Diving Deep as a Coach

Moving towards something transformational beneath the surface.

The time between 15 and 17 years old were not my finest.

I got suspended from school 3 times, dyed my hair some terrible colours, got in (minor) trouble with the police, probably aged my parents by 10 years and was generally pretty difficult.

Then something happened. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I suddenly got it together and became a decent, if not spectacular, student. 

Although I kept brushing with the law (this time via organising illegal parties in the woods), at least this time my parents were in the loop. 

My Dad even helped us pull our sound system’s petrol generator up a hill early one Sunday morning.

my brother and I in Barcelona, circa 2000. Thankfully my hair hasn’t been as short since.

A few months after pulling myself out of this teenage trough of my own making, we went on a family holiday to Malta.

I still had an element of that self-centred air of wanting to be somewhere else, but for the most part I opted in.

One day my Dad, my brother and I went down to the bay to try out scuba diving. My Dad has spent his entire career around the ocean – in the merchant navy, working on oil tankers, auditing mega-yachts, and acting as an expert witness in shipping-related court cases. But somehow he’d never found the time to go diving.

We kitted up and headed out a couple of dozen yards into the water with our instructor. 

After the initial safety tips, it was time to practice equalising – the way humans manage changes in ambient pressure.

Long story short, I couldn’t do it.  

Every time I went down more than a few feet, the pain in my ears surged and panic instantly spread to my nose, mouth and lungs. That fight or flight mechanism was real alright. My head jolted back and I thrashed to find the solace of the surface.

After half an hour of trying again and again, I despondently went back to shore to sit and wait while the rest of the group headed out for a deeper dive.

I’ve not been diving since, but the feeling of that pressure kicking in is still with me.


Diving for Coaching

Fast forward almost 20 years and I’m here in NYC training to be a professional coach. Each week I work with a couple of peers – we coach each other for 30 minutes or so and provide feedback.

A key component of the program is the concept of agendas: 

  • A Presenting Agenda brought to the session by a Client; 
  • A Deeper Agenda the Coach can help the Client to uncover; 
  • A Transformational Agenda which is where the biggest shifts can happen for the Client.

If you’re good (or lucky) as a Coach you can sometimes get to that Transformational Agenda within just a few minutes. For most of us it takes a little longer, or can prove elusive.

In these relatively early days I’ve noticed I’m very adept at guiding Clients to the Deeper Agenda, using space, metaphors, and empowering questions in particular.

From this depth there’s plenty to see, explore and better understand. There’s a lot the Client knew existed here but has never got up close to before. 

What’s harder is diving further down. The pressure increases, visibility decreases, and it’s important to know how to navigate the inevitable discomfort and fear that comes with new depths and exploring the unknown.

Most of us can go here but few of us are able to stay at this depth for long. The more we do it the better we get, but staying here with our client isn’t easy. 

We usually have to come up a little earlier than we’d like, but we also recognise that no matter how adept we all become, every diver and their buddy comes back up to the surface eventually. 

We just visit these deep blue places before returning to the more familiar but paradoxically just as mysterious terrain of our daily lives.

It’ll take time to be able to get near the ocean bed, but for now I’m recognising the benefits of simply being able to equalise.

And in coaching it seems to take just one simple (but not often easy) thing to do that: being present.



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