What do advanced coaches do? In the second part of my interview with Christian van Nieuwerburgh, we discuss how he and his co-author, David Love, tackled that question in their latest book, Advanced Coaching Practice. Intended to be a follow-up to Christian’s Introduction to Coaching Skills, the new book distinguishes the traits and intuitions of more experienced coaches as they navigate complex, nuanced coaching situations from the essential, fundamental skills that all coaches need. The book focuses on nine common tensions that can occur in the coaching process, and in our conversation, Christian talks through what a tension is, provides examples of each of them, and considers how advanced coaches can successfully address them.


Christian van Nieuwerburgh is Professor of Coaching and Positive Psychology at the University of East London and Director of Growth Coaching International. He is a thought leader in the areas of coaching in education and the integration of coaching and positive psychology. He is the author of Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide (2014; 2017), Coaching in Professional Contexts (2016), The Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools (2017), and the Editor in Chief of one of the field’s leading academic journals: Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. Christian is also a keynote speaker at our Teaching, Learning, Coaching conference this year in Kansas City, where he will expand on the complexities of coaching facing experienced coaches.


Jim: Tell us more about Advanced Coaching Practice.

Christian: It was a learning process because this builds on the success of Introduction to Coaching Skills. A lot of organizations use that as sort of their manual, and the publisher, SAGE – who I love working with – said, “Could you write the follow-up?”

The working title was Advanced Coaching Skills because Introduction to Coaching Skills described the introductory skills. The question we asked was, “What is something that an experienced coach is able to do that a newly-trained coach might not be able to do?” We thought if we could identify the gap, then that would be an advanced skill. The person I went to was David Love. When I went to get some training on being a coach myself, David was my trainer, and I learned so much from him. Both of us sat down, and neither of us were sure what advanced skills were. In the end we decided to call it Advanced Coaching Practice.

By watching videos of experienced coaches, we tried to single out things that a novice coach wouldn’t be able to do. Then we did a lot of reading about what other coaches and theorists said about coaching maturity or advanced practice or mastery. We went to the professional associations, read up on what they said, saw how the term “expertise” was understood in coaching, and brought our own experiences of being coaches for years. That’s where we started writing the book.

We took a kind of coaching approach to writing it. We started with the strong belief that something would emerge through conversation, although it wasn’t clear at the beginning. We had faith in the process – almost that if we do it this way, something will emerge.

And what emerged was what we call the nine tensions. What we are proposing is that advanced practice means having the ability to notice these tensions that occur when we are coaching, having the experience and insights that allow us to be comfortable with them, and  to be able to make decisions in the moment that a novice or an early career coach might not be able to make. What we learned after we finished is these tensions aren’t unique to coaching, but we were looking at them from the coaching lens.


Jim: Maybe you could explain what you mean by tensions and walk through some of them?

Christian: David and I thought about the word paradox, but as we worked through them, some of them seemed more like paradoxes and others didn’t. It’s not a case of either or, and it might be possible to do both things at the same time. But in some way they are in tension with one another, and for people early in their learning about coaching, the tendency would be to do one rather than the other.

That’s what I mean by tensions. There’s two seemingly opposing ideas that exist at the same time, and advanced practice is the ability to accept it – not to be anxious about it or just say, “Yes, both things may be true at the same time.” I think an advanced practitioner is able to make a decision about which to prioritize, or which becomes more important in the moment. Even in the same conversation there might be times when you prioritize one or the other.


Jim: What’s an example of a tension?

Christian: One example is prioritizing the relationship and focusing on the process.

 “Prioritizing the relationship and focusing on the process”

So, an example of that would be meeting your coach and they are not really clear on the goal. You might be thinking, “We’ve only got thirty minutes here, and we really need to get moving on this…”

When we train people to be coaches, I would say “it’s your responsibility to manage the process. You’re the timekeeper. If you’ve got thirty minutes, your job is to make sure you get from the beginning of the conversation to the end,” and an advanced practitioner might decide, “Ok, for this conversation we’re going to spend half the time talking about X because in this moment that is important for the person.”

The book underlines nine tensions, and both David and I were very careful. We don’t want to simplify in this book. Actually, I think this book really appreciates the complexity of coaching, and there’s a beauty in that complexity. Advanced practitioners recognize and are comfortable with the complexity because of experience and reflective practice.

