What is coaching?

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Life Coach Directory Content Team

Coaching is a process where a coach supports you to make a change, learn something new or achieve your goals.

What is coaching?

The process of coaching happens through conversation, and can take place face-to-face, over the phone, or online

The ultimate aim is to help you make progress in a certain area of your life, at work or to overcome a problem you're struggling with. Here we’ll dive into the way coaching works, what makes it different from other approaches and your next steps if you’re feeling ready to start your coaching journey. 

How coaching works

A key belief that underpins coaching is that we already have the answers we need within us. A coach's role is to help you find these answers. This is done through a number of conversational techniques including questioning, active listening, observation and reflecting back.

When these techniques are used, you gain greater self-awareness and often an insight you hadn’t seen previously. Having a non-biased, non-judgmental person available to provide focused attention gives you space to understand how to move forward. 

Some coaches will use NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques in their work and some will use tools such as journaling and meditation to support the conversational work. There are various models that can be used within coaching, such as the GROW model, and some coaches will take a more fluid/intuitive approach. 

To ensure progress is being made, coaching often focuses on goal-setting. You will typically be encouraged to create a list of action points following a session so you know what steps are needed to keep moving forward.  

The benefits of coaching

Working with a coach offers a number of benefits. Regardless of your aims, dedicating time and space to personal/professional development helps to improve confidence and a sense of self-worth. 

If you’re feeling lost or unsure about something, coaching can provide clarity, direction and focus. If you’re struggling to make a change, coaching can help raise your self-awareness and both understand and change certain behaviours. 

If you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself and make things happen in your life or work, coaching can offer accountability and help you define your purpose. And finally if you simply need to learn a new skill (from sports to building emotional resilience) coaching can help accelerate your learning. 

Coaching relies on your commitment to the process and an open, honest relationship with the coach. With a focus of forward progression, unlocking potential and achieving goals, it’s no surprise that many people call coaching ‘life changing’.

Here, life coach Rebecca Kimberley shares more on the benefits of coaching.

 The inner game

The person credited with identifying the self-improving potential of sports coaching is American writer Timothy Gallwey, who published his groundbreaking book The Inner Game of Tennis in 1975.

Gallwey observed how tennis players created their own mental blocks on the court by doubting their abilities and picturing failure. He concluded that this kind of negative thinking interfered with the 'natural doing process' of the mind and limited the likelihood of success. Gallwey believed that examining a sportsman's life, behaviour and character was more important in coaching than training them up with technical or physical skills.

Interested in how it all began? Learn more about the history of coaching

How coaching differs from teaching

Teachers generally work from a prepared syllabus/agenda. Whether in a classroom or through online learning, there will be a planned approach and a specific time frame used. While coaches will prepare before a session, the approach is much more fluid and revolves around the needs and wants of the individual. 

You and your coach will work together to outline the content of each session, adjusting where needed. It is not up to the coach to tell you what to do or how to solve your problems, instead, they work with you to guide you to your own solutions.

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them.

- Sir John Whitmore, 2004.


In the coaching industry, you may have noticed the term mentor being used. A mentor is usually someone who has experience in a certain area and is, therefore, able to support someone with less experience. You may notice this happening in the workplace when a new starter is paired up with someone who’s been in the role for longer. 

Some people prefer to call themselves mentors instead of coaches. Sharing their knowledge, mentors tend to hone in on a specific area of expertise. Mentors will often use coaching techniques in their work, however, questioning their mentees and encouraging them to make their own decisions to increase confidence. 

Coaching vs counselling

While of course we are big champions of coaching, it’s important to understand that there are some scenarios where counselling is more suitable. If you are struggling with a mental health condition, an addiction or unresolved trauma, working with someone who is trained in those areas (such as a psychotherapist) is key. 

In some cases, coaching can work well alongside or after therapy, especially if you’re looking to set goals for yourself. 

In this article, ‘Do I need a counsellor or a coach?’, the writer explores the differences to help you understand which would be more helpful for you.

Your next steps

If, after reading this, you’re feeling ready to start your coaching journey, here are some next steps we advise:

If you have any other questions about coaching, visit our FAQs section or get in touch

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