Support During Meetings – The Role of a Coach

Christie Renick/ November 17, 2014/ Adult Allies, General

Often, the hardest part of being an adult advisor or ally is knowing when to step in and when to let youth try to work through challenges or conversations on their own. Sometimes it is hard to trust the process of youth development, particularly because it may take days, weeks, months, or even years for young people to become strong leaders. However, thinking of the adult role as a “coach” may help. For the most part, a coach’s work is done off the field in practice before the game and by debriefing after the game. Good coaches make sure the team has the needed skills to accomplish their goals to the best of their ability prior to taking the field.

This is the same concept in effective youth development. As adult advisors and allies, the bulk of the work is done outside of meeting time helping youth prep, letting them learn by doing, debriefing with them after, and continuously encouraging and helping youth practice new skills. For additional resources on the roles of adult advisors and allies, see FYA’s other resources in the Adult Allies and Youth Development Series.

However, there is also important work to be done during meetings as well!

Of course this analogy is not quite the perfect fit, because unlike a sports team, in youth development adults do not sit back and solely observe from the sidelines, but the point is that neither do they jump in to “save the day”. The roles of the adults in the room may vary day to day and by person, but they may include the following: asking questions to help people more clearly explain what they are thinking; giving a suggestion on how to move forward if the group gets stuck; respectfully reminding the group of the goal if people get sidetracked; or if a facilitator gets stuck and looks to an adult for help, the adult ally may ask a prompting question to remind the facilitator of what s/he had planned to do. For each adult this looks different; however, the goal is to draw out the ideas of the youth rather than to tell them the next steps or the best plan of action. And don’t forget, relationships between youth and adults go a long way in being able to be an effective coach.

As adult allies, there are 3 key roles during meeting time: Support, Encouragement, and Relationship Building.

Support youth facilitators:

  • Keep everyone on track
  • Help maintain a respectful environment
    • Make sure there is space for everyone to talk and there is a safe environment to do so

Continued …

  • If facilitator is stuck…
    • Use prompting questions to help her/him remember what s/he had planned
    • If s/he is still stuck, use judgment based on the individual relationship with the facilitator on how to support her/him and remind her/him of the plan s/he created

Encourage critical thinking:

  • Let youth talk first
  • Wait to see if any youth offer counter points, ask clarifying questions, or propose solutions before jumping in with these points
  • Ask questions to…
    • Encourage youth to elaborate on ideas that may need more explanation
    • Engage everyone
    • Support realistic goals
      • The youth may have different goals and priorities than the adults would have and that’s okay, it’s even great (this is why they need to be at the table)
      • If they have goals that are incredibly lofty, ask questions to encourage them to think about possible strengths and challenges to their plan
      • If they decide to continue with the plan as is, it can always be modified later; encourage them to step up to meet the challenge they have set for themselves

Build relationships:

(Some of this is done outside of meetings, but is reflected during meeting time as well)

  • Relationships are built on trust, be sure to follow through with commitments, admit mistakes, and model respectful communication styles
  • Be the cheerleader of all of the youth and their ideas, despite having stronger relationships with some youth, or feeling that some ideas are stronger than others
    • Be mindful of being supportive of all youth by encouraging and applauding their participation
  • Reach out to quiet youth before and after meetings, putting them on the spot in a meeting, might discourage or embarrass them
  • Connect with all youth outside of meeting times when possible
  • Have real conversations and provide genuine feedback
    • Compliment them on what specifically they did well
    • In private during the debrief, help them to identify what they can work on the next time (if the event is emotional or exhausting the debrief can happen at a later time when they can think more clearly)