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UK Coaching Team
Duty to Care Guide

A Guide to Physical Well-being

One of six guides to support you on your Duty to Care journey. Learn how to apply the principles from the physical well-being pillar

Each guide in this series introduces the pillar that the guide covers, explaining the importance to participants, coaches, and coaching practice through key messages, practical tips, videos, downloads, and templates. Take the next step and consider how you can apply the principles from the physical well-being pillar to improve your coaching and your participants’ experiences.

In this guide:

  • What is physical well-being? It's important to define well-being if we hope to improve it.
  • Introduction to the 'five domains of well-being.' Exploring movement, nourishment, recovery, environment and mindset.
  • Exploration of genetics. Where does our DNA sit in determining physical well-being?
  • Strategies to introduce physical well-being in your practice. Practical steps to begin discussions with your participants.

Well-being is using personalised goals to leverage lifestyle to a net positive impact on physiology, feeling and performance."

Oli Patrick

Why is physical well-being important in your coaching?

Describing health and well-being can be extremely challenging. It’s often hard to explain what we mean, as different things are applicable and important to each individual.

It’s important that you develop a framework for conversations with your participants that allows you to check in, have meaningful conversations and develop goals and actions to enhance their physical well-being.

The World Health Organization defines health as ‘a complete state of physical mental and social well-being not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’, which is great and works well in the fact that good health is not merely the absence of bad health but also about social well-being, mental well-being and of course physical well-being, which we will explore further in this guide.

The ultimate unit of well-being is available energy through physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual outlets. A physiological system that is uplifted by adequate movement, nourishment, recovery, positive mindset, and supporting environment can thrive.

In simple terms, we can think of physical well-being as having enough energy to live, perform and play.

Increased mental energy will provide increased cognitive clarity to receive and consolidate information. Increased emotional energy supports building and maintaining challenging relationships. Increased spiritual energy helps us find purpose and meaning.

What is Physical Well-being?

When we are considering physical well-being, it’s important to remember that it’s driven by our underlying physiology.  

Through this guide, we will explore each domain before considering a usable framework to help you apply these in your setting to meet the needs of the people you coach.

The people you coach are individuals. They are all unique and will have different priorities depending on their circumstances.

The skill of the coach is to create conversations, explore their priorities and work with the individual to take positive steps in the right direction that can directly affect and influence their physiology and subsequently their physical well-being.

It’s essential to remember that all the domains of physical well-being influence each other.

Having great physical well-being in two domains will not support the absence of positive well-being in the other three domains. Encouraging your participants to find a balance across the range of factors that affect their physical well-being is important.

The five domains of physical well-being are:

  • movement
  • nourishment
  • recovery
  • environment
  • mindset.

The five domains provide a progressive framework to consider with your participants, beginning with movement.

The illness – wellness continuum

High-level wellness does not preclude periods of illness and weakness. It simply defines choices we can make over things we can control in our life, including our behaviours.

John Travis developed the continuum to highlight how an individual can move along and through premature death, disease, poor health, neutral state, good health, and optimal health stages to get to high-level wellness. He emphasised that well-being includes mental and emotional health, as well as the presence or absence of illness.

When you consider that everyone is somewhere on the continuum, you can adjust or manipulate the five domains to nudge them towards a higher level of wellness. Whilst you can’t resolve a long-term health condition or complex medical issue, enhancing the five domains will improve their overall well-being, which will contribute to their improvement and recovery.

The difference between a medical intervention to solve a chronic issue and physical well-being is that these are preventative strategies. They provide the foundations before considering the extra one percenter and ‘marginal gains’ sometimes referred to in elite performance. It’s about having solid foundations in place and making good choices more often to enhance our physiology and physical well-being state.

When you go to the doctors, they ask about your lifestyle as well as your ailment and symptoms. They’re looking for behaviours they can improve that support the foundations.

Optimal functioning and premature death

As a participant moves to the right of the continuum, you can associate their state with some recognisable phrases in the coaching space.

Can you help the individual move from ‘surviving’ and ‘languishing’ into a state of being they may describe as ‘flourishing’ or ‘thriving?’

Your aim is to support people to the right of the continuum from wherever they are currently to an improved state, using their goals and motivations as the focus for change.

  • Surviving.
  • Languishing.
  • Flourishing.
  • Thriving.

Introduction to the Five Domains of Well-being

If we think of the human body as a tree, it helps us to understand the importance of having strong foundations in place.

If a tree has a bloom, we assume the tree is doing well.

What happens if a branch begins to wilt? Do we ignore this because another branch looks fine?

