Here at AFAA we’re following the professionalization of the emerging field of health and wellness coaching with great interest for many reasons. Chiefly, any attempt to help people improve their lifestyle and achieve better health has our attention. We’ve recently added a CEU online workshop “Health Coaching Skills” with emphasis on how AFAA instructors and personal trainers can incorporate coaching skills into their fitness practice.

 However, we’re also curious about the striking parallels that the maturation of the health and wellness coaching discipline has in common with the early days of professionalizing fitness instruction. Back in 1983, when AFAA launched the first national certification for group exercise instructors, its national advisory board of experts and practitioners noted that two examinations were critical—one that tested intellectual knowledge through a written exam, and a practical test in which instructors would be asked to demonstrate their hands-on physical knowledge. How would they adapt an exercise for someone with low back discomfort? For someone with knee problems? That on-the-spot ability to tap into the cognitive and kinesthetic integration of theory with practice, and generate a creative, safe and effective adaptation was just one part of a practical testing protocol that has been firmly established for over 30 years by AFAA.

The health coaching profession has taken note of that need for dual examination. As a member of the executive board of the National Consortium for Credentialing of Health and Wellness Coaches (NCCHWC), I am engaged in a collaborative, rigorous effort with colleagues from universities (California Institute of Integral Studies, Duke, University of Minnesota, Vanderbilt) medical centers (Harvard’s McLean Hospital, Mayo Clinic) and private coaching education firms with long-standing, pioneering experience (RealBalance, Wellcoaches, Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy). We are happy to take advantage of these prudent lessons from AFAA and other leaders in the fitness industry— lessons that emphasize a valid and sensible approach to test both intellectual and physical skills. A health and wellness coach needs to demonstrate how to initiate the coaching process, establish the alliance, build trust and rapport, facilitate learning on the client’s part, assist the client in identifying strengths, and perhaps most important—be able to track and monitor not only progress with the client, but the coach’s own inner dialog, reactivity, and emotional self-regulation. None of that can be tested by reading a book and taking a written exam. The making of a professional health and wellness coach requires a lot more.

 The NCCHWC just completed a Job Task Analysis, a first stage in mapping out the actual tasks that an experienced health and wellness coach does routinely, and is completing a validation survey of those tasks. Next, the Consortium will propose training and education standards, which will include items such as faculty credentials, the minimum number of hours for education and training, the number of mentored and observed coaching sessions, etc. These standards are not expected to be completed for another year. Finally, you will no doubt see dual testing, done either by a certifying agency or by some arrangement with accredited training sites. That’s all to be determined. What’s important for fitness instructors to know at this point—the AFAA model of dual testing has been recognized as the gold standard for the making of any allied health profession that deals with human minds and bodies as they strive for improvement.