Coaching in driver training

The purpose of this article is to provide a starting point in support of your Coach journey. 

The most important aspect of moving towards being a coach instead of an instructor is that the training must geared to the individual learner, identifying and meeting their needs, putting them at the heart of everything. good instructors do quite well at this through experience but we can never truly match their exact needs as we don’t find out what they really are.

Since the publishing of the final HERMES report in 2010 there has been a movement towards utilising coaching approaches in driver training. The reasoning behind this being that if we help new drivers to make meaningful decisions based on a thought out driving plan that they have developed themselves then the roads will end up being a safer place. The majority of deaths among young drivers are not the result of a lack of skill, but a lack of good judgment. They fall foul of driving whilst tired, or under the influence of peers, they succumb to their propensity to accept a higher level of risks than would be safe. We cannot fix this issue with instruction, it will merely become “things they forget” over time. Therefore we need to have them build their ability to become better decision makers. This is achieved by engaging with them on equal terms, them being the centre of any activity or dialogue and helping them to evaluate the outcomes of plans or actions they have laid out, evaluating the appropriateness and effectiveness of decisions and thus develop better road strategies, keeping themselves and all around them much safer.

Early forays into the world of coaching were not really successful as ADIs believed it was about letting learners do whatever they wanted to do, which of course we cannot sanction as we are responsible for risk management as part of the tonprocess, transferring that responsibility to the learner driver over the period they are in our care. We must therefore develop strategies that allow coaching to happen and development to take place in small, easily manageable steps to facilitate learning in a safe learning environment. We must actively involve the learner to a high degree, preferably having them feel ownership of the process and provide the right environment for this to happen. Our aim should be to help the learner take more control of the learning process. 

Trainers traditionally have directed and controlled every aspect, although some trainers utilised a practical training technique referred to as “the Coaching Cycle” which was more of a shared learning approach rather than one being directed by the student. 

The belief was that we had provided a method to actively involve the student as much as was possible during the learning process. The reality, however, is that humans possess huge potential and can achieve things in a much more fulfilling and timely manner if supported effectively using a Coaching approach. 

The following is a poem by Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. It accurately describes what we hope to achieve and demonstrates the flaws in traditional training methodologies. The Poem is as relevant today as it was when it was written many years ago.

“If we wish to succeed in helping someone to reach a particular goal we must first find out where he is now and start from there.

If we cannot do this, we merely delude ourselves into believing that we can help others.

Before we can help someone, we must know more than he does, but most of all, we must understand what he understands.

If we cannot do that, our knowing more will not help.

If we never-the-less wish to show how much we know, it is only because we are vain and arrogant, and our true goal is to be admired, not to help others.

All genuine helpfulness starts with humility before those we wish to help, so we must understand that helping is not a wish to dominate but a wish to serve.

If we cannot do this, neither can we help anyone.”

Coaching in driver training?

Coaching in driver training is encouraging the learner to take control of their own learning. You provide the environment where this is possible by allowing them to feel safe to do so. We must show them they are safe from harm and make them aware of how and why you may need to intervene and how you will go about it and what will happen following such interventions (a conversation to learn from such events rather than finding out who was to blame) The environment you create must be one of equals, with no hierarchy, free from judgmental language or behaviour (harder than it sounds). 

An environment where the learner feels free to express opinions and willing to try things without fear of getting it wrong, where they understand and are comfortable that there is no good or bad, just outcomes achieved and comparisons between what we wanted to happen and what we got, leading to plans being put into place to change what we got into what we wished for. New plans are then hatched based upon your collective experiences and conversations on the matter. 

Driver trainers often think of learners as empty vessels that are filled up with knowledge and wisdom by the instructor, this method works, but it is not really the way humans are designed to learn. Learner drivers are full of information and experiences they have developed over their life lived to this point. They have manual dexterity and spatial awareness developed to a high level and developed a great set of tools that they need to drive a car, but they developed these pre school, it is these pre existing skills we wish to harness and utilise.

They are expert in knowing what works in terms of personal development. They may feel that they do not have the means or the tools to take control, and this feeling is further fed by instructors exerting huge levels of control. We must help them see they have both the tools and skills to tackle things by setting small easily managed steps and encouraging them to take as much control as they feel comfortable with. they probably have a picture of how instruction works that is around “instructor sits next to i you, tells you what you did wrong and corrects it”

It is a fundamental mistake to think they are unable to do things “because you have not taught them yet.”

It is a mistake to see the learner as an empty vessel and all you must do is pour your vast expertise and knowledge into them. Human beings are incredibly smart and have an inbuilt ability to learn from experience. In fact, it is how we are hard wired to learn, it is pre-programmed in us, driven by our incredible curiosity about the world around us. We are driven to evaluate things. 

An example of this type of curiosity manifests itself when we are faced with a situation where a waiter may place a plate on the table in front of us, warning us of how hot it is. We have evidence from the waiter and the fact that we observed him carrying it in a towel to protect his hands from the heat, yet we are driven to touch it. This is our hard-wired curiosity at play, your brain wants to know:

  • how hot?
  • Is it hotter than the last one I touched?
  • how long can i touch it for? 

We simply cannot resist the urge to know. The same principle holds true for wet paint notices, we have to touch it.

