What can coaching learn from Pokemon Go?

Whether or not the intricacies of Pokémon Go are familiar to you, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the concept has achieved phenomenal success.

So what is its appeal, how has it reached such heights, and what – if anything – can the world of coaching learn from it?

Pokémon – a name created by compounding the words ‘pocket monster’ – was created by Nintendo back in 1995 and has already attracted revenues exceeding US$50 billion. The game requires humans (Pokémon Trainers) to catch animated characters, which can then be used to perform a range of challenges and tasks. It is, in effect, Top Trumps meets a treasure hunt.

In July, the brand took a leap outside the dark rooms frequented by many users, with the launch of Pokémon Go, which required players to go out into the big wide world – assisted by GPS and Google Earth technology – to expand their search. Dr Christian van Nieuwerburgh, Associate Professor of Coaching at the Henley Centre for Coaching and Behavioural Change, believes there are lessons that are relevant to coaches.


 The secret of Pokémon Go’s success is its ability to influence behaviour

‘It’s highly addictive,’ he says, ‘and absolute genius. It now means you have to get out and do exercise, which is great for the health and well-being of players, as well as providing the potential for lucrative commercial opportunities for brand owners, retailers and other commercial operators who want to attract people to their locations.

‘So it’s changing people’s behaviour, and as coaches, that’s exactly what we seek to do. And the key to this is offering positive and frequent rewards. While it’s easy to catch your first Pokémon, it gets progressively more challenging, but you build on your strengths.

‘As coaches, we need to start with easily achievable targets to get people interested and motivated, put rewards in place, and celebrate successes. Like the game, our coachees’ goals must become increasingly challenging; if players are engaged, they won’t notice the time or effort they are devoting to it.

‘In coaching, we talk about getting coachees into the “flow state”, in which their challenges and skills are matched throughout the process. This balance is critical. Make it too hard or too easy and it simply won’t work.

‘The really exciting thing about all this is that one of the big challenges for coaches is establishing the right environment for the most effective interaction. And I’m currently involved in a research programme looking at the experience of people who have been coached while out walking, rather than in an enclosed room. If the results confirm what we suspect, it looks as though there is a clear parallel between the two.’

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