Coaching for young people is becoming increasingly popular in education or community settings as a way of effectively developing wellbeing and contributing to preventing the onset of mental health problems.

Coaching students in school or college settings is an engaging and accessible way to provide effective early support, and is an integral part of a whole-school approach to mental health.

What is positive psychology coaching?

Coaching is a personalised, usually, one-to-one intervention. The coach will work closely with the young person to support them to set their own aims and objectives for their programme of coaching. 

Our approach to coaching young people integrates Positive Psychology with Coaching Psychology. Both Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology (Positive Psychology Coaching) provide the evidence base underpinning our skills, tools and strategies that support young people to develop wellbeing and resilience and help prevent the development of more serious mental health problems.

Strengths coaching for young people

Character strengths education with young people is about helping them to understand what strengths they have and how to use them in certain situations. When using a language and of strengths as a coach with young people it builds a consistent and evidence-based way that helps develop self-worth, wellbeing and resilience. 

The Via Strengths classification is a useful tool to provide clarity and a common language of these characteristics that can build confidence and self-awareness. When we're coaching young people, we're helping them firstly become aware of what their strengths are and we can do that either through taking psychometric measures such as the Via youth strength survey. This is a freely available online measurement tool that helps young people identify the strengths unique to them.  

When providing strength coaching with young people we often recommend that young people do take the Via strengths survey as part of their coaching intervention. Firstly this is because the process of having a computer programme pinpoint their strengths in the order of strengths that are more strongly present and used at the top and lesser strengths at the bottom can provide valuable personal development insights for young people. 

This use of strengths language helps build self-awareness and can really help some young people who might not be very self-aware to realise what their strengths are in some cases that they even have strengths at all.  Some of the young people that access a coaching intervention might be a bit hard on themselves and might not always be wanting to think about what they're good at, and, or that they even have any strengths. So a tool that provides this feedback can really boost a young person’s confidence.

Other tools a coach might use to help young people develop strengths awareness and help them people identify what strengths they have, this may include looking at a list of character strengths (such as the Via classification),  using some strengths coaching cards or just simply by asking coaching questions and reflecting back which strengths have been spotted by the coach, to help the young person build strengths awareness.

No weaknesses only strength

One thing that is unique about a strength coaching approach is that we don't use strengths in a deficit focused way. This means, we don't use strengths awareness to think about the strengths we don’t have, there are no weaknesses in the Via classification of character strengths. Research suggests that all human beings have all 24 strengths, we just have them to a greater or lesser degree. It can be easy and human nature, thanks to negativity bias, to look straight at the bottom of our list of strengths, or the strengths we don’t think we have known as lesser strengths.

Strengths coaching for personal development 

After building awareness of strengths, the next step is to help the young person explore their strengths. This is usually done through reflection on strengths used in different situations through the coach asking coaching questions and supporting the young person to think about times they have used their strengths and how they helped them. The coach will reflect and feedback on the strengths used by the young person.  The coach may work with a young person to help them develop some activities or tasks that enable a young person to explore strengths further, this may mean spotting strengths in friends and family or asking the young person to find out what strengths other people think they have and give them some examples.

Once a young person has identified their strengths and explored their use, the next thing to work on is how they can apply those strengths in different situations.

Coaches will be supporting young people to think about what strengths they might be using to prepare for a certain situation. Maybe they want to prepare for a sports match or a school play or a speech and for that they need to feel brave and use the strength of bravery. So the coach will help them identify the strength to use in this situation is the strength of bravery so that they can tap into that strength. 

Coaches will also build strength by helping young people reflect on the strength after they've used it. Maybe they overcame a challenge or maybe they're really proud of themselves after tackling something difficult,  or maybe they did something new that they didn't think they could do. Through coaching, we will help young people to reflect on what strengths they used in this situation, how they used it, how it helped them and what they learned when they used that strength in that situation.

What the positive psychology strengths research tells us is that the more we use strengths, the more successful we can be, the more it helps our not only wellbeing and our resilience also academic achievement and performance.

Find out more and next steps 

Developing strengths is just one of the approaches that we use in our coach training course and our coaching support with young people. If you want to find out more about our approach to coaching young people there, please sign up for our webinar series to find out more about coaching young people. 

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