July 28 , 2021 /


This is a revised post from March of 2017. It has little to do with athletics except as a reference.  It was written around the time of March Madness, the college basketball playoffs for determining an NCAA college championship.  You have to smile at some of the terms – sweet sixteen, elite eight and final four.  I know that some of the best coached teams will win and some will lose. It’s how the game is played and who makes fewer mistakes that will determine the final four.  Regardless of the competition, coaching and playing, I wondered whether this post might have been partially inspired by watching the coaches in those competitions.

My background includes a type of psychotherapy that resulted in a practice of educating, counseling, mentoring and consulting over some 43 years. Thus my work was based on client-centered change that I began in the early seventies, much of it based on Rogers, Maslow and Perls. One thing that I learned, from a study by the late Fred Fiedler, was that regardless of the orientation or training, the three variables that accounted for positive change in an individual or an organization were empathy, genuineness and warmth from the practitioner and I believe that extends to therapist, counselor, consultant, mentor, coach or leader. Popular success often comes by making the product or service more available, easily attainable and desirable. Witness Starbucks, a marketing bonanza. Whether or not that’s a good thing you can decide for yourself. I doubt the intrinsic value of a $10 cup of coffee regardless of flavor.

For a succinct history of coaching, not the athletic kind, but the personal and professional kind, the following link outlines the beginnings and the evolution of coaching over some eighty plus years. You can easily see how coaching grew out of earlier concepts and practices:

History of Coaching – A True Insight into Coaching

Consider this quote from the aforementioned article: “There are as many forms of coaching methodologies are there are coaches, so is there a “right” way? Or is the term “coaching” a generic word for one-to-one guidance, help or support?”

I played on several winning sports teams that were very well-coached. I had a stint as an assistant football coach for a few years at a prep school in New England.  A coach, by definition, provides the necessary training and skills to both individuals and teams so they can improve their “game” and “play” to their highest potential. While that definition may seem simplistic, it applies not only to athletics but also to one’s professional or personal life which is one reason it was easy for the executive and personal coaching profession to pick it up and run with it. Stop here with that analogy!

By making coaching desirable and perhaps less onerous than therapy, counseling, consulting or mentoring, coaching has become enormously popular. Therapy and counseling also suggest that there is a need that deserves attention, or at the least, changed for the better.  Coaching is in that same category and I do not call it a softer approach because it is also real work and can have a positive impact on people and organizations.

If you combine all the definitions of coaching they boil down to the one major component and that one defining variable is change. That, as we know, can be a complex and challenging process. It is much easier if positive change is desired and the motivation to change is firmly in place. That is not to say that all will be smooth sailing because as you get to the heart of the matter there are bound to be some unanticipated bumps in the road. And, since change is inevitable, why not plan for it as best you can?

The International Federation of Coaching wants coaching to be distinct from other service and helping professions  Look at this statement under 1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards.

3. “Clearly communicates the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions.”  It is one of seventy core competencies!

ICF Core Competencies

I think it’s a stretch to manufacture the differences.  Coaching is not as distinctive as many believe it to be although I understand the desire to create a separate and different application. The history of many disciplines illustrates branches of new developments, as well as orthodoxies, reforms, and different positions taken by different people resulting in a new organizations over time.

With regard to consulting and mentoring I have a similar response. I find the practices of psychotherapy, coaching, counseling, consulting and mentoring more similar than different although there are some minor distinctions among them and one approach doesn’t work for everyone. The good part is that all are intended to help people remove obstacles and enjoy a positive, productive and fulfilling life. When people begin to draw dividing lines within a given discipline the separation is most often personal, political or economic and has little to do with substance.


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