I think that’s what makes the difference. They have more experience with these conversations so they can listen to their intuition. We believe that reflective practices are a critical part of becoming an advanced practitioner. Reflexivity is in the Partnership Principles. What we mean by “reflexivity” is that coaches will reflect on their thinking and, as a result of that thinking, change their practice. Advanced practitioners have been through numerous situations of thinking, “How can this work?” or “This didn’t work,” then adapted their approach, etc.

I wasn’t aware of many of these tensions before we wrote the book. They only became apparent as we were writing them. Now as I coach, they are in my mind because I think, “Oh, here’s a tension.”


Jim: It sounds like a lot of what you are doing is taking a stance against dualistic thinking. It’s not either/or, it’s both.

Christian: Exactly, that’s right. The irony of it is that at the introductory level it would be unhelpful to just say, “Well, everything is a bit ambiguous” and “You will know.” The trick is that you won’t “know” at the beginning.


Jim: Is that because you can’t really process that when you are going, “Where am I in the coaching process? What’s the question I have? I can’t remember what my question is?” There’s so much processing. Until you’ve internalized being a coach you are not ready for this next level.

Christian: I think that’s right, but our imagined reader is somebody who is already trained and is comfortable with the process and the skills and the way of being. [Someone] who has had some experience with the coaching. We want them to bring that richness of experience to this reading.


Jim: Can you tell us about another tension?

Christian: We talk about the tension between being challenging and letting things go.

 “Challenging and letting things go”

I’m always saying that challenge is part of coaching – challenging people to move out of their comfort zone. I would encourage coaches to find opportunities to challenge. But the tension is that sometimes you might notice an opportunity to challenge, and an advanced practitioner might let it go. The point here is that it is intentional.

The advanced practice is having a sense of, “Should I challenge this inconsistency, or do I decide not to challenge this?” I’ve observed quite a lot of training coaches, and there are some that have a tendency to challenging – wanting to pick up on, “Oh, you said this, but earlier you said that.” Or, “I’m noticing we are talking about the same goal. This is the third time we are meeting to talk about the same goal.”


Jim: I think there are also risks. If we’ve had a series of events that would suggest you are not organized in the way you are approaching things, and I challenge you on that, you could take offence and it could damage the relationship. Or it could be things that are even more personal than that.

I think it is about making an informed decision in the best interest of the coachee. I think that is the key. So I might say, “I’m going to challenge this so that they become more aware, as long as I come at it in a way that is not judgmental,” or I might step back and say to myself “If I challenge them right now, it might interfere with their ability to do something else.”

Christian: The advanced practitioner may use some intuition and think, “You know what, maybe today is not the day, and I’m not going to pursue that.” They might make a note of it, and they might bring it back later to the conversation.


Jim: But the other side of it is that you have to have the courage to not challenge by choice. The default can’t be that I’m never going to challenge. You have to say in this moment, “Not challenging is the best thing I could do.” Because you could say, “Well, challenging seems a bit difficult. I’m a little worried about how they’ll react. It’s going to take a little courage on my part, so as a coach I’m just going to let them do what they do, and I’m not going to call them out.”

Christian: Exactly. That idea of noticing is so important because we might not even notice that this is a tension – an opportunity to let go or challenge. Therefore, it is an advanced practice because it requires courage and insight to make either decision. But as you say, the key thing is what’s in the best interest of the client.


Jim: What is another tension?

Christian: The idea of being fully present and aware of the wider context.

 “Being fully present and aware of the wider context”

Early on, we do talk about leaving stuff at the door, but this recognizes that life is not like that and you can’t actually leave stuff at the door.

The coach has a responsibility to think about the systemic aspects of this client going back into an organization or a family context. So, the tension is being fully in the moment and trying to block out everything that is going on outside the room, while actually sometimes it might be important to bring that into the room.

The client may be able to come up with a great strategy with us in the room, but we are not living in the bubble, and this person is going to have to go back into the workplace. An example of an advanced practice might be that you would bring some of that into the room to say, “Well, in the previous conversation you were telling me a bit about the team dynamic, and how is that going to work?”

It’s just acknowledging any impact that things outside the room may be having. The coach has a responsibility to be fully present, but also to – seemingly impossibly – think, “What’s going on in the system around here that is affecting the likelihood of our coachee to do the things that she’d like to do?”


Jim: What is the next tension?

Christian: The next tension is being tenacious as a coach and autonomy.

 “Tenacity and autonomy” 

The tenacity we are talking about is – particularly in the GROWTH model when we talk about tactics and habits – what are you going to do and when are going to do it?


Jim: It takes again a certain level of courage to develop those skills because of what I assume you are going to talk about next which is the autonomy part…

Christian: Exactly.