This curiosity is our best friend when it comes to facilitating learning, we can set up experiences for the learner that can be reflected upon and learned from. Through our conversations with them in our non-judgemental environment they are able to look at outcomes achieved. We set the experiences up with a clear goal in mind, put together a plan, execute the plan and then reflect and review. The outcomes are neither good nor bad, they are merely outcomes, we are always on hand to keep them safe and will have agreed strategies for safe execution of the plan). We then compare outcomes achieve versus outcomes expected and adapt our plans to make the required changes. They are placed in the role of leader of the process, the person calling the shots and making the decisions. Then through our evaluation of outcomes and developing new plans they evolve their decision making processes to higher levels, as well as taking responsibility for their actions. Their behaviour changes as a result of them thinking that change needs to happen, rather than doing it because their instructor says so. If learning is instructor led, it is weaker and the learning gets replaced by other learning gained through experience after they pass the test, observing other drivers behaviour. If we have them put together strategies based on their own evaluation of events this learning has more chance of becoming hard wired into who they are and are therefore creates permanent behavioural change.

Think of it as trying to get the learning out rather than trying to put the learning in. 

What we want to develop are competent drivers who act responsibly. Responsibility and ownership go hand-in-hand. So if you want the learner to feel responsible for their behaviour  you have to let them decide and truly believe it to be the right choice for them – not for you or the DVSA or indeed anyone else – they have to own it. They do not require your experience to enable this, but experiences of their own. It is therefore your job to help them develop these experiences through practice and discussion utilising real life examples, stories, scenarios or case studies along the way.

Not only does coaching result in more permanent learning it is also faster. The more the coachee is actively involved in the learning process, or better still totally owning the process the more rapid their learning happens and the strength and depth of the learning is also enhanced.

The journey from uncertain nervous early learner to self assured and confident driver is very rewarding for everyone involved in the process. Coaching will boost the self-esteem and feeling of worth of both coach and coachee. It is also great for business as it will increase recommendations and learner retention, as well as helping to secure more business. 

Once demand for your services outstrips diary capacity then this is the point where we would look to increase prices. You may have witnessed instructors in your area consistently charging more than others, high demand for their services is probably how they can demand and secure higher prices. 

Often people doubt their ability to take ownership of the learning process and may have been conditioned at school and throughout life to just do as they are told – without question – to be passive rather than active in how or what they learn, People very quickly lose this self doubt when in a supportive empowering coaching relationship. 

As children we seek attention from the big people around us, the big people reinforce this behaviour by responding in ways that make us want to please them more. We feel secure in this adult-child relationship. It is very easy for learners to slip into the role of child during driver training.

As we grow older we develop a desire to be our own person with our own identity and ideas, to become more grown up. Being told what to do does not fit well with this. We are with them around the time where this change happens while are seeking to gain a driving licence, so we can use this to enable them to take control. We may need to encourage them and to help them break down any barrier they feel in their way. 

As a teenager if it is suggested we neither have the resources or ability to decide things for ourselves, or that they need to be told what to do, may create negative feelings and resentment, meaning they may withdraw from the process, become reluctant or worse still resentful and difficult. Not engaging in the process and becoming difficult to teach (In the mind of the instructor).

The adult-child relationship inherent in “instruction” may be tolerated until they get their licence but it really does nothing to open the learner up, allow them to take ownership and develop their critical decision making skills vital to the production of safer drivers.

It is no surprise then that one of the most important things to enable you to coach them is to develop a different kind of relationship with learners than might be achieved from instruction. We need an environment and a process that develops self worth, self reliance, independence and personal growth. We need an adult-to-adult relationship of equals. 

One of the most common things heard from ADIs is “My learners won’t do that” whenever we talk about learners owning the process or making decisions or being able to self develop. The argument then is that coaching doesn’t work. The reality is if coaching isn’t working then the blame almost invariably lies at the door of the ADI and not the learner. this is often a very bitter pill to swallow for ADIs. 

Coaching depends on having learners who feel they are in control, empowered, calling the shots and only using your expertise as they feel fit. You are a resource that the learner can utilise when they truly feel they need it. The environment needs to be such that the learner feels totally comfortable your questions and feeling they can express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. 

If your learners feel this empowerment they will develop a higher sense of self worth, with higher levels of self efficacy and become easier and easier to coach as a result. They will soon begin to love that they now have the ability to figure things out for themselves. 

Things we discover for ourselves are hard wired into our “map of the way the world works” and are rarely forgotten. We believe they are the right thing to do, not just for the test. So you are not only facilitating the development of knowledge and skill but are also developing their  values and beliefs in relation to the world of driving and their part in it. We didn’t tell them what they should think or feel but by let them draw their own conclusions from their own experiences and those shared with you.

Carl Rogers noted educational psychologist writes:

“The only kind of learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning – truth that has been assimilated in experience.”  

Carl Rogers (A way of being)

One can learn to apply some of the coaching principles and therefore be administering coaching. What we wish to achieve though, is to develop the ability to become a coach, making it the way we are all of the time. In this way you will achieve greater levels of empowerment and self efficacy in your coachee as well as developing your own levels of self efficacy and self worth. This coupled with the potential for more monetary rewards as well as the contribution to our own well being make the journey one worth taking.

To become an effective coach we need to develop three main areas on our journey. 

  • A way of being
  • A set of coaching skills
  • A coaching process

We will look at these three areas in some detail in other articles.

Comments on Coaching in driver training

  1. Paul Quinn says:

    Thanks for this Bob.
    I’m currently talking to a husband & wife team of ADI’s who are both worried about their Standards Checks with reference to coaching (he has failed one already), so again this is clear & concise info that I can discuss with them.
    Thank you

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