What makes a good homework assignment? How do you take the real work of the person you’re coaching and turn it into something they might grab onto and make their own?

In past posts, I’ve talked about the principle of homework. I strongly believe that (almost) every coaching session should end with at least one action that both you and your colleague agree will help push practical, on-the-job learning and performance. But choosing the right assignment can be a little tricky.

Let’s start with basics: who chooses the assignment? I’ve argued elsewhere that any coaching homework must ultimately be chosen by the person being coached. This keeps ownership for performance and learning right where it belongs – on the shoulders of the person receiving the coaching.

But as a coach, you can help brainstorm a list of good options. Here’s where it’s important to understand the person you’re working with. One thing I watch for is a client’s learning pace: simply put, is he a sprinter or a marathoner?

Sprinters get all fired up about taking action and ride their inspiration for bursts of learning. They can be impressive with the quantity and quality of work they produce during these periods of energy. But they need short assignments because they also tire quite quickly – or get bored and want to move to something else.

Marathoners are different: they like long-term projects where they can see gradual progress and the fruit of their perseverance. They plug away and eventually reach their destination, knowing that their endurance helped them both get real work done and learn along the way.

Earlier in my coaching work, I looked down on sprinters because they would choose a marathon homework assignment and burn out in the first few miles. I saw it as a character flaw. Now, I just recognize it for what it is – a different approach to work. And I see it as my responsibility to help my client figure out what approach works for them and to choose appropriate assignments.

How about you? How do you help select homework for those you coach?