What are the negative effects felt by independent novice coaches in practice? Gillian Billington,

founder of Dream Ladder Coaching, examines the research


Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 epidemic, the global community of coach practitioners has expanded by 54% since the 2019 global estimate (ICF, 2023). 

Although the number of novice coaches is increasing, limited research exists on the negative effects experienced by novice coaches during their coaching practice. De Haan (2008) highlights that novice coaches may encounter negative effects such as self-doubt, fear and anxiety, which can stem from navigating the ambiguous boundaries between coaching and therapy (De Haan, 2008; Baker, 2014; Eniola, 2017). These studies, however, fall short in examining the perspective of novice coaches working independently, ie, who work on their own and not as part of a team. 

Consequently, independent novice coaches may not be adequately prepared to handle the potential adverse effects that delivering coaching can have on their wellbeing. Gaining an understanding of potential negative effects experienced by novice coaches and how they can manifest is crucial for exploring effective mitigation strategies and best practices that can be implemented across this increasing coaching community.

For the study, heuristic inquiry was employed, enabling the incorporation of the author’s own experiences. All participants were independent, they identified themselves as a novice coach with a maximum of three years’ experience and had experienced negative effects. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the optional addition of a Blob Tree diagram (2023) to further provoke the elicitation of emotions through creative expression (Moustakas,1990; Sultan, 2020). The ‘Blobs’ on the diagram represented individuals with no identifiable gender, age or ethnicity. The interpretation of the diagram came from the observer rather than the illustration.

The analysis revealed that over 30 negative emotions were experienced by the participants. These emotions were organised into key themes of imposter syndrome and self-doubt; fear and anxiety; isolation and loneliness; exhaustion and burnout; and procrastination and holding back. Findings revealed that there were two underlying contexts where the themes manifested, which were: challenges associated with coaching clients, and challenges associated with establishing the business. 


Challenges: Coaching Clients

Negative effects of imposter syndrome and/or self-doubt had been a theme experienced by all of the participants, with many questioning their ability in relation to coaching a client. Coaching conversations that ventured into areas considered better suited to counselling or therapy contributed to both the themes of imposter syndrome and fear and anxiety and could cause sleepless nights and difficulty switching off after sessions.

Lack of coaching tools or techniques to provide a framework within a session also contributed to both these themes, and self-doubt was compounded further when no obvious coachee goal was evident. Both contact and emotional support from others that would have typically been derived through collaboratively working in a team were absent for novice coaches. This contributed to their feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly when constructive feedback from professional experienced coaches was missing but was much needed to minimize feelings of self-doubt. Peers were often a valuable source of connection and community, however, when seeking guidance, some participants primarily sought expert and experienced feedback. In some cases, peer-to-peer advice and feedback were either unwanted or considered inappropriate due to concerns that peers may also lack the requisite knowledge or expertise. Often there was a lack of an established support network of professional experienced coaches to allow them to talk through their experiences. Although they were eager to establish connections, on reflection some coaches found that not all contacts were advantageous. Collaborating with individuals whose approaches did not align with theirs resulted in feelings of anxiety. 

Exhaustion and tiredness were often attributed to the intensity of the relationship in a coaching session. These emotions were also experienced where one derives energy from social interactions. As a result, the interactions were sought elsewhere, whereas previously, such connections would have been fulfilled in a team setting. 

It was noted by the participants that supervision had proven beneficial, however it became evident that individuals were uncertain about what to expect from supervision and what topics were permissible for discussion. There was uncertainty regarding whether they could address personal emotions and the individual impact of coaching. Additionally, concerns were raised about the expense and limited accessibility of supervision due to cost and availability constraints.


Challenges: Establishing the Business

All the co-researchers disclosed that establishing their businesses had been an underlying challenge. The research also highlighted that procrastination was linked to participants’ fear, anxiety, self-doubt and overwhelm, compounded by a fear of exposure which could lead to visceral discomfort, of putting themselves ‘out there’ and a fear of failing. Some individuals engaged in ‘positive avoidance’ – they chose to avoid tasks that they disliked or feared whilst prioritising those they found more favourable. Expecting to gain more freedom and time, the reality of setting up their own businesses was that they were working longer hours, which reduced time with family and friends. 


Practice Implications 

This study sheds light on the potential negative effects experienced by novice independent coaches, providing vital insights for those considering or already in the profession. This research clearly highlights the need for a holistic approach to coach education and supervision that ensures novice coaches are equipped to navigate the complexities of coaching while prioritising their own wellbeing.

It emphasises the critical need for a deeper understanding of the role of supervision for novice coaches. Supervisors should establish clear expectations for the support they offer, as many novice coaches expressed uncertainty about supervision’s scope and purpose. Educators are urged to prioritise awareness of potential negative effects through training, and guide coaches toward available support resources, and clarify the role and purpose of supervision. 


About the author