By: Louisa M. Jones, Principal, ICF

Louisa Jones is a principal at ICF, where she manages projects related to self-sufficiency, workforce development, and populations at-risk for negative outcomes.

The views expressed in In Focus are exclusively those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions of their employers or clients. References to materials or services in the public domain do not imply endorsement from those entities.


You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self-motivation.”
Homer Rice, Georgia Tech Football Coach

For most people, the word “coach” may immediately conjure the image of a supportive adult alongside sports fields, pools, courts, etc.

The word coach also captures a parent who taught you the importance of financial savviness or a math teacher who somehow made calculus less nerve-racking. Your coach could be an older cousin or neighbor who was the first generation to attend college in his or her family or a professional in your career field who guided you through uncharted waters. Our coaches not only give us encouragement, advice, and pointers, but they also teach proper habits, routines, and practices, and they offer us goals to strive for in life.

Coaching today can extend beyond to the sports field as a case management approach in human services and workforce development for building abilities and providing positive encouragement and support to low-skilled and/or low-income workers. TANF participants in Ramsey County, Minnesota, whose case managers used coaching techniques were 20% more likely to become employed. EMPath reported an increase in wages from $5.36 an hour to $20.18 an hour for participants in the Mobility Mentoring program, which is rooted in providing coaching support.

A myriad of health, financial, social, educational, and soft skills and employability are some of the key challenges Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other human services program participants face in finding employment and, more importantly, a career pathway. Reinforcing strengths-based and participant-driven coaching components and promoting self-motivation and positivity are integral to training coaches working with these populations. As an example, CAP Tulsa in Oklahoma uses two coaching models for its whole-family centered approach to case management: 1) The Prosperity Agenda’s family-centered training focused on setting visible and repetitive goals; and 2) Central New Mexico Community College’s C.O.A.C.H approach focused on participant strengths.

Additional key aspects of coaching used in Ramsey County, Minnesota, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia through the ICF-coached Office of Family Assistance’s Systems to Family Stability National Policy Academy include:

  • Active listening
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing to clearly understand what participants are saying
  • Asking powerful questions (open-ended and closed-ended questions at the appropriate times)
  • Ensuring that individuals and families set goals (not caseworkers, coaches, or others)

With coaching, agencies and organizations are focusing on encouraging mothers, fathers, children, and families to set forward-looking and participant-driven goals that will help them move forward steadfastly with focus and diligence.