Carl Rogers, a preeminent American psychologist of the second half of the 20th century, stated, “If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur” (Rogers, 1961, p.33).
He was making a bold assertion about the power of extraordinary helping relationships in general, (not just therapists) to do more than teach but to facilitate transformation from those seeking healing from illness and distress to those seeking enhancement of their normal human capabilities for work, sport or living well. He was promoting the view that when a person (you) are immersed in this kind of extraordinary helping relationship you are much more likely to experience a natural urge to seek, to try new things, to learn, to grow, and develop in positive ways, much more energetically than you would without this kind of attention.
It doesn’t take much experience with coaching adults in swimming to notice that most of our clients regard their swimming practice as much more than an exercise or sport but as a vital part of their physical and mental vitality. This makes the coach more than an instructor in how to move and train, but also in how to focus on what matters and how to respond to ups and downs of life that are represented in the athletic experience. This places the coach in a position to accompany and support a student as they go through a sometimes difficult and unsettling experience of physical and mental change and growth.
Rogers (1957; 2007) points to three features in helping professionals that enable them to create this extraordinary kind of helping relationship which can be readily seen in an extraordinary coaching relationship: empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard.
Empathy is the coach’s ability to sense some important parts of what you (the student) are experiencing and their ability to communicate this understanding to you in a way that makes you feel understood.
Congruence is the coach’s ability to be secure enough to show you on the outside what he/she is thinking and feeling on the inside regarding your person and progress as a student. They can be genuine and transparent in a tactful way that is helpful to your learning process.
Unconditional positive regard is the coach’s genuine open, accepting, warm, caring and non-judgmental attitude toward you that doesn’t require hiding or faking anything. You can feel safe to be vulnerable in your learning process with this professional.
When the skills you need to acquire and the conditions you need to prepare for are fairly easy for you, then you may not need something exceptional from the professionals who are trying to help you with that. But when you are facing greater internal or external challenges on the path to your goal, when improvement in performance may require changes in your inner being that provoke a sense of vulnerability, the quality and depth of relationship with a skilled coach can make a tremendous difference in helping you make those changes more easily. A coach who embodies these features noted above would be one who is more suited to accompany and support you on that journey.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a human. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Rogers, C. R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2), 95–103.
Rogers, C. R. (2007). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 44(3), 240–248.