How to run a coaching session: Three steps that work with every client

Here's an expert's strategy for structuring every life coaching session to get great results.

One of the most important questions for new coaches is how to run a coaching session. Here's the structure followed by The Coaching Institute's Matt Lavars.

So, head into any coaching session knowing there are three distinct parts to how things actually work.


The opening of any coaching session is about all clarifying what the actual problem is. Spend as much time here as possible, says head trainer Matt, who is hosting TCI's global summit 'Your First Coaching Session'.

"I've sometimes spent half an hour clarifying what the actual problem is."

Know that in coaching there are two types of problem: safe and risky.

"A safe problem is the surface problem, the thing the client is mostly aware of. The risky one is the usually the core problem—it's the real problem, the problem they actually have."

Say a client has the problem of procrastination when it comes to their business. That's the safe problem.

To work out the risky problem—and everyone has a different one—you need to ask great questions to clarify what you'll be solving together.

"The risky problem is what is the thing underneath the safe problem that is driving it. So there's something underneath procrastination that they are avoiding," says Matt.

"It could be fear of failure. Could be fear of success."

Remember: you don't want to coach the wrong thing. You don't want to coach procrastination. You want to coach what is causing it.

Once you have clarity, here's the next step in how to run a coaching session:


One mistake a lot of people make in coaching is they don't get really clear on the problem and goal. Having a really well defined problem then a well defined goal is half the work in the coaching session.

Here's how Matt would language the goal:

"I would say once this procrastination is gone, 'What do you want life to be? Tell me about it. What's the goal here, what is this really about, where are we heading?'" says Matt.

"I ask some really great questions to help the client get really clear on where they are going in life."

The purpose of this is you want your client to connect emotionally with that direction. If there is enough of an emotional 'why' or reason for doing this, they'll be more likely to overcome whatever little challenges are in the way as they go along the journey.

Pathway to Purpose


This is where when things happen. The problem is clear, then you and the client know where they're heading. With procrastination as the example of the safe problem, maybe it's letting go of that to give more personal power.

"Maybe it's so I can be the best that I possibly can be, be a better father or mother. Whatever it is for the client, then we do the change work," says Matt.

That's the actual process of letting go of the problem. Know there are no things that need to be changed, just things that need to be let go of.

"A lot of the time you'll work with clients who have held on to a lot of ideas, a lot of beliefs from the past that are no longer serving them," says Matt.

"And we want to help the client let go of those so they can make space for renewal."

That's the three step overview of how to run a coaching session.

Matt says it's for anyone who's been exploring how to become a coach and wants to know how to bridge the gap between their passion and skill set, or anyone who is already a coach and wants to learn new tools and strategies.

And let us know if these strategies are of value!

Matt Lavars is one of Australia's leading coaches, trainers and speakers, and head facilitator at The Coaching Institute. In between mentoring thousands of coaches and leaders all around Australasia and helping others build incredible culture, Matt is passionate about fitness and music. His healthy office lunches whipped up in five minutes are the stuff of legend.

Matt Lavars
Matt LavarsThe Coaching Institute