If the tree appears sturdy, yet we notice that the bark is brittle and falling off, do we assume it’s okay?

A tree has roots that we cannot see, and they help provide the foundations, support, water, and nutrients that the tree needs. It’s easy to look at the flowers and blossoms and assume that everything is fine, or just prune the branches.

In people, the blossoms and flowers may be body shape, composition, and weight loss; and we chase a solution just for this isolated issue. We see people on yo-yo diets, missing meals to make it into an outfit, or prepare themselves for a beach holiday. It’s common to see exercise promotions ‘hooking’ into our insecurities and offering a quick-fix solution.

But physical well-being is more than physical fitness.


The natural starting point for any coach is movement, and this is the first domain we will explore.

The human body, and more specifically our physiology, requires frequent movement to function optimally.

Moving as well as exercising helps with:

  • blood circulation
  • heart health
  • digestion
  • blood sugar levels.

Energy balance is basically a ‘see-saw’ that balances the calories we consume (input) against the calories we use (output).

Calories or kcals are the way we measure energy from food and activity. At rest, our bodies need energy to maintain our bodily functions. This is called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

If we consume more calories than we use (BMR and activity (total daily energy expenditure)), then we gain weight.

If through physical activity and daily life, we burn more calories than we consume, we lose weight.

Did you know…

  • the average woman person burns around 1,600kcal a day doing absolutely nothing (BMR)?
  • the average man person burns around 1,800kcal a day doing absolutely nothing (BMR)?
  • the average for a woman is around 2,000kcal a day to maintain a stable weight*?
  • the average man needs around 2,500kcal a day to maintain a stable body weight*?

*These values can vary depending on age, size and levels of movement and physical activity, and other factors.

When we consume calories or eat certain types of food groups, this can lead to metabolic problems. We will look at this when we explore nourishment.

Use this handy BMR Calculator and the Harris Benedict formula to calculate the required daily calorie intake with your participants.

Movement is the ‘dental flossing’ for our bodies."

Oli Patrick

Movement is different to exercise because it's what the body needs, and it requires it for most of the day.

If steps are available, they are a very good quantifiable unit of movement. The recommended step count per day is 8,000 steps, and to achieve this, you need to be moving for at least 90 minutes per day.

If steps aren’t an option, alternatives include:

  • sit and stand
  • tricep dips
  • wheelchair propulsion
  • seated knee raises
  • seated workouts
  • swimming.

If we can only focus on one aspect of physical well-being, it is to take someone who has inadequate levels of movement and add movement to their day.


As coaches, we all know the benefits of exercise and physical activity.

As we become older our body begins to waste away. This occurs at different times during the lifecycle for individuals: for some this will begin in their late 20s, others their mid-30s and for some in their 40s.

Three things are changing:

  • Starting to lose muscle mass and strength.
  • Reduced cardio-vascular functioning: the ability of the heart and lungs to circulate oxygen to my organs and muscles.
  • Reduced flexibility: muscles have shortened and have a smaller range of motion.

Why is this happening during the lifecycle?

Muscle mass uses lots of energy, so to preserve our life the body begins to lose 2-5% of our total muscle mass each decade. This means you have less muscle to absorb blood glucose and less muscle to protect joints and control movements, which increases the risk of injury.

As we become older, our body thinks we don’t require muscle. To prevent muscle wastage and loss of strength, a weight training programme is essential to delay the body’s natural wasting of muscle.

Cardiovascular fitness is measured as VO2 Max (the maximum rate of oxygen your body can use during exercise). The system also removes waste products from the body.

This is still the best single indicator of how long an individual will live, so it’s a very important factor for physical well-being.

Including physical activity that stresses the heart and lungs into our routine is crucial. Aerobic/cardiovascular activity:

  • strengthens the heart and lungs
  • keeps the circulatory system working strong
  • can reduce the risk of disease
  • can enhance mood
  • can improve brain function.

The oxygen that is being demanded and pumped around the body is required for energy expenditure and is proven to provide better stress resilience. That’s why we often feel better after aerobic exercise.

Reduced range of motion and flexibility can have an impact on our daily activities, preventing us from completing actions such as putting on a coat, tying shoelaces and reaching up on the top shelf of the supermarket.

If our muscles get less oxygen, that will affect their plasticity, leading to reduced muscle mass and cardiovascular ability. The introduction of regular mobility, flexibility and range of movement activity into a person’s well-being programme is important to prevent this from happening.


Nutritional knowledge and information have moved from hard to gain to hard to ignore, with thousands of dietary messages and messengers making understanding personal food choices a difficult task.

