Philippa Thomas Online

Life and leadership coaching

Skiers with tennis rackets. #Coachblog #Coaching


I start training on Wednesday to become an executive coach.

I am excited and I am nervous because I am so keen to do this. The practice of “coaching” has fired my imagination.

These are the best “guidebooks” I’ve read so far.

John Whitmore “Coaching for Performance” (2009)

Jenny Rogers “Coaching Skills” (2016)

Co-active coaching” (2011)

and Anne Scoular’s FT Guide to Business Coaching (2011)

I’ll write more about them as the year progresses.

At dinner with my friend Jane last night, we discovered that we’d both love to learn to coach, and we really “lit up” as we fell over each other with ideas of what we think coaching is all about.  At this stage, I’m going with this formulation: I think it means guiding conversations that unlock hidden strengths and fresh ideas, in aid of goals reached by the client that we help them constantly revisit and refine.  

Ideally, all of these – the goals, the strengths, the ideas – are supposed to come from within the client. Our job is to help them to surface. So, it’s not about being a consultant who analyses and prescribes. It’s about listening properly – deeply, intently – to what’s being said, and then responding.  And probably asking for more.  

How can I presume to do this? I don’t ‘line manage’ a team. I don’t run a budget. I don’t produce anything tangible. I observe and listen and think – and talk and write.

But all the books tell me The Coach is not supposed to be “expert” in The Client’s business.  Really? 

One of my favourite anecdotes comes from John Whitmore’s book, “Coaching for Performance”.  He talks about the concept of coaching originating in sport, and about Timothy Gallwey’s ground-breaking books “The Inner Game of Tennis”, “Inner Skiing” and “The Inner Game of Golf”.  Gallwey recognised that “the  opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one the other side of the net”. He decided that top level sports coaching should be less about dictating technique than helping performers maximise their game.

To paraphrase, Whitmore tells the story of a day when a course was over-booked. They ran out of Inner Tennis coaches. So they brought in a couple of Inner Ski coaches, tucked rackets under their arms, and let them loose on the clients after they promised not to actually join in the game!

The skiers coached the tennis clients just as well.  In some cases, they actually got better results.

“On reflection the reason became clear. The tennis coaches were seeing the participants in terms of their technical faults; the ski coaches, who could not recognise such faults, saw the participants in terms of the efficiency with which they used their bodies. Body inefficiency stems from self-doubt and inadequate body awareness. The ski coaches, having to rely on the participants’ own self-diagnosis, were therefore tackling the problems at their cause, whereas the tennis coaches were only tackling the symptom, the technical fault. This obliged us to do more training with the tennis coaches to enable them to detach themselves more effectively from their expertise.”


The takeaway for this trainee? Bringing a clutch of smart questions and wise advice to the session does NOT amount to coaching.

What IS it then? More here as I try to work it out for myself.


Well here I am. Philippa Thomas, long time BBC news correspondent, world traveller, wife & mum, currently an anchor on BBC World TV.  So, on some of your screens, some of the time, asking questions.  I’m trying to learn some new life skills – and ask a different sort of question – by training as a professional executive coach.  Call this a student diary. All constructive feedback welcome!


Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 30 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, psychology, reading, trekking, and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, coaching @positivecoachi3, and life & travel on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Skiers with tennis rackets. #Coachblog #Coaching

  1. Looking forward to hearing more about your training – you’ve inspired me to learn more about it too! I think you’ll be a fantastic coach.

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