The Four S's: A Comprehensive Program for Coaching People with ADD

by Sue Coleman and Susan Sussman

Reprinted from

A comprehensive approach towards coaching people with ADD can be summarized in four words: structure, support, skills and strategies. Each is a focal point at various times in the coaching relationship; and sometimes all are provided or worked on simultaneously. Structure, support, skills and strategies are the building blocks used in providing an ADD client with a complete coaching experience.


Structure is a framework within which the ADD client can live his life. It provides the means by which an ADD client can be proactive (not reactive) in the face of chaos, paradox and change.

Structure consists of the following components:
1. Clearly defined vision, goals, and values. These concepts are central to a life with direction, purpose and fulfilment. To illustrate this, in his book 'First Things First', Stephen Covey defines them as the "compass for our lives". Goals, vision, and values are clarified in the early phases of the coaching relationship and inform the client's basic and true sense of identity, purpose, and fulfilment.
2. Systems for managing daily life. Systems are developed for things like decluttering on a regular basis, handling mail and bills, doing the shopping, and handling financial affairs.
3. The essential structure of a time management system. A time management system is created that works for the client (it could be a Franklin Planner or Daytimer, or something totally personal and original). The coach helps the client identify priorities, break them into manageable steps, and schedule them into a calendar.
4. Daily or weekly appointments that are scheduled, reliable and consistent. An integral part of consistency is the accountability the coach requires from the client for designated priorities.
5. A single daily action (SDA) taken every day, no matter what. The SDA, identified in the initial coaching session, gives the client a sense of accomplishment and forward momentum and raises self-esteem.
6. Daily habits which are small constructive actions done on a daily or routine basis, These daily habits form the foundation upon which major change takes place. Habits can be developed in a client's professional and/or personal life.


For ADDers who have spent their lives feeling blamed, criticized, and misunderstood, support is essential. In a support role a coach can serve a number of functions. First, clients need an opportunity to tell their story. Here the coach serves the role of witness and empathizer, someone who understands and has empathy for the client's journey - his past, current struggles and victories, and his future hopes and dreams.

Coaches also offer support in other ways as the coaching relationship unfolds: Feedback and support involve telling the client what you see them doing. For example, "It seems to me you are really efforting in your life right now. How can you make it easier for yourself?"

The coach can support the client and acknowledge their wins. Clients can start the check-in call with a list of wins accomplished since the last call. Coaches need to acknowledge clients' wins and encourage clients to acknowledge themselves. During this process the coach must be sure that the acknowledgment "lands," i.e., that the client really gets the message.

Coaches can also offer support by holding their client's vision - especially when the client forgets. Individuals with' ADD can forget their vision when the going gets tough. At these times coaches can remind clients of their vision and help them get back on a forward-moving track.

Coaches can also champion their clients. This is the skill of standing for the client when they doubt or question their abilities Championing occurs when the coach really knows the client. The coach can act as the client's memory, reminding them of their basic values, the path they have chosen, and their inventory of strengths.

Celebrating is another support-based coaching skill. The coach uses this skill to deepen the client's appreciation of their failures and successes. Celebration serves to deepen the client's experiences and appreciation of their lives at any given moment.

Clearing: When a client is preoccupied with a situation or mental state which gets in the way of resourcefulness or being proactive, a coach assists by being an active listener while the client vents or complains, helping the client clear the situation out of the way.

Creating trust: The coaching relationship rests on a foundation of safety and trust. To create trust, the coach discusses both confidentiality and safety. The coach offers the client the opportunity to verbalize the various ways the coach can be most helpful, and is specific about what the client can count on from him.

Finally in the area of support, the ADD coach can track progress and provide specific information and guidance each step along the way.


When individuals with ADD work on skill building, their worlds become more consistent and predictable.

The first step in the process of skill building occurs when the coach helps the client identify their strengths and weaknesses. Coaches help clients with the process of skill building and support clients in working from their strengths. Coaches can help ADD clients build the following skills:
Time management: Most ADD clients have difficulty managing time. There are many helpful tools available. Often ADD clients need information about these tools and help putting them in place and using them.
Goal setting: Includes educating clients about the characteristics of a goal (establishing the who, what, when, where, and why) and teaching clients how to break goals into manageable Steps.
Setting boundaries: Includes recognizing that one's time has limits and being able to say "no" when appropriate. Clients can be given a written description of healthy boundaries that can be referred to throughout the coaching relationship.
Dealing with transitions: Consists of teaching the client about the nature of transition. Clients can be referred to the book Transitions by William Bridges when dealing with big life transitions. (One such transition is the process of ADD diagnosis and learning to understand and manage it.) Transition skill-building also includes developing strategies to move smoothly from task to task.
Dealing with the Inner critic: The ADD client often has a strong inner critic who gives negative feedback on an ongoing basis. Helping the client track the voice, identify its messages, and learn to detach from it is an important part of skill building.
Other areas in which ADD coaches work with clients include developing listening skills, social skills, and organizational skills.


Strategies are creative tools coaches use to help clients navigate their daily lives efficiently and achieve their goals. Lists of strategies can be as extensive as the creativity, skill and knowledge of the individual coach allow.

1. Corralling energy: The coach can help the client identify high energy times for engaging in tasks requiring concentration and stamina.
2. Pattern learning: This strategy enables clients to remember to do tasks because they are "piggybacked" on top of other tasks. For example, "When I finish brushing my teeth I will take my medication."
3. Setting realistic start and stop times for each action: A project with a defined end is much less daunting than one that seems endless. An effective strategy is to chunk down tasks into 15 minutes or 30 minute segments. Teach clients to set a timer so that when the time is up, they can give themselves permission to quit.
4. Identifying blocks and resistances before the beginning of a project as well as each step of the way. With this approach, obstacles can be defused before they sabotage the job. Also clients become familiar with their resistance patterns and can develop strategies for avoiding them in the future.
5. Establishing markers to identify the completion of each step of a project: For example: "When I'm finished labeling my file folders, I'm done with the second step of reorganizing my office."
6. Setting up rewards: "If I declutter my office on Saturday,I can treat myself to dinner at my favourite restaurant or buy myself the computer game I've been dreaming about."

Although there is no one "right" way to coach clients with ADD, coaching that carefully examines how structure, support, skills and strategies can benefit each unique client will help immeasurably in creating a relationship between coach and client that fosters growth, learning, and change over time.

Sue Coleman is a Certified Professional & Personal Coach and graduate of the COACHES Training Institute in San Francisco. She specializes in coaching adults with ADD and resides north of San Francisco in Larkspur, CA.