What is coaching anyway? (Part 1)

Coaching is maybe most understood in an athletic context. For team sports or individual athletes, we understand that a coach knows the game, can help players focus, can help them find that fine balance between training and rest, and can help tailor their efforts and plan their game strategy to match their unique strengths as an athlete.

Perhaps executive coaching is next best understood. Many of us would have a vague sense that this is something people who wear suits to work and have fancy titles engage in – it is a sign of power to have such a luxury, and it is perhaps mysterious business to do with becoming even more successful in business.

So if you are not in a sports team, or training for the olympics, or a CEO you might wonder ‘what’s this got to do with me?’.

Coaching is an approach that is being used more widely now, to help people make changes in their work and lives. You may not know this, but there are now grief coaches, parenting coaches, coaches for parents of teenagers, coaches that focus on helping you travel, coaches who specialise in supporting people in a myriad of situations, work towards a myriad of goals.

And whereas counselling or therapy has traditionally been seen as a tool for people who are ‘unwell’*, coaching is focused on people who are doing well and helping them make their lives even better.

A coach might act in several of these ways:

– being a guide or companion to accompany you as you try to change something in your life

– being curious about your situation and asking honest questions to help you explain it in depth

– providing continuity for an issue or problem you want to keep plugging away at

– providing a sounding board to help make sense of something

– adding ideas about a situation and ways forward

– helping you prioritise or focus on a manageable set of next steps

– celebrating your wins with you, even if they are small and incremental

– providing a structure to help you reconnect with what you care about, or rediscover buried dreams

– sitting with you in ‘stuckness’ and helping you try different levers to get movement happening again

For some people this might seem self indulgent, or even egotistical, to pay someone to sit with you and help you work out a way forward. But what about people who don’t have a trusted someone to talk to? People who live alone, have recently moved towns and don’t know many people, are single parents, or whose partners work away? People who have ‘hands-off’ managers, or for whatever reason can’t get support at work for their work related goals?  Or what about those of us who have a great network of friends and family who we love dearly but need to talk with someone who isn’t personally invested in us taking a particular path of action? Maybe our loved ones have never struggled with the particular things we are working on: they may be farmers and we are trying to navigate our first job as a lawyer, or they are confident lawyers and we are trying to muster courage to paint our first painting, or they are teachers and we are trying to work on how to create a movement of non-violent action on an issue we care about.

There is much to be said for a benevolent stranger who cares and wishes you well, but is open to you becoming whatever version of yourself you feel drawn to being. There is much to be said for someone interested in helping you find a path to whatever your dream is, and won’t talk you out of your dream, or dismiss it.

Which is not to say that coaches are somehow infallible, or even have their own lives 100% sorted out (that I think is a lifelong work of art). It’s probably not even likely that they will have experienced every situation you find yourself in, but by virtue of choosing this line of work, they are usually open to hearing your dreams and enthusiastic to help you achieve them, in whatever form that help is most useful for you.


* I personally think that therapy can be part of ongoing wellness and a great part of supporting healthy people clear out their unhealthy patterns too, but I’m probably biased!


3 thoughts on “What is coaching anyway? (Part 1)”

    1. Oh Rooibeker, thank you! I’m glad you think I captured some of what it is that coaching is about.

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