked what I wanted to talk about. My hands knotted together, my thumbs twiddled with one another, and I replied vaguely with ‘my mental health.’ 

It was the first thing to come to mind. 

As my first coach, then my second, then my third, pressed me onwards, I revealed that I had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and Major Depressive Disorder. 

One woman, whom I’d gotten to know, asked how taking ‘Fundamentals’ was affecting me. I sheepishly admitted that I felt overwhelmed by so many strangers with more experience than me, and afraid to disappoint my manager since I’d been newly promoted. 

…you’ve excelled in school, you’ve excelled in this class… so why on Earth do you feel like you are not enough?”

I’ll never forget my next coach; a gentleman with a white button-down, striking black hair, nearly two feet of height on me, and a crisp French accent over every word. When Schneider indicated it was his turn, he released a breath of anticipation and leaned forward in his chair towards me from across the circle. 

He recounted the things I’d said in group: 

  • the challenges I had faced
  • the things holding me back
  • the successes I’d made despite them. 

My face was cherry-red when he finally asked, 

“You’re a supervisor with Starbucks… you’re clearly self-aware and working on your health, mental or otherwise… you’ve excelled in school, you’ve excelled in this class… so why on Earth do you feel like you are not enough?” 

The corners of my mouth tilted upwards and my mind filled with embarrassment. 

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The logic that he used to dismiss any muttered excuse I came up with was annoyingly reasonable – I was so grateful when our instructors finally called the session off. 

They told the gentleman that they liked his enthusiasm, but not to go in so aggressively next time. 

He approached me later, to ensure I was all right. 

I curtly told him I was and thanked him for his conviction.

A Little Coaching History: From Oxford to a Scam-Infested Minefield

The first known use of the word ‘coach’ was around 1830. At Oxford university, it referred to a tutor who “carried” a student through their classes and tests. 

Since then, coaching has evolved rapidly. 

The mitosis of subdisciplines began in the last hundred years or so, with at first one, then two, then four, until so many kinds had cropped up that it was hard to tell real professionals from phonies. 

Some folks were only interested in scamming you out of a few hundred dollars with motivational bromides that you could have found on your mother’s Facebook page. 

Though most coaches these days are certified, and trained in psychotherapeutic methods, con artists leave a stubborn stain on the profession. That’s why online news sites like HuffPost and Forbes are littered with advice on how to find the “diamonds in the rough.”

But is Coaching Useful When People Really Need ADVICE?

Isidora Petrovic is the sort of diamond you’d be glad to put in your engagement ring.  She’s been a career coach for more than a decade, bringing enthusiasm and a bright personality to her work. 

However, when she was coaching business students at the University of Toronto, Petrovic took a Fundamentals class with me and didn’t find it as useful as some of our peers did. 

…the type of coaching that’s done at a university, specifically career coaching, is more advising than coaching. Some students need more ‘instructions’ on what to do…”

Isidora Petrovic

“I found Fundamentals interesting…” 

…she told me…

“However, the type of coaching that’s done at a university, specifically career coaching, is more advising than coaching. Some students need more ‘instructions’ on what to do, especially when it comes to practical aspects, like how to find a job, how to write a good resume, et cetera.” 

Not all coaching is the same

Not all coaching requires the same viewpoint.

…and Petrovic found it difficult to pair the ‘let the client do the work’ mentality of co-active coaching with her practical job as a coach. Students could come to her, overwhelmed and uninformed, and her job was to provide them with the resources they needed.

What is Coaching… Exactly?  It’s VAGUE

Petrovic’s story should be the first red flag to potential clients or coaches. 

Coach training and certification programs, like the CTI certification, receive students who plan to be life coaches, business coaches, relationship coaches, financial coaches, and more. Thus, any definition of “coaching” found on their website, or descriptions of their techniques, can be vague and confusing at best – and nonsensical at worst. 

It is an unfortunate symptom of the entire discipline; coaching skills can be applied to almost anything, but consequently the coaching terminology may be too vague to be understood in broad strokes. 

Every coach will face unique, impossible-to-predict challenges. 

Perhaps this is why so many CTI-trained coaches consider the ‘co-active coaching model’ to be a lifestyle, as much as it is a technique to be mastered.

Embracing Your ‘Inner Average-ness’… Consciously 

CTI is a leadership brand. 

They offer leadership training on top of their co-active coaching training. 

Even in the coaching section of their website, they include a list of organizations that they work with and train in leadership skills. 

While it’s proven to be an effective niche for CTI to build into, not everyone is a leader. Nor does everyone want to be a leader, or want to bring the skills they use at work into their everyday life. 

being creative, resourceful, and whole…”

Consider “being creative, resourceful, and whole”. 

Is everyone all three of these things? 

Perhaps everyone has the capacity to build them up, but they’re skills nonetheless.  Skills that not everyone is born with! 

Most of us are pretty average. 

Being asked to solve our own problems, directly or indirectly, may lead to a lot of understandable frustration. 

Even the saboteur – which CTI coaches encourage us to move beyond –  may, sometimes, be a voice worth listening to. 

Even the saboteur may be a voice worth listening to. “

Gabrielle Huston

When we burn out…

…don’t all of us rely on a voice telling us to stop? 

…to slow down? 

…to not take on too much? 

Coactive coaches don’t deny this, but also try to remind their clients that the saboteur is an emotional, irrational, hysterical being. 

Sometimes it acts in our best interests, but the point is to make the decision consciously.

Coaching is a Crutch, But You May Need It

When I was 16, I sprained my ankle and was told to walk on crutches for a few weeks. 

I thought that it would make me seem weak and pathetic, so I ignored the doctor’s orders. Years later, a sharp pain through my foot when I’ve been sitting on it wrong is there to remind me that it never healed properly.

About two months after I took Fundamentals, I started to see a coach. 

She is a specialist ADHD coach with a master’s degree in psychology, and I’ve seen her every week (or every other week) for over a year. 

She has a gray basket on her desk full of objects to fiddle with, like funky rocks, or seashells, or silly gadgets that spin and click. Her hair is a mess of blonde curls, which, on long days, can be enticingly pillow shaped. And her warm smile was the sunlight on my cloudy afternoons. 

In the last year that I’ve been her client, I lost 60 pounds. 

I asked my doctor about antidepressants. 

I bought new clothes. 

I stopped wearing makeup everyday to cover the bags under my eyes. 

I started to watch things other than reruns of ‘The Office.’ 

Coaching is the crutch that many people don’t want to accept. 

They may still go on having a perfectly fine foot without crutches. 

Other people, though, want a little extra support. 

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Gabrielle Huston

Gabrielle Huston is a student of journalism at university in Ontario, Canada. She writes primarily about mental health, video games, and human rights. Find her contact information, portfolio, blog, and other links on her website

NOTE: In order to uphold the Confidentiality agreement which participants of CTI adhere to, all named individuals in this article have given their permission to be referenced.

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