Coaching in the outdoors

Coaching in the outdoors

I was prompted to reflect on coaching in the outdoors by the news that doctors in Scotland can prescribe getting outdoors. It made me think about how many outdoor coaching assignments I have had, what I have learned and what I can recommend for you if you are considering using the outdoors as a coaching location.

Now confession here; I am a former outdoor instructor. I know the outdoors quite well. I live in the Lake District and spent a lot of time outside. But I still get it wrong sometimes….

So I coach many different people from different backgrounds. Mostly practical folk – engineers, firefighters, operations, nuclear, manufacturing, outdoor professionals – who are in leadership roles. We meet in all sorts of places depending on the contract and what is right for each client. Some like coffee shops, some like Skype. Some prefer the office, some the phone and some outdoors.

The benefits of coaching are pretty clear (especially if you read our study into Coaching In Cumbria) and the benefits of being outdoors are also so clear as to be medically prescribed. Combined they should be awesome right?

OK, so here are a few things I have learned along the way. Hope its helpful! 🙂

Last week, I met a client for coffee. The coffee was rubbish. The environment changed due to other people in the space and, frankly, was taking us nowhere fast. I said ‘shall we go for a walk?’ and off we trotted. It had been raining. The walk up the hill from the hotel was in long grass. I had on posh shoes and too-long trousers swishing through wet grass but, do you know what, it was the best thing we could have done. With a view of the lake and wind in our faces came some clarity for my client. I had wet feet for the rest of the day though…

Another client took me to one of their favourite ‘thinking spots’. I loved sitting by the river, watching the water around the stepping stones and the dappled light through the trees. We took folding chairs and a flask of coffee. Fab spot. My learning? I got cold so I lost focus… More clothes.

I have used the outdoors for team coaching fairly regularly. With one team, we walked up a small hill in the woods and used sticks and leaves to map out what was going on. Awesome. We sat on fallen logs and worked out a way forward. In the sunshine. My learning? Sunglasses make it hard to have eye contact which can affect my reading of the situation, and how I come across.

Walking along the fellside on a simple path was great. We walked alongside each other and the coaching took the same path. We worked on the challenge together. But then the path narrowed. One of us had to go in front. That changed the dynamics a bit. My learning? Choose wide, level paths or consider the power dynamics of a more challenging route.

Sitting on a bench with a gorgeous view was simply brilliant. The conversation flowed, we were next to one another and could focus  on the distant horizon and talk about intensely personal things with the bonus of the view of the mountains, which gave perspective. My learning? Wet bench = wet bottom.

All in all each of these have been wonderful experiences. Good for the client too, as they not only got out of the office and had some gentle exercise but also we walked together, we worked together, it really helped with the power dynamics, which sometimes can get messed up if you have a desk between you.

So, if you are thinking of coaching outdoors, I recommend giving it a go. But choose your route carefully, dress appropriately and advise your client to do the same!

Lucy specialises in helping practical people drive and thrive through change. She is the founder of the Harrison Network and a registered professional coach & facilitator. We change cultures through #softskillsfortoughjobs . Contact us if you would like more info.



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