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  • Writer's pictureAlan Sieler

Ontological Self-Coaching

By Leonard Marvey and Alan Sieler

What is an ontological practitioner?

An ontological practitioner is someone who is skilled in working with individuals and groups, able to facilitate significant perceptual and behavioural change. An indispensable part of learning to be an ontological practitioner is being able to engage in self-coaching, in which the student repeatedly learns how to apply the methodology of Ontological Coaching to their own perceptual and behavioural improvement. This means coaching to one’s own Way of Being .

Two of the key premises two of the ontological approach to coaching, leadership and life in general which is that our Way of Being is (i) where are perceptions and attitudes live and (ii) the underlying driver of our behaviour and communication. Our own Way of Being is possibly the best laboratory we have available for learning about the significance of Way of Being as the avenue to what can often be deep learning and profound change.

Participants in the 18 month ICF accredited Ontological Coaching and Leadership Program are required to complete four reports exploring significant issues in their life by applying the ontological methodology to make important changes in their Way of Being. They are not required to share the details of the issue If they wish this to remain private. Whether the issue is shared or not, the primary focus of the report is on shifts they have made in each of the three existential domains of their Way of Being, these being language, emotions and body, and the subsequent perceptual and behavioural change that has occurred.

Through ontological self-coaching the ontological practitioner learns to directly experience existential transformation and truly embody the ontological approach to coaching, leadership and life in general.

Shifting Way of Being as a powerful avenue to golfing success

Leonard Marvey lives in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and is participating in Level 3 of our Ontological Coaching and Leadership Program. Leonard has already demonstrated excellence as an ontological practitioner through his coaching of individuals and co-facilitating several workshops as part of course requirements. An avid golfer, Leonard is continually on the look-out for how he can improve his game and has discovered, much to his joy, the power of ontological self-coaching as a highly effective way to take his golf game to another level. Over to Leonard to describe this experience ….

I recently took home the victory at the Limpopo Open hosted at my local club. As an amateur, I haven't had much success in the last several years; in fact, it's been over five years since I last won anything of note on the golf course. Despite the fact that I play golf as a hobby and have many years of experience competing at amateur level, I have not been able to perform successfully in these types of tournaments. Therefore, I conclude that the key to my success had little to do with learning any new golfing skills, and everything to do with shift in my perception and attitude.

Upon reflection, I identified the difference in my Way of Being between then and now. The way I behaved linguistically, emotionally, and physically before and during the competition was totally different from how I behaved in the past. Previously I was in the mood of anxiety without realizing it, and that affected my performance in many aspects of my life.

However, coming into event, I noticed a few things about myself that points to the power of ontological approach. I was more conscious of my inner conversation, I didn't allow myself to entertain any negative thoughts, which are typically unhelpful opinions and beliefs (an aspect of language referred to as assessments). I did not place any pressure on myself. I was more kind to myself and I just wanted to go out there and enjoy myself. My mood had shifted from anxiety to acceptance and wonder.

In one of our meetings our club captain informed us that the president of the Limpopo Golf Union would like to play a practice round on Friday before the tournament. I eagerly accepted the invitation when he asked whether I would be able to join the president on that particular day. To cut the long story short, the president was accompanied by a friend and I was struck by how well we got along right away. I learned that the president is a former professional golfer and that his companion is one of the best amateurs in the province during our fantastic practice round of golf.

I checked in with myself during our game of golf to see what was happening with my Way of Being and I found that I was in a good space emotionally and otherwise, I was relaxed and I also noticed that I granted myself permission to act in accordance with my legitimate authority. (Note from Alan - This is an excellent example of the skilful use the linguistic act of a declaration to generate a very different reality.) I was never intimidated by the fact that the people I was playing with were significantly more experienced than me. I played to their level with so much ease. At the end of the day we had fun and the president was impressed with my ability to play this game, which was a great motivation for me. He appreciated that I agreed to join them and I was looking forward to the competition after this practice round.

I approached the first round in the same mood I was in on the previous day, and ended the day second on the leader board. I continued in the same spirit on the final day, and went on to win the tournament, winning against some of the best players in the province. I was so pleased with myself that I found it hard to believe. I will always remember this victory as a high point of my golfing career.

This merely serves to highlight how important ontological coaching is. Through self-coaching and the use of ontological distinctions in the areas of language, emotions, and physiology, I was able to change how I observed things, how I showed up, and how I behaved. My personality and abilities were perfectly aligned. I doubt I would have won this competition because I haven't been able to do that in a while, and this confirms that the problem has not been my skill and abilities to play golf, but my Way of Being.

Follow-up thoughts

Leonard has provided an excellent example of two of the key claims of the ontological approach to coaching, leadership and life in general, which are worth repeating, these being that our Way of Being is (i) where are perceptions and attitudes live and (ii) the underlying driver of our behaviour and communication. Learning new skills and techniques can be helpful for improving in any area of life, but this may well be insufficient if a different Way of Being is not developed that will allow for the successful application of these skills and techniques.

One of the interesting professional applications of the ontological approach is in the area of competitive sports and Leonard’s story is an excellent example of the potential of this approach for enhanced sports performance. In the Australian context, two ontological coaches are currently active in this domain.

Two detailed chapters on Ontological Self-Coaching are provided in Volume IV of Coaching to the Human Soul: Ontological Coaching and Deep Change.

Leonard Marvey is an ontological practitioner who specialises in business improvement by developing leaders and enhancing team performance, individual coaching and group sessions. You can get in touch with him by sending an email to or visiting

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