The Opening Bell

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What Do the South Carolina Gamecocks Know About Life Coaching?

by Bonnie Bell, MA, MDiv., Principal, Director of Career/Life Coaching

April 2017

This is not exactly a question on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the midst of March Madness. However, the somewhat surprising topic of life coaching did make its way into the headline of the sports section of the New York Times on Saturday, March 25, 2017, when the Gamecocks upset Duke in the surprising second half of the contest: “A Lift from the Life Coach.”

Just before they pulled off their unexpected victory, the team huddled with its life coach, Rev. Chris Leevy Johnson, a fourth generation funeral home director from Columbia, South Carolina, who serves as life coach for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. “He’s always encouraging us,” junior forward Jarrell Holliman said. “He knows we can do it.”

Emerging Trend

While a life coach for a college basketball team might seem remote to some, according to the column’s author, Zach Schonbrun, there seems to be an emerging trend in that direction. Players for Xavier, the No. 11 seed in the West region, have sought counsel this season from Gerald Yearwood, a retired administrator turned life coach, and seventh-seeded Michigan has relied on Greg Harden, a motivational speaker and associate athletic director who previously advised Tom Brady and Michael Phelps. Kevin Jordan, a former wide receiver at U.C.L.A., now serves as life coach for the No. 3-seeded Bruins, and Baylor relies on Tim Maloney, now in his eighth year as the team’s “Director of Basketball Operations,” citing “life coach” on his official biography on the program’s website.

Countless Variations

Coaching exists officially and unofficially, professionally and unprofessionally, and takes on countless variations, depending on a person’s education, training, and particular expertise. Probably athletic coaching is the type of coaching with which people are most familiar and of which they most approve. What athlete would expect to have a successful career without the help of a coach? What Olympian could achieve world class performance without an Olympic coach?

Beyond the Athletic Coach

Athletic coaching is widely accepted. And yet, when it comes to the most important matters of life and death, including career choice, change, development, and beyond, sadly, too many people end up winging it because either they don’t think they can get help, or they are too proud to ask. This doesn’t make good sense.

Of course not every life coach in the world is competent or a good match for you. A certain amount of shopping for the right match should be expected, as it is if you were shopping for a doctor, a dentist, or any other professional.

Personal Experience

As with many other people in this growing field, I did not aspire to be a life coach; there was no such thing when it emerged as a professional possibility for me. I had a degree in psychology, years of social work experience, a graduate degree in counseling, and a master’s of divinity. I had an over-riding passion for helping women, especially, get where they wanted to go in life and not get stuck doing something they hated or that did not suit them.

In many ways, I had been a “natural coach”. I always had had deep, long-lasting friendships that were all about encouragement, positive thinking, growing, life-long learning, and development. I was an extrovert who loved a wide variety of people, and I had a thirst for life stories. My mother, grandmother, and great–grandmother had this same gift and passed it on to my sister and me. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Find Your Right Coach

There is tremendous crossover and intermingling of the roles of therapist, counselor, coach, and minister and varying degrees of spirituality, depending on who you are. That is not the point. The point is to find the right person, one who can help you sort things out and help you get where you want to go in life. And don’t overlook this: it’s just more fun and effective to bring someone else along on your journey, rather than wrestling life’s toughest issues all alone on your pillow at night.

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