Trader Development: The Value of Coaching and the Difficulty of Finding One


Trader education has become a hot topic in recent years.  Everywhere you look there is someone offering some course, seminar, training program, or whatever.  Many are very pricey, and we can certainly debate the real value of quite a few.  The proliferation of the products and such can’t help but bring up some of the commonly debated topics related to whether traders can be taught or just have some innate talent which allows them to succeed.  This article makes its own contribution to that discussion.

My starting view
In the interest of openness, my personal view is that anyone can learn to trade effectively.  By that, I mean we are all capable of trading toward a reasonable and rational set of goals and/or objectives determined by our own personal situation and means.  Can everyone become George Soros, Paul Tudor Jones, or Warren Buffett?  No, of course not.  If we could all do that, those names wouldn’t be as big as they are.  Most people simply don’t have the kind of resources traders like that have at their disposal.  We all do, however, have the means to trade well within the scope of the money, time, risk tolerance, and other elements of our trading focus.

Education is the foundation
The starting point of effective trading, as with anything else in life, is education.  There are certain things one needs to know in order to trade effectively.  What those are vary a bit based on the market traded and instruments utilized, but there are some fundamentals.  For example, all trading is based on the bid-offer mechanism at some level.  There are numerous types of orders for entry in to positions and exit from them.  There are exchange hours and instrument specifications.  Brokerage commissions are a feature in most markets, and in all one needs to understand how profits and losses are determined.  I think we can all agree that these are some of the basic building blocks of knowledge and understanding required to even contemplate trading.

At the next level we start getting more in to comprehension of the market action, its interpretation, and knowing how that translates in to profit opportunities and risk.  On some level, trading requires analysis to make buy/sell decision – fundamental, technical, or quantitative.  For the mechanical trader, that analysis is done through research in the development of one’s trading system.  For the discretionary trader it is more an on-going process.  Likewise, some kind of risk management program is a requirement, regardless of trading style or analytic method.

All of this kind of core knowledge and understanding can, in my opinion, be learned from books, lectures, seminars, courses, etc.  It is akin to earning a degree.  In order to get that diploma, one must prove that certain things have been learned, skills gained.  Once that is done, however, one’s development becomes a more personal journey.  It is the same thing in trading.  There is a basic set of knowledge we must gain, but after that it is up to us to forge our own path in the markets as our own personal situation dictates.

Here is where things start getting muddled.

Determining our own path
We must each determine our own course in trading, ideally based on a good assessment of the resources we have available to us.  There are so many ways we can go, though.  Everywhere there are people telling us that this path or that path is the one we should take.  How are we to decide?  Most of us end up stumbling along through a trial and error exploration of various systems, methods, techniques, and whatnot.  Some of us find something that works.  A great many do not, and quit in frustration, or broke.  This is where having a coach or mentor can make a huge difference.

We need look no further than the world of athletics to see how important the role of a coach is to one’s development.  I happen to coach high level collegiate volleyball, so please permit me the indulgence of using that sport as an example.

There are certain physical attributes which can be strong determining factors for one’s success in volleyball – height and jumping ability being two of them.  As the saying goes, you can’t teach height, and while a coach can help one jump higher, genetics goes a long way to determining what a given athlete can do in that regard.  Being tall and able to jump high, however, does not guarantee success, and one can be quite good at the sport without being a top physical specimen.  There is a lot more to volleyball, and that is where coaching comes in.

Coach as facilitator
The role of the coach is basically that of facilitator.  He or she aids the athlete in the development in their skills and the refinement of the game.  For the novice that means a lot of teaching in regards to skill execution.  When working with experienced players, it become much more a question of refinement and showing them how to apply what they know to the best effect given the situation at-hand.

Coaching or mentoring in trading should be the same thing.  The advantages of having someone to oversee your development are many.  There is the obvious element of teaching, as it is often assumed that the coach knows more about the markets and has more experience in them than the trainee.  Possibly even more important, however, is the coach’s role as external observer.

When I coach volleyball, I can see things a player is doing incorrectly that they cannot see because they lack the proper perspective.  I can then tell them what they are doing wrong and help them correct it.  A trading coach can do the same sort of thing.

Emotional element added to the informational one
At the same time, there is the mental and emotional element to coaching which is separate from the teaching one.  Especially in the case of experienced athletes, it is often more a question of maintaining a proper level of motivation and a high degree of confidence to ensure peak performance than anything else.  The same can be said of trading, where one’s mental state often seriously influence one’s performance just as it does in athletics.

The question of where one finds a coach or mentor is a difficult one.  Brett Steenbarger (author of The Psychology of Trading) and I recently discussed this very topic.  There are certainly a great many experienced traders out there willing to share what they know in one way or another.  But are they really prepared to provide the guidance needed?  Some may be good teachers – imparters of knowledge – but lacking in the ability to be a coach in the full sense of the word.  Others might be great motivators, but perhaps do not have the breadth of knowledge and/or experience needed for the educational element of coaching.

Obstacles abound
There are two major obstacles to finding a good trading coach.  First of all, it is the tendency of many people to look for someone who’s had a great deal of success as a mentor.  The problem with that is in a many cases those people are not well equipped to coach.  It’s something seen in athletics all the time.  Look to the ranks of coaches in your favorite sport.  How many of them can you point to and say he or she was a great player?  Now consider how many were good players, but not superstars.  There are way more of the latter in the coaching ranks than the former because the average players tend to have to work harder and become better students of the game to be competitive.

The other difficulty in finding good trader coaches is that there are no real training programs for these people.  As a volleyball coach I can go to training seminars and courses, earn national and even international levels of certification, and work under the direction of other coaches more knowledgeable and experienced than myself.  As yet, there is no such readily available structure in trading.  We cannot look, for example, at someone’s resume and see that he or she is a Level III certified coach, having been so declared by a recognized training and testing organization.

What to do
So where does that leave us?  Well, clearly there is value in having a coach to help us maximize our performance in the markets.  As things currently stand, though, finding a good one for our particular situation is going to remain a challenge.  It requires the discipline to not just look at someone’s returns and assume that they can teach you how to do that yourself (remember, teaching you a trading system is not the same as coaching you through applying a trading system).  It also requires legwork to check out a possible coach.  Have they coached others before?  Get references.  Make sure you find someone who will fulfill your particular requirements and be a good match.  If you can do that, you should see your development as an effective trader really take off.


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About the Author
John Forman, author of this blog, has traded for more than 20 years, is a professional market analyst, and authored The Essentials of Trading. He is an active participant in trading forums, consults for trading related businesses, as published literally dozens of trading articles, and has been quoted in a number of books and in the media.
** See John’s full bio.


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