Rising to the Occasion: Discovering the Real-life Power in Virtual Coaching

female hands and apple pieThree weeks after our final session coaching in the Virtual Reality Lab, my students were still animated and engaged as we discussed their experience coaching Linda, the avatar.

Why was this virtual coaching experience such a powerful learning experience for these learners?

Experiential learning through role-playing has always been a consistent part of the coaching classes that I teach. Students practice coaching one another around personal and professional challenges and they give each other feedback centered on a rubric that lists competencies of the coaching mindset and skillset. Certainly, that role-playing experience integrates learning in deeper ways than merely talking about and practicing the skills of coaching.

However, this experience of coaching an avatar—who pushed back much harder and raised the emotional temperature much higher than a classmate is likely to do—took my students’ experiential learning to a higher level.

shared with former coaching students, now colleagues and friends, Wanda Smith and Regan Smith, how I was still in the process of unpacking the experience in the VR Lab and attempting to more fully understand the many reasons for the powerful impact of the experience.

Regan shared an observation from his study of performance coach, Dave Alred, who notes that “elite level sport distills perfectly and most purely the ideas and preconceptions we hold about pressure.” Alred says that sports are a “public portal” into the physiological and psychological stress that extreme pressure wreaks. Though not quite like Tiger Woods sinking a winning putt before millions of viewers, many others—nurses, surgeons, teachers, principals, superintendents, police officers, lawyers, pilots, coaches, actors or bakers preparing a Show Stopper on the Great British Baking Show (GBBS)—perform complex and vital tasks under pressure.

Alred has an eight-part approach to helping people learn to effectively deal with pressure. One of them in particular applies to this learning experience with Linda and why it was so powerful. That element is Behavior or what Allred calls “Big Match Mentality.”

Alred has created a system of purposeful practice management that involves three elements—repair, training and match.

The first, repair, involves working on your technique.

For example, practicing mixing and kneading your dough, ensuring that it is right consistency for what you’re baking, would be a way to refine an element of your upcoming performance in the GBBS tent.

Purposeful practice management at the repair level for a new principal who will be meeting their faculty and staff for the first time could be practicing voice control and projection. They could take a tip from Demosthenes, the ancient Greek lawyer, who, to ensure he was heard in the very noisy courts of the day, practiced his oratory by the ocean, projecting his voice above the roar of the waves.

For coaches, practicing the skills of asking open-ended questions or concisely summarizing a coachee’s words would fall under the repair category.

The second level of Alred’s three-part practice approach is training. In this phase, the performer moves from working on parts of the technique to bringing the performance together in a low-pressure environment.

The baker might make their strawberry-rhubarb pie at home prior to making it in the GBBS tent.

The new principal in training might practice giving that welcome speech to the faculty and staff in the mirror.

Coaching conversations that are role-played with a classmate would be in the training realm.

Finally, part three of Alred’s system of practice—match—involves matching, as closely as possible, the behavior that a performer will experience on the big day.

Bake your showstopper for a group of friends who are competent bakers and ask for critical feedback.

Give the important speech you’re preparing for the faculty at your new school in the auditorium where that meeting will take place and invite principal and teacher colleagues to be your audience.

Match the intensity of an authentic coaching conversation by coaching Linda, the avatar.

I believe I’ve figured out one of the reasons why my students’ experience of coaching Linda was so powerful for them.

When they slipped from asking powerful questions to making suggestions and giving advice, Linda resisted. She pushed back. When she perceived that they were not behaving in an empathetic way, she called them on it.

Her intensity was at match level.

Prior to having the experience of coaching in the Virtual Reality Lab, my students’ learning and practicing of coaching involved refining essential coaching skills and techniques and bringing the coaching mindset and skillset into classroom role-plays, as well as in out-of-class assignments to coach others. Very good training!

Coaching Linda has provided my students with the opportunity to take their practice to the next level. Their practice with Linda took them to Big-Match intensity and that is one of the reasons it has been a powerful learning opportunity.

It has truly been a showstopper!

Resources:

The Pressure Principle by Dave Alred

“How to Get Better at the Things You Care About”, TED Talk by Eduardo Briceño