Coaching for Success Builds Community Prevention Leaders, One Cohort at a Time

At SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (CAPT), addressing the diverse needs of organizations working to prevent substance misuse is the number one priority. By providing a wide range of training and technical assistance (T/TA), including web-based educational courses, in-person consultations, and online informational tools, the CAPT works to level the playing field for grantees that, though equally passionate about prevention, may be unevenly matched in experience and capacity.

One of CAPT’s newest initiatives, Coaching for Success, works exclusively with a small number of grantees funded by SAMHSA’s Partnerships for Success (PFS) program. This demonstration project is intended for prevention grantees who may be coming to the table with less experience or capacity than others, and would benefit from targeted technical assistance. Debra Morris, CAPT’S Associate Director for Coaching for Success, explains more: “We have grantees who are highly resourced and can dive right into grant work. We have others who may be first-time grantees, or may be located in isolated areas, who may need a helping hand to get started or to continue their work. Our goal is to meet them where they are right now.”

Now in its third year, grantees are selected for participation in Coaching for Success (CFS) by their state national prevention network leaders. Participants are provided with 60 hours of one-on-one technical assistance and one in-person site visit from one of the program’s experienced CAPT consultants.

Much of the program’s success is due to the laser focus on helping grantees work through the early steps of the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), SAMHSA’s five-step planning process for preventing substance misuse. According to CFS consultant Iris Smith, this is the real strength of the program: “Coaching for Success focuses exclusively on strengthening understanding of basic concepts, such as how activities and outcomes are related and building a foundation for later intervention planning. Real time TA becomes extremely important in those cases.”

CFS consultant Matthew Myers agrees: “Most of these grantees need assistance with areas of prevention programming— developing a logical plan of action, conducting a needs assessment, building community capacity, implementing evidence based strategies which all practitioners probably struggle with as they strive to meet prevention goals.” This is particularly important for under-resourced grantees and encompasses the main goals of the program: getting projects off the ground, recruiting stakeholders to build effective collaborations, maintaining momentum with collaborative work, using data effectively to inform prevention efforts.

Getting Projects off the Ground

For many grantees, getting a prevention project started can be daunting. CFS consultant Myers describes working with a newly hired project director in a rural community. Like many grantees, “she was basically a one-woman operation and didn’t have a lot of guidance or support for her work.” Cognizant of the difficulties faced by rural grantees working in isolation, Myers’s spent time with the project coordinator building connections with state-level prevention agencies who could serve as resource partners. The resources they shared providedthe scaffolding for the project coordinator’s prevention work.

Recruiting Stakeholders to New Prevention Efforts

For some grantees, challenges arise when successful agencies need to expand their scopes of work to address emerging problems—they don’t always know how to find new partners and/or build the support needed to tackle new health issues. CFS consultant Iris Smith worked with a long-standing prevention coalition that wanted to expand its efforts to include prescription drug misuse. Smith coached the coalition on methods for finding and connecting with new community partners to broaden their roster of stakeholders, define new prevention goals, and keep their existing coalition members engaged.

Maintaining the Momentum of a Working Collaboration

Smith also highlighted the importance of structuring coalition meetings effectively to keep partners invested. “During my initial site visit I joined their coalition meeting and was able to see clearly how they worked together and ran their meetings,” she explains. For a seasoned TA provider like Smith, she quickly realized that the grantee’s stakeholder engagement issues could be resolved by reorganizing their coalition meetings. The meetings were primarily used for “reporting out” by the subgroups, which left members bored. Smith explains, “I was able to help them see the importance of providing time for the group members to interact with one another and to show them how valuable interaction could be to helping them realize their goals.”

Using Data to Inform Prevention Efforts

CFS Consultant Myers highlights his work helping grantees use data to inform prevention planning as being among his most fulfilling coaching experiences because “good planning leads to good outcomes.” Myers worked with a prevention specialist on how to read and understand substance misuse data. He explains, “The grantee had been given a lot of data but like many folks, didn’t know which data was relevant to the goals we had laid out.” During a series of customized consultations, Myers showed the grantee how she could use the data to help her coalition understand the risk and protective factors that were contributing to underage drinking in her community. Armed with this information, the coalition could then select evidence-based strategies to address their defined risk factors.

CFS consultants also find themselves frequently working with grantees to fill data gaps. For this, partnerships are also key. For example, CFS consultant Kyle Barrington worked one-on-one with a grantee interested in obtaining data from a local hospital. Past efforts to obtain the data had been unsuccessful and the grantee was frustrated by the perceived lack of cooperation from the hospital. Barrington worked with the grantee to complete CAPT’s Go Get It online data course, which provided strategies for obtaining data. Armed with their new knowledge, the grantee approached the hospital again, using data-specific language and a narrow focus on the information they wished to obtain. The grantee was able to create a data-sharing agreement with the hospital, a relationship that exists to this day.

Looking Forward

As Coaching for Success welcomes its third cohort, Associate Director Morris is excited about what lies ahead. “We have been so encouraged by the difference that targeted TA can make for these less-resourced communities,” she explains. Consultant Myers enthusiastically agrees, “Coaching for Success shows how it can make all the difference just having someone in the room to help guide coordinators as they address the tougher challenges in their communities. The program also serves as a model for how states can work with their high-need communities, by helping to identify the core capacities communities need to be successful.”

To learn more about Coaching for Success, contact Debra Morris at

Last Updated: 07/17/2018