How does coaching work and what is coaching?

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How does coaching work?

People often ask me what coaching is, or even more often what subject I coach onThe implication is that there needs to be a topic to work on. Like teachers who have their subject specialism, or employees who have their professional qualification. What will help to answer this question is to explore some definitions and explanations about the rudiments of coaching. 

Can coaching be defined? 

There are many definitions of coaching. I’m going to share 3! 

Mine is “supporting another individual make progress on a topic of their choice. Listening, questioning and challenging, to help them come to their own conclusions and next steps.” 

Jenny Rogers’ is: “through coaching, people are able to find their own solutions, develop their own skills and change their own attitudes and behaviours.” 

Eric Parsloe’s is “a process that enables learning and development to take place, and thus performance to improve.” 

And it is the last one that causes the problems! The first two describe a process of ownership of the topic, the problem and the solution. By contrast, the last one describes a generic learning experience. It can be applied coaching – but it can also be applied to many other approaches. Coaching is a learning experience, but unlike training or mentoring, the coachee always comes up with their own solutions. 

Where did coaching come from? 

The foundations of coaching can be drawn from a number of sources. It isn’t the same as psychotherapy. And yet the roots of two people meeting in a room, one a skilled professional, and the other with a topic to address, clearly have something in common. Growth in the consultancy industry, from the 1960s onward also offers some roots for the fledgling coaching industry. This has been also influenced by the move away from traditional personnel departmentsHR or Learning and Development departments in organisations have helped the establish the foundation of coaching. 

What is the difference between all those coaching names we hear? 

It is confusing to hear life coaching, business coaching, executive coaching, leadership coaching, career coaching and many, many more. A few brief explanations may help. 

Executive coaching: 1:1 with leaders of organisations, working on professional and personal issues that impact on their performance at work. 

Leadership coaching: as above, but often with some group coaching added in. Normally there is a direct relationship back to the organisation’s goals and outcomes. 

Business coaching: would be better described as business mentoring. The coach will use some coaching skills. But also, will draw on their knowledge of business processes and tools to help facilitate growth in the business. 

Life coaching: tends to be self-funded, 1:1 by people working on issues linking to their well-being, beliefs, personal and professional goals 

Career coaching: again, a blend of coaching and mentoring. Coaching to support career goals and aspirations. Mentoring to help with CV writing and the application and interview process. 

It’s all very well putting down clear definitions and distinctions. The confusion often arises as many coaches wear more than one hat, call their coaching style one thing when it is really another, or aren’t clear in their descriptions! So, when engaging with a coach, it’s good to find out what their definition of the way they describe themselves is! 

Is this type of coaching work the same as sports coaching? 

There are some similarities between the coaching described above, and sports coaching. The coach supports the coachee to achieve their goals. In some cases, the coachee will seek out the coach to work with and support them. And there will be similar skills being used – questions, listening, challenging respectfully. 

But there is a fundamental difference. The sports coach will have the sporting knowledge, and will offer advice, feedback, set challenges and homework, and will push the coachee as they see fit. By contrastthe executive or life coach will support the coachee to make their own decisions and commitments. 

One of the people seen as a “founder” of coaching did start out as a tennis coach. Timothy Gallwey was a successful sports coach, operating traditionally. But then his moment of realisation was that his students learnt and grew more if he told them less and asked them more and empowered them to make their own decisions. His Inner Game of Tennis is seen as a coaching classic book. 

Does this style of coaching work? 

This is a good question! Everything works, if done well. Research from the International Coach Federation each year shows the benefits that coachees receive from engaging in the process. These range from the tangible: job promotions, career growth, organisational efficiencies. And also, they include the less easy to measure wellbeing, self-belief, control of challenging circumstances. 

There are a number of reasons that coaching works well. These include: 

  • The skills and the processes that the coach uses 
  • The safe environment that is created for exploration of challenging topics 
  • The neutrality of power between coach and coachee. The coach is skilled in the process, but not in the coachee’s life or job 
  • The independence. There is no reporting back to bosses, or hidden agendas 

Where has coaching caught on in the UK? 

Many sectors of professional life are getting engaged in coaching. In the corporate world it is increasingly being used, both for leadership and for new managers, talent development etc. In the public sector it works very well in the health and education sectors.  Head teachers and clinical practitioners alike seeing are coaching as a complimentary skill to their existing professional practice. And in the personal domain, it has exploded with many people accessing a career coach or life coach to support our personal goals. 

Are qualifications important? 

As someone who teaches coaching qualifications, I would obviously say yes! 

Coaching is a relatively new, only partially regulated industryThere are a number of very good coaching qualifications, regulated via the main coaching bodies and through Ofqual (that regulates all UK qualifications). There is also a bit of a Wild West in coaching, with plenty of people deciding that their coaching doesn’t need accrediting, and simply setting up as coaches. They may well be great coaches, and so my challenge to them would be to ask what prevents them from engaging in the qualification process! 

Qualified coaches would have put themselves through a rigorous process to learn their coaching skills. They also will have been assessed as coaching at a high level. This means our clients can be assured that we coach competently and professionally. 

Is coaching a viable career? 

Yes, absolutely! But it isn’t easy. I have written a fuller blog coming out soon, showing how we can do this. There is a lot of hype about how quickly coaches can make their fortunes.  Plenty of organisations charging a lot for the magic pathway to riches. This is unhelpful and gives a false sense of the difficulties of earning a living through coaching work. 

The reality is that it is possible but challenging to grow an independent business, but worth it in the long run. By contrast, getting a job that involves coaching for some or all of the time is certainly on the increase. This may be an easier way to be coaching a lot, and still earning a living. And it’s certainly a great way to get plenty of coaching experience. 

Last words 

This is a whistle-stop tour to explain some rudiments about coaching, to dispel a few myths about definitions, and to whet your appetite to find out more. I have written in detail about many of the items mentioned here, to deepen your level of knowledge. In any case, I hope that you enjoy finding out more about coaching, and that you want to engage in it, either as a coach, or to be coached! 

Happy coaching 

Charlie Warshawski 



If you were stimulated by this article and want to know more about how to use coaching for your career, your organisation or your life generally, then get in contact. Email us at or book in a time for a 30-minute phone or Zoom call  

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Charlie Warshawski is a leadership coach and coach trainer. He runs an accredited coach training organisation, Love Your Coaching, offering coaching qualifications. In his coaching, he works 1:1 with leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, supporting them on topics that are both professional and personal – according to their needs 

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