What is Coaching?

I have been a coach for some time now, and I’ve been doing Performance Cafe for over two years, but I recently realised that I have never actually stopped to properly explain what coaching is, and a lot of people seem to have the wrong idea.

As with all discussions of what something is, let’s start with what it isn’t.

Business and life coaching is not:

  1. Sports Coaching –
    In sports, a coach trains their team, teaches them strategies, exercises them, prepares them for their next game and then, during the match itself, they call out plays and direct their team from the sidelines.
  2. Therapy –
    While some of the work of coaching is framed similarly to therapy – meeting with someone to discuss goals, problems, concerns, etc – the scope of the work is entirely different. Therapy is largely focused on mental health and dealing with pathology, but coaching is more about reaching life goals, overcoming (usually) temporary challenges and leveraging your strengths to do it.

What it is:

Unlike sports coaches, we as life coaches explicitly do not tell people exactly what to do, instead our job is to help people find their way. Coaches believe that the client is the best expert in their life and our role is to help them tease out their own answers and solutions.

Because coaches do not deal with pathology (traits, such as mental disorders) we do not spend a lot of time focusing on past events or “how we got here”. Instead we look at ways in which the clients can move forward in achieving their goals. There is also a lot more focus on accountability than in therapy, and coaching sessions are often started and concluded with discussion of the next steps, and milestones achieved.

The core of what life coaches do is provide a safe space to reflect, to ask and get answers for uncomfortable questions and to challenge preconceptions. “Why did I get angry that day?”, “Why did I buy this thing that I don’t need?”, “What is it that makes communicating with others so difficult?”, “What is this thing and how does it function in my life?”, “What are my triggers?”, etc.

The aim is to help clients better understand themselves as individuals, to become more self-aware and to turn that awareness into action through their changed behaviours – both towards themselves and others. Coaching also works for groups, helping people better understand one another, their relationship dynamics and the impact their behaviour has on others – this called emotional intelligence.