Beyond the many subtleties of clinical nutrition, there are some simple principles of eating well that can play a significant role in the physical well-being of an individual. A return to basics, based on the logic of why we eat, is a great place to start.

Human bodies have evolved alongside our natural environment. This is never more obvious than when looking at nourishment through food. A body that does not consume vitamin C will develop scurvy, that does not consume vitamin D, rickets, that does not have broad-spectrum proteins, tissue loss (muscle).

We eat to consume nutrients that work alongside our physiology to perform tasks essential to everyday life and function. A broad spectrum of nutrients are required to keep human physiology functioning well over its lifespan. Nourishment leads to discussions on eating a ‘whole food’ diet, rich in diverse, plant-based foods, ideally forming a rainbow of colour on the plate.

Click into the tabs below for more information.

We eat to consume energy and ensure our cells have fuel to sustain the process through which we exist: cellular respiration*. Our metabolic health is determined through the availability of essential energy fuels to our cells and is fundamental to physical well-being.

On a basic level, humans need glucose, fat, and protein, alongside oxygen, to survive. Making sure we have enough volume of fuel to support the energy demands of the individual is the primary purpose for eating.

In a modern world, easy access to energy-dense, low-quality, processed foods, is a challenge to most people’s diets. Just think how easy it is to order highly processed, convenience foods. A conscious move towards more ‘whole foods’ less ‘processed foods’ and reduced refined carbohydrate foods is a key step toward improved metabolic health.

*Cellular respiration is the process by which we combine oxygen with foodstuff molecules to create energy.

Our understanding of the gut microbiome is relatively new. What is well understood is the trillions of bacteria, predominantly living in our large intestine, that play a critical role in immunity, energy, and mood stability.

Supporting appropriate bacterial survival must be an important part of our nutritional strategy. Bacteria feeds on the fibres within our diet, making dietary diversity and plant-based foods an essential part of supporting overall gut health. A diet rich in diverse plant fibres, determined by different coloured fruits and vegetables, and supported by occasional fermented (live bacteria) foods, is a sensible starting point.

Eating is more than nourishing, fuelling, and feeding our gut microbiome. Eating triggers key pleasure sensors in our brains and offers a significant opportunity for building and securing powerful emotional relationships.

We should not reduce food solely to its biological purposes without recognising that pleasure and social connection are intertwined culturally with eating and food.

Changing an individual’s diet is more than adjusting a biological process, and in many cases unpicking a complex emotional connection with food is required to produce a consistent behavioural change.

Challenging emotional eating patterns is outside of scope of practice for a coach, unless you’re formally trained to do so, but should be understood when dealing with dietary discussions. On a basic level, returning food to the dinner table, eaten slowly, chewed repeatedly and with others, is a good place to start.


The word recovery has moved from the treatment couch of elite sports to the living room of the general public. Brands selling compression trousers, massage guns, ice baths and more have entered the mainstream, as people increasingly recognise the value of recovery as part of their lifestyle strategy.

Recovery is more than the simple act of reducing post-exercise soreness and, alongside reducing excessive inflammation, also includes the process of restoring energy during sleep, buffering excessive stress, and supporting optimal digestion. Recovery is as critical as movement and nutrition to physical well-being.

The cornerstones of recovery are sleep, stress, and inflammation. All three play an important part in how our body recovers or doesn’t recover from the perspective of physical well-being.

Before we explore each one in turn it is important to remember that all are important and if we have a deficit or gap in one area this will impact our overall recovery capability. It’s important to make sure that your participants are taking actionable steps in all areas.

Good sleep with a highly stressed lifestyle doesn’t work, just as a balanced stress lifestyle won’t offset inflammation if we don’t allow the body and its physiology time to recover. Constant training without adequate recovery will have a detrimental effect on performance and overall well-being.


Humans spend nearly a third of their lives asleep, yet the science of sleep is still in its infancy. What we do know about sleep is that it is our critical biological process for restoring energy, regulation of immunity, consolidation of memory, processing of trauma and more. If we are thinking about recovery, then improving access to quality sleep patterns should be a major part of our strategy.

This probably sounds like common sense, that’s because it is. Most people know that the average person requires 7-9 hours’ sleep per night, but this will differ for individuals: for some, this will be 10 hours, and for others, as few as 6.

But just because it’s common sense, doesn’t mean it’s common practice. There are circumstances in our environment and times within our life stages that will have an impact on sleep long term. Think about the shift pattern worker, the new parent, and the person who is experiencing night sweats during the menopause.

