Coach Training Based on a Firm Theoretical Foundation


When designing our program for training coaches we turned to some traditional student development theories and learning models as a basis for our foundation. We have done this because central to our belief is that coaching must support and engage the development of each student and to help each individual achieve his or her full potential. At its heart, coaching is the proactive effort to assist in student development and to improve their situations by facing their academic, career and life challenges through a problem-solving process. When we are successful in this, we have aided in the development of a self-directed learner and have increased the probability of retention and student success as a positive outcome for the institution.

Our Model: CARMA Student Needs Theory

Students exhibit different needs as they transition into higher education, become accustomed to college and achieve their educational goals. Our CARMA Student Needs Theory provides a sound framework that is used to identify the various levels of student needs as well as the appropriate resources, referrals or interventions to meet those specific needs.

CARMA is an acronym for the first letter of each of the five major levels of the theoretical model:

  1. Collegiate Needs
  2. Academic Engagement Needs
  3. Relationships, Social Integration and Involvement Needs
  4. Meaning and Career Exploration Needs
  5. Actualization and Student Success

The CARMA model is built upon and influenced by several well known educational researchers and human and student development theorists. Let us share a few with you.

Our Foundation

Abraham Maslow, Alexander Asitin, Arthur Chickering and John Holland all provided critical insights for us. Here are some of the key concepts we have pulled into our CARMA model.

Maslow believed that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential and to reach a level of "self-actualization." He believed that helping people achieve self-actualization requires addressing specific needs.  As the base of the pyramid he identified physiological needs. Moving up the pyramid the needs progress though levels that include safety, love/belonging, and esteem. The pinnacle level is self-actualization. The take away that we incorporated into our model is that coaches must develop the ability to recognize student challenges at the lower levels prior to addressing work on higher ones. Our training is grounded on this insight.

Astin, in his theory of student involvement, believed that the quality and quantity of the student's involvement influences the amount of student learning and development in college. In short, Astin's Theory of Involvement states that students learn more the more they are involved in both the academic and social aspects of the collegiate experience. Coaches need to recognize that both in class and out of class experiences contribute to student success and help students succeed.

Chickering identified seven vectors of development, which contribute to the development of identity. These vectors can be thought of as a series of stages or tasks. For coaching, helping students identify barriers to development in the various vectors is the first step to success in college.   For coaching, helping students identify boulders that may be more grounded in managing emotions and establishing identity may be necessary prior to discussing academic and career goals.  Like Astin, Chickering reinforces the belief that success in college is more than academic competency and his theory provides insight to and a road map of those areas that may require attention.

John Holland’s work on career interests and vocational personality is central to our coaching efforts. Holland identified six vocational interest patterns. Most individuals have two or three that dominate. By being aware of one’s Holland Code, a bevy of career related information and resources become available for student use and consideration during career exploration process. Making a satisfying major and career decision is often critical in helping a student develop meaning in their academic program and for his or her success in it.

Other Theorists

Some other theorists we have used to help us build the CARMA model include Donald Super and his career self-concept; Martin Seligman and the positive psychology movement; and Vince Tinto on retention of college students. Collectively, the theorist we have selected all recognize that the responsible actor in college success must be the student. However, with focused assistance, the path to success can be made much easier for them with coaching.


In short, we have built our coach training on firm theoretical and research grounds. So when it comes to helping students with the challenges they face, our approach is not to find a quick fix, but to contribute to the institutional and higher education mission of learning and student development.

Dr. George Steele is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Learning Network (OLN). Before his work at OLN, George directed the advising program at The Ohio State University for undecided and major-changing undergraduate students. George has written publications addressing academic and career advising theory, use of technology in advising, and assessment of the use of technology for student services and distance learning. George has been a member of the National Academic Advising Association for over 25 years, has held numerous leadership positions in that organization and has been recognized by it for his work and contributions.


Blog, UncategorizedGeorge Steele