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The wheel of life - a psychologically informed coaching tool?

What is it?

One of the most popular and arguably most used tools in coaching, the wheel of life consists of a wheel divided in to 8 sections that can be pre-assigned 8 different areas of life. Most commonly used topics are career, family and friends, significant other/partner, fun/recreation, health, money, personal growth, physical/living environment. However, these can be adapted to suit the coachee, contextualised to the coaching conversation (e.g. leadership or health contexts), or left blank for the coachee to complete. Typically, coachees are asked to rate their level of satisfaction on each element on a scale of 0 (not satisfied) to 10 (highly satisfied), and to mark this on the wheel. This provides them with a clear visual representation of their current life satisfaction, and can help them to identify what area(s) they wish to work on.


A lot of the commentary on this tool talks about the need for balance across the dimensions, whereas many others argue that equal satisfaction in each segment is not necessary as some areas might be more important to the coachee than others. Most agree that this tool is useful for opening up a conversation about the areas identified, and helping with goal setting or developing an action plan. A google search will provide you with many examples of the tool, and guidance on how in can be adapted and used in a multitude of coaching situations.

How was the tool developed?

Interestingly, there is little to be found in the coaching literature about the development of the tool for coaching. It appears to originate from Paul Meyer in around 1996, and was presented in Whitworth, Kimsey-House and Sandahl’s (1998; 2007) Co-Active Coaching text. However, a thorough search of the coaching literature did not reveal any discussion of it’s theoretical or research base in a coaching context. Luckily however, we are able to draw on literature in sport psychology to help with our understanding of this. In 1989, sport psychologist Richard Butler developed and used a very similar tool to help performance in amateur boxers. Butler and Hardy (1992) followed this up with a paper that discussed the theory and application of the tool that they called a ‘performance profile’. The wheel of life is an identical concept, except for the focus on the different areas of life rather than the important elements of sports performance, and the fact that sport psychologists encourage the athletes themselves to identify the important elements rather than these being prescribed. It appears, therefore, that this tool may have been borrowed from sport psychology, and we are therefore able to draw on the evidence base in this area to understand it’s theoretical underpinning and evidence of its effectiveness.


Psychological underpinning

The performance profile was based on Kelly’s (1955) Personal Construct Theory (PCT). PCT suggests that individuals strive to make sense of the world by constructing their own personal theories. This allows them to anticipate what will happen in a given situation, and then either confirm or revise that theory. Individuals differ in the how they perceive and interpret similar situations, as well as what they perceive as important and what is implied by their interpretation of the situation. This indicates that as coaches, our understanding and interpretation of events may be very different from our coachees, and therefore understanding of the coachees perspective is essential. PCT also suggests that these constructs are built up with low levels of self-awareness, and that therefore the coachee may not be fully aware of this subconscious reasoning, and the impact that this has on them. It is therefore useful to allow coachees to explore and communicate what they take for granted in order to enhance their self-awareness and allow the coach to understand their perspective. This allows the coachee to consciously construct a picture of a given situation in a way that makes sense to them. It is argued that the wheel of life may be useful in facilitating this process.


Application of theory

The performance profile (and therefore, arguably, the wheel of life), is based on the Repertory Grid (Beail, 1985; Fransella & Bannister, 1977). The Repertory Grid is a method of helping individuals to understand their personal constructs. The grid is simply a matrix on which individuals can assess themselves against a series of constructs. It’s usefulness lies in the ability to elicit what is truly important to the client in contrast to the use of psychometrics of questionnaires which assess the client against predetermined measures that the consultant (or the literature) thinks are important in a given situation. Butler (1989) moved away from a grid format, and transferred the matrix to the wheel that we are now familiar with. The concept of assessing oneself against areas that are important in a given context in order to raise self-awareness remains the same.

Evidence of effectiveness

Again, there was little/no robust research found which examines the effectiveness of this tool in a coaching context. However, the sport psychology literature offers some evidence of effectiveness in a sporting context. For example, Weston, Greenlees and Thelwell (2011) reported that athletes found performance profiling to be useful in: raising their self awareness; helping them to decide what they need to work on; motivating them to improve; setting goals for themselves, monitoring and evaluating their own performance; taking more responsibility for their development. Weston et al. also report that among sport psychology consultants, profiling is believed to be useful as a basis for: goal setting and structuring training (Butler, 1997); monitoring performance (Doyle &

Parfitt, 1997); developing confidence (Butler, 1995); facilitating more self-determined motivation

(Butler & Hardy, 1992). However, in sport as well as coaching, there is a lack of experimental testing that is needed to empirically examine how effective the tool is in bringing about these proposed impacts.


The future

Although used extensively in coaching, there is little/no empirical evidence examining the usefulness of this tool in a coaching context. That is not to say that it should not be used. On the contrary, anecdotal evidence is strong, evidence in other settings is promising. This therefore opens up a clear and present opportunity to replicate and extend some of the studies that have been conducted in sport and therefore hopefully provide a sound evidence base for the use of this tool in a coaching context.

References

Beail, N. (Ed.) (1985). Repertory grid technique and personal constructs. London: Croom Helm.


Butler, R.J. (1989). Psychological preparation of Olympic boxers. In J. Kremer & W. Crawford (Eds.), The psychology of sport: Theory and practice (pp. 74–84). Belfast: BPS Northern Ireland Branch.


Butler, R. (1995). Athlete assessment: The performance profile. Coaching Focus, 29, 18–20.

Butler, R. (1997). Performance profiling: Assessing the way forward. In R.J. Butler (Ed.), Sports psychology in performance (pp. 33–48). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Butler, R.J., & Hardy, L. (1992). The performance profile: Theory and application. The Sport Psychologist, 6, 253–264.

Doyle, J.M., & Parfitt, G. (1997). Performance profiling and constructive validity. The Sport Psychologist, 11, 411–425.


Fransella, F., & Bannister, D. (1977). A manual for repertory grid technique. London:

Academic Press.

Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs (Vols. 1 & 2). New York: Norton.

Weston, N. V., Greenlees, I. A., & Thelwell, R. C. (2011). Athlete perceptions of the impacts of performance profiling. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 9(2), 173-188.


Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, H. and Sandahl, P (2007). Co-Active Coaching;. Palo Alto, Ca: Davis-Black Publishing.

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