Alongside this, you can support your participants to try to reduce ‘bad’ choices that will have an impact on their sleep, such as staying up late on social media, gaming into the early morning, or mismanaging caffeine and alcohol.

Getting good sleep requires the same amount of planning, preparation, and considerations as training well.

Click into the tabs below for more information.

The 24-hour clock

Key facts on sleep:

  • Average sleep duration in the UK is 6 hours 20 minutes. That is significantly below the 7-9 hours recommended and as an ‘average’ reflects a large volume of the population gets less than 6 hours 20 each night.
  • One in three suffer from defined insomnia or sleep deprivation.
  • 60% of the UK cite some issue with regular sleep quality.
  • 16% of UK traffic accidents are related to sleep deprivation.

Key headlines:

  • Encourage participants to get 7-9 hours’ sleep per night.
  • Remind participants that sleep quality is the important factor.
  • Understand that you can’t build up sleep in preparation for sleep loss.
  • Broken or disrupted sleep has an impact on the amount of deep sleep we can gain in an evening.
  • Caffeine blocks the receptors in our brain and tricks us into thinking we are not tired.
  • Alcohol puts us to sleep but the quality of sleep is poor.


  • Try to adhere to a consistent wake and sleep time, within an hour of your ‘baseline.’
  • Make your bedroom a sleep room; declutter the mess.
  • Remove your devices (and the temptation).
  • Buy an alarm clock rather than your smart phone (we all peek).
  • Make sure the curtains and blinds cover the window – as dark as you can get.
  • The room should be cool, make sure the temperature allows core temperature to drop by 1 degree from day temperatures.
  • Lower the lighting in the evening in preparation for bed.
  • Read or journal before bed to remove any persistent thoughts before you go to sleep.

If your participants are adhering to the habits and behaviours above but are still experiencing a consistent inability to fall asleep, to remain asleep, or consistently wake unrefreshed, then this should be discussed with their GP.

Try to control what you can and once those factors have been excluded, ensure good onward referral.


Stress is the lifeblood of performance with increasing pressure being closely associated with increased performance in sport and life in general. However, when pressures regularly exceed our ability to cope then positive stress becomes negative. Understanding this process and key points in improving resilience in others is a major focus of good recovery.

Stress is broadly defined as ‘pressures upon an individual that exceed their ability to cope.’

The pressure performance curve represents when stress moves from a positive pressure to a negative pressure. The use of the pressure performance curve can be useful when trying to move away from a simplified concept such as ‘fight or flight’.

When faced with an acute stress, the human physiological response is ‘fight or flight,’ a series of biological processes driven by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

However, for most people, their stress is not acute stressor, like a bear attack (threat to life) or being stopped for speeding by the police. Instead it is a progressive feeling of overwhelm brought about by the gradual and successive volume of smaller, often initially seen as insignificant, demands upon them and increasingly inadequate recovery to deal with those demands on a daily basis.

The pressure performance curve works on the principle that life without pressure is not the optimum goal. Hypostress is a very real state, felt by those with no role in life, no purpose, no sense of belonging and no demands placed upon them. It may feel like the ideal goal but ‘languishing’ in this state is associated with poor physical and mental health.

The ultimate aim is enough pressure (demands) to not only match the resources with coping mechanisms, but also, occasionally exceed them. A small amount of hyperstress is critical to growth and development and it is on these principles we can understand progressive overload and the role that plays in human performance improvement.

The key phrase here is that ‘stress is positive, distress is negative’ and prolonged exposure to too many demands, with inadequate recovery and processing, will lead to both negative performance (think overtraining) but also negative impacts on health.

Finding ways to decrease pressures, increase coping through emotional, mental, and physical strategies to bolster recovery capability, is a great focus for a good coach.


Take a moment to consider what your recovery strategies are. How do you recharge yourself emotionally, mentally and physically? Do you include any of these approaches in your coaching programme?  


Have a go

Speak to your participants and begin to build a picture of their recovery strategies away from your training environment. How can you help top up their emotional, mental and physical ‘batteries’?



Inflammation is a word often used but rarely defined. There are two types: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation, which is often more subtle and long lasting.

Inflammation is a protective response to acute or long-term stressors. Acute inflammation occurs post exercise (delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS)), fights infection and speeds up the healing process after an injury. Reducing acute inflammation may play a part in the recovery process.

Chronic inflammation can last for several months, through to years. The symptoms may present as mild or severe and include:

  • Fatigue
  • long-term body pain
  • weight loss/gain
  • gastrointestinal complications such as diarrhoea and constipation
  • constantly picking up viruses and infections.

