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UK Coaching Team
Rapport Building and Communicating

Guide to Understanding Individuals Within Your Coaching Practice

With this comprehensive guide on the Coach Learning Framework's ‘Understanding the Individual’ theme – jam-packed with practical tips, ideas, and the key points you'll need to start putting what you learn into practice – you'll learn about the crucial pillars that comprise this theme and gain an understanding of your participant's motivations, character and personality and how best to engage them in your sessions

Great Coaching involves placing the individual at the centre of your coaching, so to maximise the impact of your coaching and skills, you first need to know the individuals within your sessions. Understanding who you coach as a person, participant and performer will also enable you to discover what drives and motivates them.  

The case studies in this guide – exclusive for UK Coaching Club Subscribers – will enable you to apply the learning within the pillars, and serve as a focus point by assisting you in the process of creating meaningful connections with your participants and in adjusting your coaching style and techniques to best suit them.

  • Getting to know who you coach as people and as participants: learn to see the whole person and meet their personal needs. 
  • Building your awareness of individual stages of development: understand that a person's stage of development includes their experience and knowledge of the sport and physical activity.
  • Coaching the person in front of you: create a connection with the people you coach to ensure that they feel valued, wanted and more than a 'number.'
  • Environment: explore how to create a supportive and appropriately challenging environment for the people you coach.
  • Motivation: understand what drives the people you coach and how you can use that knowledge to enhance your sessions and coaching practice.


Let’s look at an example: you coach a male U14 rugby team at the local sports club. What does this tell us? That they will all be boys, attend school (or education), live relatively locally to the club and presumably enjoy rugby. These basic generalisations can help you first connect with and understand the people you now need to find out more about. 

There are so many things that can help you to engage with the individuals that you coach. Let’s start to consider these.

Think of the people you coach as a ‘mystery’ to explore, rather than a puzzle to solve. Sherlock Holmes was exceptional at asking great questions, observing and noticing.

As you start to engage and connect with your participants you will build a picture, begin to notice how they act and react to situations, and build a connection with them.


How well do you already know the people you coach? 


Consider how you can gain information about the people you coach:

  • Public traits are shared openly by the person and include basic observations that reveal something about the person.
  • Personal traits are those characteristics that require deeper and purposeful conversations to ‘open the door’ and reveal the insight. These are things you learn by asking great open questions, listening carefully and observing responses in conversations, as well as through interactions with others and their interests.
  • Psychological traits emerge over time as you engage with the individual and begin to connect. You may have heard the term psychological safety; when a person feels safe enough within the environment with others that they can be themselves and open up. This will include attitudes, how they see themselves, how they see and view others and deeper thoughts (often genuine, rather than surface level). These come to light when they disclose/share things with you.

Know Who They Are

First seek to understand, before being understood.

Stephen R Covey

Getting to know the whole person, not just the participant or performer, is crucial. As you gain a deeper understanding of the person and their identity, you can support their wants and needs better and guide them on their journey of development.

Comparing the complexities of people and the factors that influence them to an onion, the more layers you can peel away, the better you understand and connect with the person.

Let’s explore this with the rugby team example from earlier.


  • Do they know others in the team? 
  • How long have they been playing rugby?
  • Do they play at school? 
  • Do they play other sports?
  • How do they get to training?

Now go a little deeper:

  • Where do they live? 
  • Who do they live with? 
  • Which school do they go to? 
  • Do they have older brothers and sisters?
  • Do they play sports? 
  • What do they enjoy most in the sessions? 
  • If they could pick anything to develop and work on, what would it be? 
  • How well do you know their home and family situation?

Now that you have some understanding, you can start to build a deeper picture and consider how this influences their decisions, choices, motivations and how they view the world.

Now you can ask yourself:

  • What brings them joy?
  • When are they at their most motivated?
  • What drives them?
  • What are their super strengths?
  • Who is their biggest inspiration?
  • What role models do they have?
  • What are their values?
  • How did they develop these?
  • How do they like to receive feedback?
  • How do they like to be praised?

The answers to these questions can be sought over time, as you connect and work with the person. Its more than a quick-fire round and the opportunities to find these out, explore them further and discuss with evolve over time. 

Build rapport through regular conversations, and by showing a genuine interest and ‘noticing’ during informal situations. Some of the ‘answers’ will come as you watch your participants in the session. For instance, consider what you may glean at ‘drop off.’ You could learn about how they travel and who drops them off at session, if applicable. 

Similarly, in the session you can discover how they respond and act to challenges, different activities, grouping situations, providing you with the opportunity to do more of the things they respond well to.

Become part of the exclusive UK Coaching Club to unlock this guide and you'll also gain access to 40 templates, podcasts, tips, videos, webinars, infographics, and expert opinions on the ‘Understanding the Individual’ theme of the Coach Learning Framework, including:

Use this guide, and the accompanying resources you'll unlock by becoming a UK Coaching Club Subscriber, to develop your understanding of your participant's motivations, character and personality. Doing this will ensure that you're not only focussing your coaching on areas of greatest need for them, but also that you have the knowledge and tools to support the people as well as the performers.

You’ll be able to improve your coaching impact, get better results and derive greater enjoyment from your coaching.


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UK Coaching Team