Can Anyone Tell Me the Definition of Coaching?

My musing on the definition of coaching

Can you define what a coach is? When thinking about what the definition of coaching is it got me wondering how did we ever get pegged with the title “coach”? The main picture that comes to mind when I think of a coach is a sports coach. You know, the coach is the loud guy on the side lines yelling out commands to the players… the one who pushes them hard through their workouts… the guy who expects more of his players than they think they are capable of. I just don’t picture myself as that guy.

Comparison between sports coaching and life coaching

However, upon further scrutiny and thought, I do see some similarities between life coaching and a sports coach. There’s more to a sports coach than I have described above. Let’s take a football coach for example; he is assumed to know more about the game having had previous experience and knowledge, and his job is to transfer as much of his knowledge and experience to the players as he can. (This compares to our life and professional experience.) The football coach studies playing techniques and tailors a game plan to his players according to their strengths and weaknesses. (This compares to discovering our client’s strengths and weaknesses and focusing on their strengths.)

In sports, the coach sees the potential of each player and tries to make sure each one is in the right position. (This compares to finding out our clients passion and getting them in the right place.) The football coach pushes his players until they stretch beyond their comfort zone. He makes them practice over and over until they get good at the game. (This compares to us helping our clients stretch beyond their limiting beliefs and helping them take risks.) The sports coach holds his players accountable. He expects them to give their best, to show up to practice on time and to put in more hours of personal practice outside of team practice. (This compares to holding clients accountable to their action plan as well as showing up to coaching sessions.)

Oh my, I digress from the definition! However, there are striking similarities between life coaching and sports coaching after all. And now, going back to my original question. What is the definition of coaching?

Here’s my definition of coaching.

There are just about as many definitions of coach styles as there are types of coaches which is a lot. But this is how I see it, coaching is the practice of supporting a person who is being coached, referred to as a client or a coachee, through the process of achieving a specific personal or professional result. There are many methodologies and mindsets, types or niches but predominantly each methodology uses the same structure to facilitate the end result, that being the coach mainly listens and asks questions until a shift or transformation occurs. Then the coachee is challenged to take action on that with the coach holding them accountable.

Coaches move their client from the present to the future and they don’t worry about the past. This differs from therapy which is mostly focused on looking at the clients past, or consulting in that the counselor gives information about the ‘how to’s’, or a mentor who imparts wisdom and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague, or tutors who are teachers, or counselors who give advice.

If you have further observations on the definition of coaching, please post your comments below.

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Dana Bosley
Spiritual Growth Coach
Writing team, Coaches Training Blog Community

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  1. says

    this was an incredable post. You have entered the relationship between the sponsor/coach and the new member of the team. I agree, the role of a coach is very powerful to empowering and edifying daily the new member and on going ones.

    Everyone is looking for someone to keep them accountable for their chosen starting a real ” Home Base Business”. They forgot it’s their business and still want someone else, the coach to motivate them. The one to inspire them to keep going to reach every mark. WOW, what thinking and this is what a coach must go through. Amazing the way people think and act.

    The responsibilities will be different depending on the person receiving the coaching. Yes, moving each on forward and never look back. That is the huge challenge being faced. Most loose patients and wonder how they even committed. However, their total being and all that passion kicks in. Then they are renewed with more energy than ever. Knowing that the end result will be all worth it. The more people they help the better it will be for all involved. That is so rewarding.

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I love this site and will be returning soon.

  2. says

    I have been reading a lot about coaching recently to be a better coach to my business partners. I love what you said about not caring about the past in your definition of coaching and how that is different from traditional therapy.

    I have been reading some John Wooden stuff as well as The Talent Code. The approach from both of these books is on a moment to moment feedback and adjustment to move toward an ideal. I never saw the connection until reading your post.

  3. says

    I agree that the term coaching often conjures up images of sports coaches, which can be off-putting! Hence why I like to define what I do as offering people a gentle nudge and an independent sounding board to help them move in the direction they want to go.

    ATB Tamsin

  4. says

    Interesting piece and I might take a bit of a different view. While it is tempting to use the sports coach analogy because 1) it is a well known model for the public, and 2) there are in fact many overlays – I personally find it a bit problematic. I will preface the rest by saying I am not into sports at ALL and have never had a sports coach, so you can see that I could well be wrong. However, my impression is that the typical high school or college coach is also a teacher/trainer in terms of function. I do teach train-the-trainer workshops around the world and often suggest to participants that the role of a trainer ought to be more like a [sports] coach than like a presenter or traditional college instructor. But at the same time, while a coach does provide feedback he/she is typically more directive than the personal or business coach is (in my mind). The sports coach arranges for and assigns specific practices and techniques; a coach does not. When a coach functions as a teacher, trainer, or sets goals then the coach is more like a consultant. There is nothing wrong with any of these functions, of course, I am just sharing my own idea of a coach. A coach draws out what is already there; a consultant puts into the client what is not there yet. To a large extent, a sports coach does both of those things, perhaps leaning to the latter.

  5. says

    Hi Dana,

    Thanks for sharing this interesting and thought provoking post.
    I like the way you compared and contrasted the different methodologies in the different coaching disciplines.

    I certainly agree that each coach in the various arenas will have their own styles. The end game is the same… to bring out the personal best of each of the Coaching clients and achieve a desired result and different coaches will employ different approaches based upon the way they were trained and the individual client.

    A Coach has to wear different hats and know when to step on the pedal and when to ease off, has to be a motivator, but demand discipline and accountability, while remaining supportive and consistent.

    Keep these great posts coming,

  6. says

    Hey Dana, to me a coach is like a mentor – someone who tells you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. If you just want someone to vent to and want them to tell you what you want to hear, then what you need is a friend, not a coach or mentor.

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