Reducing chronic, or cellular inflammation, is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurocognitive disease such as Alzheimer's.


Our body prepares for what we anticipate. If we regularly anticipate a stressful outcome, then we prepare for stress. If we regularly anticipate a peaceful outcome, then we physiologically prepare for pleasure. The role of mindset is well established in sports performance but managing thoughts and thought patterns is a key piece of physical well-being. We become what we think.

Reinforcing a positive mindset as a coach will be central to your coach behaviours and coaching sessions. From encouragement and check ins, through to praise and constructive feedback, they all help underpin a positive mindset.

The more we experience positive emotions, the more our brain releases the neurochemicals dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These are known as the happy hormones. An easy way to remember these is we need our daily DOSE (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins) to be happy.

Dopamine is involved in the anticipation of an event or feeling rather than in the actual feeling of happiness.

The neurochemical oxytocin is responsible for making humans into sociable beings. As it triggers social bonding when it is released, it is the cause of the emotion of empathy, which brings us closer to other people.

The neurochemical serotonin controls mood, whether it is positive or negative. It is a regulator, which means that it contributes to the regulation and maintenance of homeostasis within the gut system, influencing physiological processes like nutrient absorption, blood flow, and immune system health.

Hormones called endorphins are known to mask pain or discomfort and are closely related to the fight or flight response. Endorphins are released by the brain in response to pain or stress, which includes during exercise, eating, and sex.

If we think we can or think we can’t, we are probably right."

Human physiology prepares for what it believes is going to happen next. If you ‘anticipate’ a 100m sprint race, before the gun goes off your heart rate will increase, blood rushes to the muscles, blood glucose levels rise, and your digestive processes shut down in preparation. Your body knows what is about to happen and prepares before it physically moves a muscle.

On a simple level those who anticipate poor outcomes will have a different physiological pattern to those who anticipate positive outcomes.

The rise of meditation practices, particular mindfulness, increase our understanding that a present and grounded mind will create a present and grounded physiology. If my mind is racing into future negative scenarios, then so is my preparatory physiology. A mind that is slow and grounded in the ‘now’ produces a less physiologically demanding response.

Changing a person’s mindset is more than transforming pessimistic thinking into optimistic thinking. It is a broad and complex area. However, as a coach, helping others avoid ‘catastrophising’ into negative future scenarios is a great approach.

Practices like relaxation, meditation and mindfulness can help enormously. Broader mindset work around positive visualisation (manifesting*) is also a powerful tool to help create a mental roadmap to success before it has been achieved.

This can include journaling, writing down positive thoughts and moments, creating a vision board (a visual of all the things you would like to come true) and playing out positive thoughts and outcomes every day. Flip your thinking to what is the best that can happen, rather than thinking the worst.

When a teacher catches a young person doing something positive, well and improving, they ‘catch’ them in the moment and add positive reinforcement to the behaviour and actions. This is a useful tool for any coach working with people, as it helps build a positive mindset, ‘can do’ culture and a safe environment. You can continue adding to their confidence and positive mindset ‘reserves’.

*Manifestation is the act of daydreaming or more specifically, having the ability to imagine and envision all your dreams coming true.

Your attitude determines your altitude."

Zig Ziglar


Think about your last four coaching sessions. How do you use language, your approach and energy in the sessions to promote a ‘can do’ attitude?


The power of ‘yet’

Psychologist Carol Dweck termed the phrase, ‘yet’. Encourage participants to finish otherwise negative statements with the word ‘yet’ and listen to how it changes the sentence.

This is rewarding effort, perseverance, and commitment over the outcome. That empowers the person to continue the challenge and see that you value them and what they bring as a person, rather than focusing on the immediate outcome.

Related Resources


Our physical well-being is not only driven by the actions we take, but also the environment in which we find ourselves. Environment is the setting in which our physiology finds itself most frequently. The presence or absence of light, noise, heat, toxins, and other factors all affect the way we function and feel, as well as our lifespan.

Everyone’s environment, personal circumstances and setting will be different, and are influenced by:

  • light and dark
  • chronic heat and cold
  • toxicity
  • noise.

Mindset is very important in thinking differently. As Yoda once said: ‘do or do not, there is no try’. In other words, a positive and can-do attitude can make all the difference. When an individual’s environment is challenging or limited, the solution could be found within their imagination and the ability to think differently.

There are a number of factors which can negatively affect a person’s environment, including:

  • working in a noisy environment, such as a factory
  • working night shifts
  • rotating shift patterns
  • working indoors
  • having a sedentary occupation
  • living near an airport
  • being unable to walk.


