Fitness Coaching and Psychology

A common conception among people is that Fitness and Psychology are subject matter that
have little or no relation to each other. Though there is discussion around the psychological
benefits of exercise, there is not enough said in mainstream media and academia about how
basic application of psychology can benefit the fitness coaching industry.

This is ironical because both these fields:

 Are highly personal, ‘people-centric’ in nature, based on years of scientific research.
 Were established when people felt a need to solve a critical problem, one that they weren’t equipped to solve independently.
 Are based on a client-facilitator relationship
 Work on a specific goal, catering specifically to the client involved.
 Are ultimately concerned with the health of the client, physical or mental.
 Are usually chosen as a career by those who have an urge to help people.

In this article, an attempt has been made to draw parallels between these two fields and
eventually, to cause a certain shift in the perception that mental health and physical health are two separate things, as if disjointed parts of a human being. This will not only benefit the
instructor to see exemplary results but also result in the greater good; a fit, healthy, happy and functional society.

It is imperative to highlight that the first and foremost requirement in coaching and therapy is the knowledge of the subject matter. To be an expert at any field, constant research and education is required. Once this pre-requisite is fulfilled, the following attributes can add a lot of value to the quality of a coach, as of a therapist.

1. LISTENING SKILLS

Listening is not the same as hearing. In psychology, we have something known as
‘active listening’. The three A’s of active listening are attitude, attention and adjustment.
This model is based on the tenet that good listening happens when the listener actually
listens to what their client is saying instead of what they think the client is saying, or what
they want to hear, without any misinterpretations. It is about building understanding, trust
and rapport. This is different from simply hearing a statement and providing the first response that comes to mind.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation; a client repeatedly tells you that they are finding it
difficult to stick to the diet or are feeling deeply unmotivated because of frequent cheat
meals. You may want to immediately respond with ‘It’s okay, be strict next time.’ This will
not solve their problem effectively. Maybe, this client is trying to tell you that they need
tools to be more diligent towards their diet. They will need constant reminders or
repeated check-ins. An alternate approach could be to assess if there is anything specific that triggers their indiscipline and address that.

2. EMPATHY

According to Hodges and Myers in the Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, “Empathy is often defined as understanding another person’s experience by imagining oneself in that other person’s situation: One understands the other person’s experience as if it were being experienced by the self, but without the self actually experiencing it”.

Many a times, clients complain about how disconnected they felt with their coach or that they weren’t exactly satisfied with the response they received. As a coach, it would be prudent to draw from your own experience of failing and succeeding, managing difficult schedules and be reminded of your own struggles. This will help you strike a chord with your clients immediately and make them feel like they can relate to you.

3. Confidentiality

Confidentiality in a mentor-mentee relationship is highly overlooked. Personal information of a client should not be shared with anyone without their permission. This must be engrained in the work ethic of any coach/instructor/therapist. That your client can share important and private information with you is a sign of your success as a coach, however; in no case must it be misused. If such an incident comes to light, it can come across as a sign of disrespect and distrust to the client, hampering the process seriously.

4. Emotional Stability & Self-Knowledge

It is essential to maintain a certain level of physical fitness to be a coach. Likewise, it is also important to maintain a stable state of mind. Awareness of your own self is critical too. There is always a scope of improvement when it comes to communication, coaching methodology etc. As a mentor, you are most likely what your clients aspire to be, a role-model so to say. This comes with the responsibility of making sure you are working on your ‘self’ as well.
You may have your own emotional ups and downs which may warrant attention. Your own well-being is important too!

5. Unconditional Positive Regard

Coined by the human psychologist, Carl Rogers, ‘unconditional positive regard’ is perhaps the most important quality someone in the position of a coach/guide/counselor/mentor must possess. Unconditional positive regard refers to accepting and supporting another exactly as they are, without evaluating or judging them. At the heart of the concept is the belief that every person has the personal resources within them to help themselves, if they are only offered the environment of acceptance to foster their own recognition of this. This means, as a fitness coach, you believe that your mentee is capable of fulfilling his/her goal to the best of their ability and your role as a facilitator is of prime importance in this journey.

With ‘mental health’ being the buzzword of this year, it won’t be too long before we begin to
apply a more holistic approach to fitness and well-being. We can’t preach what we don’t
practice. Therefore, an integrated learning system in fitness education is a welcome change.

About the Author : A psychologist by education and a fitness enthusiast by choice, Saakshi dreams to combine these worlds. Content writing and social media management is a passion that keeps her in the constant learner mode.

references

  1. : Huitt, W. (2009). Empathetic listening. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta,

GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from 

http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/process/listen.html

  1. Grohol, J. (2020). Become a Better Listener: Active Listening. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 27, 2020, from

https://psychcentral.com/lib/become-a-better-listener-active-listening/

  1. https://pages.uoregon.edu/hodgeslab/files/Download/Hodges%20Myers_2007.pdf
  2. Talarowska M, Florkowski A, Orzechowska A, Zboralski K, Gałecki P.
    Obowiazki psychologa w świetle aktualnego ustawodawstwa [The
    psychologist’s responsibilities–legislative issues]. Pol Merkur Lekarski.
    2009;27(159):253-256.
  3. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/unconditional-positive-regard-what-it-is-and-why-you-need-it.htm#:~:text=Unconditional%20positive%20regard%2C%20sometimes%20referred,without%20evaluating%20or%20judging%20them.

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