In sport it is the norm for the professional sportsperson to have a coach, whether it be an individual sport, such as swimming and tennis, or a team sport where there will be coaches for each section of the team. Anyone who has read the ‘inner game’ books by Timothy Gallwey relating to the sports of golf, tennis and skiing will remember that coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their performance. It is helping them to learn and improve, rather than teaching. Hence in using the term coach I am thinking more of the supportive relationship that exists between a coach and the coachee, with a particular style of communication, rather than instruction and teaching. Ideally the coachee will acquire the facts not from the coach, but will be stimulated by the coach to acquire the facts from their own inner self.

While the coaching scenario may have started in sport, many coaches have graduated to applying their skills in other areas such as business. There is also more awareness of the benefits of coaching in some hospital settings where teams are facilitated to solve their own problems using simulation techniques. People are not told what to do, they are asked to consider the options and to make their own decision based on the evidence.

Can we and should we use coaching in optical practice to improve our clinical skills and interaction with patients? I believe undoubtedly the answer must be yes and in fact what brought the subject of coaching to mind was watching a TED talk. The TED talk originating from a 1984 conference where Technology, Entertainment and Education converged and today they are online short videos, free to the viewer, of expert speakers covering a huge range of topics. In this particular talk a surgeon Atul Gawande posed the question, ‘how do professionals get better at what they do?’. He described the typical view of how a professional trains and improves. After University, the professional has the technical ability and also the

aptitude and ability to self-develop. The alternative view he put forward was following the sports model which says that everyone, even the best, need a coach. His own experience was initially following the traditional route, but after a steep learning curve his performance and outcomes plateaued. He decided to use a coach and following observation of his practise small issues were identified that could be changed and once again outcomes improved. His conclusion is that a coach gives a more accurate picture of our realty and if therefore you want to get better at something – get a coach.

Currently as optical professionals we will be following the traditional route for our development. We all update our skills through CET courses, lectures and articles, which I suspect for most is a matter of completing what is available, rather than targeting specific areas of weakness. Some of us will keep a personal development plan and be more targeted in our learning. However, it is more unusual for an optometrist to be observed in practice and even where this is the case, it is unlikely to be in a coaching type scenario. Optometrist colleagues would feel uncomfortable with such a scenario, as they may feel judged. This is inevitable in a new situation until it becomes apparent that the coach is not there to decide what is wrong, but simply to observe what goes on and to be the eyes and ears for the individual, who can then consider what is said and make their own decisions as to what to change.

My conclusion is that adding to our personal development through the use of a coach would be something we could and should adopt. A fellow optometrist would be able to fulfil the role, and although some training to do this would be advantageous, I’m sure common sense and reading online material would go a long way to being able to perform a basic coaching role to observe and comment on clinical techniques and communication with the patient. An interesting alternative to a fellow optometrist would be to use a willing and able lay person who although could not comment significantly on clinical technique, would be able to observe and comment on communication skills.

Why do we not already do this? Complacency will be an issue as ‘doing OK’, gets in the way of being better. As I have said earlier, there must be an element of concern at being observed and feeling that comments will be critical. The answer to this is to have confidence in one’s own abilities and set up coaching sessions in an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality. It’s the

New Year, how about coaching as this year’s resolution?