How well do you know the people you coach? Do you know how their life outside of your coaching sessions impacts on their environment?

How can you find out more about the individuals you coach?


A Brief Exploration of Genetics

Do not blame your parents for who you are. They gave you the genes, but you choose how to wear them."

Travis J Hedrick

Despite all the prominent news and social media, genetics has a startlingly small impact on chronic health. Think of genes as an enabler: they make things easier or harder for some people, rather than possible or impossible.

Some people’s genetics make weight management easier, while for others their cardiovascular baseline is much higher, and they are a high responder to a training stimulus. Others try harder to make muscle gains, whilst others need fewer sessions. It isn’t a case of have or have not; you need to support participants to work with the genes they have to impact on their physical well-being.

Strategies to Support Physical Well-being in Your Coaching Practice

Applying this to coaching practice

Role modelling

Leading a life where you represent your values, and you prioritise actions and behaviours that nourish your physiology and endorse your physical well-being will be the single best thing you can do to promote and support change with your participants."

Oli Patrick

We can start by considering the lessons learned in the latest evolution of corporate well-being. It’s not about ‘telling’, or ‘prescribing’: if an organisation wants to impact on the health of their people and the organisation, they must go beyond the gym membership, healthy snacks and fruit bowl offerings. It’s about the directors and managers modelling those behaviours.

Encourage the people you coach to make time for movement, and not only to eat healthily, but also to make time to eat. People look to mimic and learn from the actions and behaviours of those they look up to.

Think of yourself as a person that people might look to learn from and model the behaviours that you’d like to see them adopt. Be willing to start conversations about physical well-being, be curious about your participants, and compassionately challenge choices that you think aren’t helping them.


Are you modelling the behaviours of the five domains? Consider the first three in detail. Do you move, nourish, and hydrate your body and recover adequately? Do you show these behaviours in your language, actions, interactions? What micro action could you do to promote this?


A high performance team were exploring how the change of nutrients in the morning could enhance the team’s performance. In its simplest form, they wanted the athletes to eat broccoli and cauliflower for breakfast. They were placed on the server each morning when the team was in camp.

Guess what: each day they were thrown away! Not really a surprise. There wasn’t the culture, explanation, or anyone else eating them.

When a new Performance Manager joined the team, they simply began putting the foods on their plate, and spoke to several senior athletes about the benefits to them in sustaining their career. They agreed to give it a go.

Then there were four players and a few members of staff eating the foods at breakfast. Others simply copied, and some asked why and gave it a go. It was a conversation starter and within a week most of the athletes were eating the foods at breakfast time.

Have a go

What could you try in your setting? Bringing a healthy snack? Eating your post-session recovery mini meal in public? Not getting on the team travel with a coffee, and bringing a water instead? How will you role model the behaviours you want to see?


Removing the limitations

In the real world, at your coaching sessions, you are unlikely to be able to arrange a private and confidential consultation that allows you to talk and explore the domains in detail. You are more likely to be using the template that you apply to your own life. Through leading a life that is high energy and high value you become the poster person for how physical well-being really does drive performance.

Beyond your own actions and behaviours, a practical approach, and the perfect starting point are ‘pinch points’ or ‘pain points’ for your participants. They are real, relevant to them and a great motivator for change.

You may notice an action or behaviour in a session that opens the door for a question, such as someone consistently yawning in sessions, using energy drinks repeatedly, complaints of niggles or always having a bug and unable to shake it off.

At other times it can be a conversation around how they are progressing, what is their energy levels like, how would they describe their energy and what is the comparison to last month?

Talking ‘pinch points’ stops the conversation being about them and makes it a conversation with them. Using the domains as a framework will allow you to skilfully discuss aspects of their performance. You’re looking to flip the conversation to identify a benefit, the use of a limiting factor or complete improvement through identifying one, maximum two, actions they can focus on over the coming six weeks.

Why six weeks? Physiology doesn't change overnight, and the idea that seven days at a health retreat will change 20 years of physiological adaptation is mad. A single action, a one-off activity, a new supplement will have little impact.

It’s the aggregation of micro tweaks and actions, steady and constant reinforcement across the five domains will have the impact. You may work with a participant to ‘case’ one domain initially, creating a ‘quick’ win, but for permanent change its important that the gains are made across the five domains.

Over time, the actions become habits and behaviours and you can consolidate those with your participants by reinforcing, praising improvement, checking in and arranging a catch up to discuss further.

