What is Coaching?


Using definitions from the dictionary opens up a plethora of different meanings.

From the Cambridge Dictionary, coaching can mean any of the following:

The act of giving special classes in sports, a school subject, or a work-related activity, especially to one person or a small group.

The act of training and organizing a sports team.

The job or activity of providing training for people or helping to prepare them for something.

what is coaching

Other definitions abound, all with a similar theme; it is about teaching and this implies passing on experience.  Once the subject is narrowed down by focussing on Life Coaching, the definition provided is more in keeping with the outcome such process provides. Again, from the Cambridge Dictionary, life coaching is:

“The activity of helping clients decide what they want in their lives and how to achieve it.”

However, this definition fails to describe the process of coaching which separates it from mentoring and so the latter could be included within the term ‘activity’.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF), the world’s largest coach accrediting, or ‘credentialing’, body defines coaching as:

“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Again, mentoring, and even counselling, could form part of this process. When considering current practice and the future of coaching, I will look particularly at how others perceive coaching but for now, my personal definition is:

“Using considered questioning and deep listening, coaching helps clients to discover and determine their goals and to enthuse them from where they are in their lives to where they want to be in a non-judgemental and advice-less way.”

It is this definition that I use in the essay below, unless discussing other interpretations of the term.

The History of Coaching

Coaching is arguably nearly as old as verbal communication, although mentoring is perhaps Nature’s key teaching method. ‘Follow me.  Do as I do’, are perhaps the most important ways of passing on experience by demonstrating so offspring will learn and survive, thus supporting basic instincts. As hierarchical society grew, advisors to chiefs may have found ways of encouraging their bosses to formulate goals and plans in a way that would allow the latter to take ownership and remain in charge of the solution and hopefully take the glory of a successful outcome.  Conversely, a mentoring approach could offer a solution which may not be to the ruler’s liking;  or it could provide the ruler with an opportunity for the mentor to take the blame should the outcome not be as planned. Indeed, even the process of endeavouring to instruct a senior may have serious consequences for the instructor:

If everybody minded their own business,” said the Duchess in a hoarse growl, “the world would go around a deal faster than it does.”

“Which would not be an advantage,” said Alice, who felt very glad to get the opportunity of showing off a little of her knowledge. “Just think what world it would make with the day and night!  You see, the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis-”

Talking of axes,” said the Duchess, “chop off her head!

It could be that the Cheshire Cat had a better approach, by avoiding giving advice:

[Alice asked] “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

I don’t much care where-”, said Alice.

Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.

Perhaps, once upon a time, a courtier would pose questions using a carefully considered ‘coaching’ approach, allowing the monarch to make his or her ruling as to the goal and the route to get there. The latter has made their own plan and is proud of it, the former lives to question and to listen another day. Perhaps this is somewhat simplistic as no doubt some hidden ‘direction’ was probably incorporated. Nevertheless, the chief believed the result to be his/her idea, thus he/she retained ownership and was more committed to see the plan to fulfillment. Meanwhile the proprietor of the scheme, the ‘courtier coach’, would achieve his solution – a classic ‘win win’ scenario!

An interesting insight into the daily musings of a Coach can be found here.