BRIDGING THE GAP, PART III: A Coaching Revolution

Dr. Gabrielle Fundaro, PhD, CISSN, CHC @vitaminphd

Shannon Beer, MNU-Certified Flex Success Coach, LLB @shannonbeer_


“You don’t want it bad enough.”

“No excuses!”

“It’s not my job to motivate you.”

These unfortunately familiar phrases represent an arguably problematic, adversarial relationship between coaches and their clients. Some call it ‘tough love,’ ‘old school,’ or ‘honest,’ and while those might be true, the important question is, “Is it helpful?” Does this attitude actually lead to behavior change which translates to long-term adherence and success? Some might argue either way, but in order to raise the standards of an industry in which we’re all invested, we need to look beyond our personal beliefs and preferences. Paradigm shifts are occurring in the health, wellness, and fitness industries, and we have an opportunity to build momentum along a trajectory to a new dynamic between ourselves and our clients.


Envisioning a Comprehensive Coaching Paradigm

The Traditional Model of Coaching

The traditional model of coaching mirrors the traditional model of healthcare1. The coach is viewed as the expert that tells the client what to do, often using a one-size-fits all approach and ignoring the client’s unique barriers to change as well as their strengths and innate capacity to do so. This deficit attitude assumes, dichotomously, that the client must receive answers and motivation from the coach, with the onus placed on the client to simply comply with the coach’s requirements or else fail. The very normal experience of ambivalence--wanting two opposing things and feeling stuck at odds between them--is pathologized as a lack of compliance or inadequate willpower, motivation, and self-control. Thus, the coach experiences frustration and the client experiences shame. Even if short-term goals are met, this type of extrinsic motivation results in poor long-term outcomes and generally reduced well being 2,3. This isn’t to say that coaches have bad intentions; we can even go so far as to assume that all coaches want to see their clients succeed. However, good intentions are merely one factor in a diverse set of attitudes, skills, and abilities required for effective coaching. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) explicitly states that coaches must understand the psychology of self-management and motivation to effect change in their clients. Simply providing information is unlikely to result in even short-term behavior change. While accurate information is essential to effective coaching, it must be provided within the context of a quality coach-client relationship that can foster learning and development. Education is important, but using information in heavily persuasive and prescriptive manners can actually increase client ambivalence and resistance to change4. It should be stressed that even a client who wants to pursue a healthy lifestyle will exhibit ambivalence about the behaviors they want to perform.5 Simply providing a meal or exercise plan may not lead to action on the part of the client, even when they are ready for change, and nor should we expect it to. Reliance on willpower alone to comply with prescriptive coaching guidelines is similarly ineffective, as seen in response to the “Just Say No” campaign and abstinence-only sexual education, neither of which curtail drug use or adolescent sexual activity6. Ironically, clients and coaches have internalized the idea that willpower is something of a quantifiable resource that can be mustered by sheer force of will, resulting in the cyclical pursuit of something far more complex. The traditional approach fails to support healthful behavior change because it neglects the involvement of the client’s internal, cognitive, emotional environment.

A Paradigm Shift

Fortunately, a paradigm shift is taking place across a variety of industries, from clinical healthcare practice to online coaching. The rise of health coaching and the establishment of accrediting bodies in fitness, health and wellness have shifted the traditional model toward a more client-centered, holistic practice. According to the International Consortium for Health and Wellness coaching, a health coach should, “...partner with clients seeking self-directed, lasting changes, aligned with their values, which promote health and wellness and, thereby, enhance wellbeing. In the course of their work health and wellness coaches display unconditional positive regard for their clients and a belief in their capacity for change, and honoring that each client is an expert on his or her life, while ensuring that all interactions are respectful and non-judgmental.7” Not all coaches identify as health coaches, but health--defined by the WHO as a state of mental, physical, and emotional well-being rather than simply the absence of disease--is foundational and essential to performance and longevity even in physique sports8. The concept of flourishing health builds on this idea, defined by Dr. Lynn Soots as, “...the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life (n.d.)9.

To successfully sustain change, the client must be fully present and engaged in the process, cultivating a shift from dependence to autonomy and self-efficacy10. To understand behavior change, we must first understand how and why behaviors form, hence the distinction between external and internal environments. A coach must also be equipped with an extensive and dynamic set of industry knowledge and skills, along with cultural awareness, in order to facilitate behavior change across a broad spectrum according to the needs and preferences of the client. Identifying ‘what’ behaviors a client could engage in is a simple task; identifying the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ is far more complex. Barriers to change can come from within and are often the most challenging to overcome. It is this complexity and deeper understanding that forms the foundations of Comprehensive Coaching © and fosters a client’s intrinsic motivation for change.

Foundations Of Comprehensive Coaching © 

The Comprehensive Coaching © model addresses the client’s internal, cognitive, emotional environment by encouraging the client to be an active partner in the relationship. Emphasis is placed on effective communication and by establishing agreement and informed consent. Unlike in the traditional model, a Comprehensive Coach distinguishes between adherence and compliance, whereby adherence requires a client’s agreement to the recommendations and compliance does not. 