This is your opportunity to connect the improvement, behaviour, and habits to the area they wanted to be improve. This may be energy levels, or a more specific area. You show them how they are owning and taking responsibility for their own physical well-being.

These are the barriers that impact on their progress and will be specific to the individual. The barriers may change and alter throughout the lifecycle and as their personal circumstances change. As more factors impact on an individual the barriers can become greater:
  • A single parent may have less time.
  • A night shift worker has less opportunity to have a regulated sleep pattern.
  • A woman may be peri-menopausal and their symptoms include brain fog and weight gain.

In isolation, these are challenging. Imagine they’re all happening to the same person! Take the time to understand your participants’ circumstances, situation and what is important to them. This helps you work together to find the solution that works for them.

Consider the factors that may be a barrier to the individuals you coach, such as:

  • age
  • gender
  • motivation
  • personal situation
  • working conditions
  • impairment/disability/long-term health condition
  • current active status
  • life stage.

Take the time to talk to the person and understand their personal situation. No magic wand or silver bullet, just simple behaviour change tactics.

Motivation: finding their ‘why’

When speaking with a participant, you have to remember that it is their health and well-being that you’re supporting them to work on. You can’t change someone’s behaviour without their consent and without ‘buy in,’ your efforts are likely to fail quickly.

Intrinsic motivation, a person’s desire to change and have a clear reason for the change, is very powerful. You may have heard of self-determination theory,’ which is based on three needs that a person has for growth, autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

In simple terms, providing the individual with choices, allowing them to make their own decisions and taking responsibility for their own development will have the best impact.

If they then feel that they have the right skills, knowledge to develop and receive positive feedback (from the results, how they feel and from the coach and peers), they will feel more confident and more motivated to achieve the goal.

If they then believe that they are in control, have the skills and can see the benefits to them, they are meeting these basic needs. Relatedness can be to the situation and the need to change, feeling they are connected to the team/organisation and understand why there is a benefit to them and others. Finally, they need to feel cared for, and part of something bigger. This is how you can help build the connection: show that you care, and that you are on the journey together.

It’s important to remember that ‘health’ means different things to different people. It’s also important to remember that most people don’t think negatively about their future health. They might consider that to be looking too far ahead or be convinced that it won’t happen to them.

That’s why the five-domain framework is essential to ensure that when you’re having coaching conversations you are talking about the same things, and that you’re couching the conversation in practical actions they can take to improve their lives.

Think about the messaging around tobacco smoking. We have been advising people to stop for 50 years, and the cigarette packets have warnings and graphic pictures of different cancers. The reason this has been unsuccessful and ineffective for many years is that we don’t live our lives in fear of something that may or may not happen tomorrow. We need to provide people with a compelling reason to change their behaviour.

Oli Patrick of Future Practice provides an example of how he introduces the conversation.

It begins by talking the time to find their ‘pain point’, what is relevant, important and current for them.

Q. How is your energy?

Q. How is your energy out of 10?

Q. Do you wake up feeling refreshed?

Q. Do you have the energy to lead the life you should be able to lead?

Q. Do you have dips in energy during the day?

Q. Does your immune system have the energy it needs? Are you always the first to catch a bug? Does it linger for weeks?

Q. How is your emotional energy? Do you find it easy to mix with and work with challenging people?

Q. How is your mental energy? Are you able to hold thoughts, plan big and avoid getting stuck in negative thinking?

Asking someone about their energy levels is a knock on the door: their response provides you with the permission to enter. You can explore across the five domains to connect with their ‘pain point’ and work with them to explore actions and behaviours to reduce it.

If a participant shares a health condition with you, you can’t say you can improve the condition. What you are able to do is explore the five domains of physical well-being with them to remove their specific ‘pain point,’ and that this may in turn also help their health condition.

A participant has been recommended to see an exercise professional because they have chronic arthritis. When they explore their energy and what they are not able to do it opens up the conversation. They can’t get around like they used to, they struggle to carry items such as shopping and everyday tasks are a challenge.

They ask them about movement rather than physical activity, and find out that they want to be more active. There is a ‘door opening’. They then talk about nourishment and discuss a few tweaks to their diet, opening another door.

As you can see, the exercise professional is asking what the ‘pain points’ are and using the three needs of self-determination to support the individual. They are not committing to removing the chronic arthritis, they are looking to enhance and nudge their physical well-being dials, which improve their situation and may also help the condition.

The individual has a strong incentive to change behaviours as they can see the benefits directly for them today.