Jim: “I don’t want to tell this person what to do,” but at the same time it is also, “I’ve got to keep that happening too.”

Christian: The autonomy side of things is fascinating because if we prioritize autonomy, just helping them identify a meaningful or attractive goal should be sufficient. Because the autonomy means if that goals is important to them, they’re going to go and do everything they need to do.

Those are the two things in tension. On the one hand really pinning the coachee down, and this is what we train people to do – particularly early on in the training. Getting them to commit to something. Even in my own coaching, I might say to people, “Do you want to put that in your diary, or do you want to make a note of that?” And the way we deal with that is we are not telling them what to do in terms of their goal, but we are actually telling them that putting things in the diary would be a way of ensuring that happens. The tension there is between being tenacious – following through – and at some point thinking, “Look, I think my coach has got this, I don’t need to take this to the next level of pushing.”


Jim: I bet you if you watched a hundred different coaching conversations, there would be a lot more where they are not tenacious enough rather than them being too tenacious.

Christian: Yeah that’s right.


Jim: You’re not going to see many where you go, “Oh they went into too much detail planning.” But you will see a lot where it feels like there are some gaps. I see this as a really important thing around really any kind of implementation.

We don’t go the full distance. We get to a goal, and then that’s hard enough work. “My brain has done enough, and I don’t really want to talk about when I’m going to do it.”But if you don’t talk about when you are going to do it, and when it is going to happen, then it doesn’t happen.

Christian: The advanced practice is about again knowing when we should be one or the other. It’s another one of these where we need both. You do need to be tenacious, and you do need to respect the autonomy of the coachee.

There have been times in my practice where by the time we have gotten to the options and they have chosen one, I just have a sense that this person is going to go out the door and they are going to do that thing. That they are so committed to it, they’ve just identified it, there’s energy there, and it feels like when I am following up and being tenacious, it is kind of irritating to the coachee because they are saying, “I’ve got this.” So, the advanced practice is just picking up, “Have they really got it?”


Jim: But it can be done in a way that honors the autonomy.

Christian: Yeah.


Jim: What is the next tension?

Christian: Being creative and protecting trust.

 “Being creative and protecting trust”

This tension is about the credibility of the coach. The tension between being professional in the eyes of the coachee and doing things that they would be comfortable with and, on the other hand, being creative and doing things that might not be their preferred approach. An example would be a coach deciding, “Should we do a bit of role-playing about this?” or “should I use LEGO” because that’s my favorite example because that has happened to me.


Jim: You are saying the coach would pull out some LEGOS, and the person would build something to help them think about it some more?

Christian: Yeah, that’s right. Bringing in a tool that would create some creativity.


Jim: You’ve got story-boarding as well.

Christian: Yeah, “We could do story-boarding, or get some post-it notes out and do it this way.” Or, “Let’s stand up and do something.” The tension here is damaging your professional credibility.


Jim: [laughs]

Christian: For all of these tensions, the decision needs to be made in the best interest of the coachee. There will be times when that is in tension.

I have an experience with this. There was a time where the client seemed to be stuck, and I thought we needed to have something that is going to get them unstuck, and in my professional experience there have been times when just bringing LEGO out has just relieved a bit of pressure. So, I said to my client, “What do you think about using LEGO?” and he said, “Oh I don’t like using LEGO. It’s not my thing.” But I persisted with it because I thought this would be helpful especially if he doesn’t normally like such activities. So, I tried it with my client, and after a while I asked him if he thought it was useful, and he said “No. I didn’t think it would be, and it is not.” So, I had to abandon that.


Jim: [laughs]

Christian: We are just noticing that there’s that tension between maintaining that professional respect and doing things because the things that are going to bring about the most new thinking are things the coachee doesn’t normally do.


Jim: You know, maybe one-to-one, but if it’s in a larger group, if people say, “I’d like you to dress up and…” I’m like, “No, I don’t want to do that. I didn’t come here to dress up.”

Christian: Role-playing is another one. Often clients do not want to role-play, and there will be times when I think, “You know, role-playing might give us that different perspective.” And when I do role-playing in coaching conversations, I would get the coachee to role-play themselves, but then I would swap it and get her to play the person she is thinking about. It brings a lot of insights, but then there is a risk. We don’t want to damage the trust that the coachee has in the individual.