Adherence: attachment or commitment to a person, cause, or belief.

Compliance: the action or fact of complying with a wish or command.

This distinction is important; compliance can often result in short term success but is likely to be ineffective, or even harmful, long term. There may be a time and a place for compliance, such as engaging in a bodybuilding prep with informed consent, but adherence is necessary for facilitating long-term, adaptive behaviors. Shifting from compliance to adherence fosters autonomy by giving the client the option to voice their preferences and ultimately make their own choices.

Common factors affecting adherence include a lack of coach/client communication, psychological distress and difficulty with motivation, self-efficacy and self-esteem - none of which can be overcome with persuasions and prescriptions11. A Comprehensive Coach assists the client in uncovering a more valuable source of motivation and recognises that coach-related factors may impact this shift for better or for worse. Through the provision of guidance and support, rather than blame and shame, the Comprehensive Coach empowers the client to engage in goal-directed behavior. Comprehensive Coaching is defined as:

"A conscientious approach to coaching which facilitates changes in client’s internal environment to empower them to confidently, independently, and intentionally respond to external challenges with beneficial adaptations in order to flourish."

A Comprehensive Coach establishes an alliance with the client by addressing the practical and psychological aspects of change, leading to lasting results that promote individual flourishing. The proposed coaching paradigm encompassess a holistic approach to health that expands far beyond the physical domain, giving clients the tools they need to initiate change from the inside out.

Comprehensive Coaching © borrows from positive psychology, self-determination theory, acceptance and commitment therapy, the transtheoretical model of change, motivational interviewing, and cognitive behavioral coaching techniques to catalyze and facilitate behavior change, thus fuelling a paradigm shift from authoritative to collaborative coaching. While it is beyond the scope of this article to cover each of these philosophies in depth, in the final installment of this article series, we will provide a brief overview and application of each as they’ve consistently appeared as integral aspects of the coaching process.

Envisioning the Future of Comprehensive Coaching ©

Our conceptualization of Comprehensive Coaching © is a response to the clear need for:

  • The use of evidence-based practice: integration of research evidence, personal experience/expertise, and a client’s values, preferences and circumstances12.
  • The avoidance of dogmatic approaches to specific styles, such as only implementing IIFYM. Not only is a Comprehensive Coach nutritionally agnostic, but they are impartial to the approach taken to implement, monitor and track the client’s choice of approach.
  • Employment of the framework of Intentional Eating: The client’s informed,  reasoned decision to adopt a way of eating that lies at the intersection of their preferences, needs, and goals.
  • The ability to assist with intentional weight-focused and weight-neutral goals in manners that prioritize client well-being and, when applicable, longevity in their sport. 
  • Upholding a strong set of ethics and the principle of Primum non nocere, i.e. "First, do no harm".

In summary, we have identified the shortcomings of the traditional coaching model: it ignores a client’s unique barriers to change and resolves a coach of their responsibility to assist a client in finding their own intrinsic motivation. We have illustrated the need for improvement and proposed the Comprehensive Coaching © Model as a means of promoting positive, adaptive behaviors and enhancing client outcomes. The final article in the Bridging The Gap series dives into the principles and the practices of Comprehensive Coaching © to elucidate how and why this model can be used by practitioners wanting to improve the standards of the industry and champion sustainable, long lasting change.


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  2.  Partridge, Julie & Elison, Jeff. (2011). Shame in sport: Issues and directions. Social and Psychological Issues in Sports. 115-134. 
  3. Theory – (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2020, from
  4. Rollnick, S., Fader, J. S., Breckon, J., & Moyers, T. B. (2019). Coaching athletes to be their best : motivational interviewing in sports.
  5. Clifford, D., & Curtis, L. (n.d.). Motivational interviewing in nutrition and fitness.
  6. Duckworth, A. L., Milkman, K. L., & Laibson, D. (2018). Beyond Willpower: Strategies for Reducing Failures of Self-Control. Psychological Science in the Public Interest : A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 19(3), 102–129. 
  7. ICHWC Code of Ethics (Updated. (2017).
  8. Helms ER, Prnjak K, Linardon J. Towards a Sustainable Nutrition Paradigm in Physique Sport: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(7):172. Published 2019 Jul 16. doi:10.3390/sports7070172
  9. Flourishing in Positive Psychology: Definition + 8 Practical Tips (PDF). (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2020, from 
  10. Teixeira PJ, Carraça EV, Markland D, Silva MN, Ryan RM. Exercise, physical activity, and self-determination theory: a systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012;9:78. Published 2012 Jun 22. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-78 
  11. Introduction to Health coaching. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  12. Isaac, C. A., & Franceschi, A. (2008). EBM: evidence to practice and practice to evidence. Journal of evaluation in clinical practice, 14(5), 656–659.

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