Stress response and coach behaviours

When we consider individuals, we have to remember that we are all unique and that one size doesn’t fit all. This includes mindset. One person may benefit from an increase in stress (hyper) to get up to an optimum performance level. The same level of arousal affects another participant very differently and may have a negative impact on their performance and create distrust with you and others.

Your coach behaviours, including how you communicate, your words, language, and tone and your mannerisms are crucial and need to be combined with ‘noticing’. As a coach remaining vigilant to the environment, you can create appropriate stressors for individuals, ensuring they receive the appropriate ‘dose’ of stress to maximise their growth and development.

If you recognise that an individual is extremely volatile or boiling up to a point where they're looking stressed and potentially underperforming, and that they would benefit from some down regulation, you can try a few calming words, something that says in this situation I want you to be as fluid as possible.

Another participant might need to go into a state of hyper stress to go into that initial contact in a rugby game.

Your role as a coach is to pick the right tool at the right dosage for the right person.

Helping the individual shift their mindset will have a significant impact on their performance and importantly, also on physical well-being. If a participant is demonstrating several symptoms of emotional distress consistently during a period of two weeks or more, then you should refer them to their GP. If you believe the person is thinking of hurting themselves of others, you should refer them yourself.

Symptoms of emotional distress:

  • Low or no energy.
  • Feeling helpless or lost.
  • Unexplained aches and pains.
  • Becoming more withdrawn.
  • Worrying constantly and feeling guilty, yet unable to explain why.
  • Thinking of hurting themselves or someone else.

Physical well-being gauges

We now understand that everyone is on the continuum and that improvement in all five domains is possible for everyone, whether a health-conscious executive, elite athlete or an individual who is just starting out or returning to self-care and prioritising their physical well-being.

Using a gauge allows the individual to consider where they are and focuses a conversation on what actions they can consider initiating and the necessary change of behaviours.

When they are visually displayed, it helps individuals to see where the priorities are.

The conversation with your participants needs to be real, authentic, and not forced. Following these principles can help you explore the next steps together.

  1. What is their goal? (What is motivating them?)
  2. What are the priorities from the five domains? (Quick wins, firm foundations).
  3. What are the limiters/barriers?
  4. What are the best fit solutions?

When supporting participants in physical domains, it's helpful to have some immediate actions and personal behaviours that give you a starting point to have good discussions.

In the examples below, we have chosen five actions to encourage physical well-being conversations and see whether they're present or absent in your participant’s lifestyle.

If these actions are present, you can assume that their behaviour is supporting their physiology. If they are absent, it may be that their physiology is not receiving all benefits it could and you can focus on introducing five progressively beneficial actions.

The gauges provide an easy way to start a conversation, see which aspects of an individual’s physical well-being are limiting their potential and identify the areas for development to dial up. The five physical well-being dials below provide a good starting point for conversations across the five domains.

If these actions are present, you can assume that their behaviour is supporting their physiology. If they are absent, it may be that their physiology is not receiving all benefits it could and you can focus on introducing five progressively beneficial actions.

The gauges provide an easy way to start a conversation, see which aspects of an individual’s physical well-being are limiting their potential and identify the areas for development to dial up. The five physical well-being dials provide a good starting point for conversations across the five domains.

We have created two ‘five actions’ checklists and a template to help you start supporting your coaches.



Coaching conversations

Better discussions, better goals."

Oli Patrick

Coaching is a people business and significant part of this is communication, including conversations after sessions or taking a coachable moment in the session to ask a question or leave a ‘seed’ with your participant. It’s the combination of listening, noticing, and understanding the person’s needs and making judgements to nudge them towards their goals.

In these videos, Oli shares his experiences of having holistic conversations to help participants increase their physical well-being.

Young person attending a Sport for Development session

School student and nourishment

Hockey player on the Talent pathway

Participant returning to Exercise to Music

Have a go

Make a list of three things that you are going to focus on within your next few coaching sessions. Make sure that they are specific to the domains of physical well-being. This may be with the group, an individual or yourself.

Will it be a conversation, increasing awareness, introducing something new to the group or focusing on your coach behaviours?

What will you do in your next session?


Earn a Digital Badge

Learn about the importance of Duty to Care with our newly-enhanced Toolkit and demonstrate your commitment to looking after the people you coach by earning our Sport England-funded Digital Badge


Duty to Care: Physical Well-being

Monitor, manage and maintain healthy habits and help prevent illness and injury by learning how feelings and performance are driven by lifestyle factors that affect your physiology


Related Resources

  • Fifteen Ways to Improve Coach Well-being

  • Thriving Environments: Creating an Environment for Development

  • Ready to Learn: Developing a Positive Learning Mindset


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