Jim: I’ve seen that when we’ve had coaches video record themselves teaching, and then we have them be coached. So, other coaches ask them questions to set a goal, and I had another coach who was on the coachee side – collaborating side – turn to me and say, “Now I know why my teachers act the way they do.”

Christian: Oh really!


Jim: As I recall, Russian literary critics have this concept of de-familiarization. In order to understand something, you have to see it from a whole different perspective because if you are familiar with it you just don’t notice it anymore. So, if we can get out of that maybe we can see it from a different perspective.

Christian: That’s an excellent way of talking about it, and I think the tension is between using that technique without breaking the trust that the person has in us.


Christian touches on the remaining four tensions in part one of the interview when discussing his book Coaching in Islamic Culture, written with Raja’a Yousif Allaho. Here are excerpts from that discussion:


“Being impartial and strengthening hopefulness”

Christian: The work from Snyder and work of Hope Theory [ties into]… the idea of pathways and agency. The idea in that process is to show people that they have pathways to help. If your positive intention is to be a better leader, what are the pathways that are available to you right now that are going to get you to what you are here to do? In this model we don’t talk about the coach and coachee; we talk about facilitator and learner. We invite the learner to say something about all the different ways that they might get closer to their intention.


“Being who you are and adapting to others”

Christian: The biggest contribution made by Ershad coaching is what we call the “alignment phase.” Once the person has selected some pathways that would allow them to move closer to their intention, we want to make sure that there is good alignment between their intentions and important relationships in their life.


 “Being ethical and staying true to personal values”

Christian: If something is an important part of one’s life, the idea that coaching might somehow get in the way of that was troubling. In my experience coaching people, there were times when I thought, “You know, somehow it feels like the coaching topic and the ‘goal’ are maybe moving the person awayfrom deeply held values.” So, that highlighted for me the importance of making sure that any coaching we do also looks after the values of participants.


“Being committed to outcomes and prioritizing well-being”

Christian: The purpose of coaching should be about both supporting people to achieve goals whilst also taking into account their well-being when pursuing those goals.

An example of that would be if I am coaching someone and they were to say, “I think I am going to hit the goal, but I am not sleeping, and it’s going to mean I won’t be sleeping for the next month” or whatever.


Jim: Or “I’m going to be away from my kids…”

Christian: Yeah, “I might be away from my kids for 6 weeks, and it means that I’m going to have to ignore other important things in my life.” I think it gives me permission to bring other things in and to say, “Ok it looks like you are going to hit your goal, but what’s the impact on your well-being or the well-being of people around you?”


Read Christian van Nieuwerburgh and David Love’s new book, Advanced Coaching Practice, for a deeper examination of the nine tensions, and be sure to catch his keynote at TLC in October!




Here is a list of some people you can expect to see at the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference 2019! Click on each name below to review some of their work.

We hope to see you in Kansas City!

Rachel Lofthouse

Professor of Teacher Education,
Carnegie School of Education


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Distinguished Writer in Residence,
NYU’s Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute

Jamie Almanzan

Equity Leadership Coach,
The Equity Collaborative

Linda Cliatt-Wayman

TED Talk Presenter, Principal,
Strawberry Mansion High School

Kristin Anderson

Founder and CEO,
The Brilliance Project

Ellen & Bruce Eisenberg

Executive Director, Associate Director
PA Institute for Instructional Coaching

Rebecca Frazier


The Joy of Coaching

Michelle Harris

Senior Consultant,

Instructional Coaching Group

Jan Hasbrouck



Ann Hoffman

Senior Consultant,

Instructional Coaching Group

Darnisa Amante

CEO and Co-founder,

The Disruptive Equity Education Project


Kathy Perret


The Coach Approach to School Leadership

John Campbell

Founding Director,

Growth Coaching International

Marshall Goldsmith

Executive Educator, Coach


Jim Knight

Senior Partner,

Instructional Coaching Group

Nathan Lang-Raad

Chief Education Officer,


Nancy Love

Senior Consultant,

Research for Better Teaching

Alisa Simeral

Author, School Consultant


Tricia Skyles

Author, Consultant

Safe and Civil Schools

Bill Sommers

Author, Consultant

Learning Omnivores

Bradley Staats 

Author, Professor

University of NC School of Kenan-Flagler Business School

Sharon Thomas

Senior Consultant,

Instructional Coaching Group


Christian Van Nieuwerburgh

Executive Director,

Growth Coaching International

John Krownapple

Author, Consultant


Tara Martin

Innovative Curriculum Facilitator,

Lawrence Public Schools

Crysta Crum


Bowling Green City Schools