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Coaching refers to the activity of a coach in developing the abilities of a coachee. Coaching tends to focus on an existing problem (from which to move away) or a specific outcome that the individual wishes to achieve (move towards). In both cases, the coach aims to stimulate the coachee to uncover innate knowledge so they can achieve a sustainable result. Coaches will normally check that the specific learning can be successfully re-applied by the coachee, to deal with other problems in the future. The structure and methodologies of coaching are very numerous with one unifying feature, coaching approaches are predominantly facilitating in style, see facilitation; that is to say that the coach is mainly asking questions and challenging the coachee to learn from their own resources. The coaching process is underpinned by established trust in the coachee. Coaching is differentiated from therapeutic and counselling disciplines in that the problems and outcomes have contexts which are important in the present and with aims for the future - these do not have emotional aetiology, or baggage, from the past - in other words, the coachee has the resources they need to make reasoned progress at the time that they seek coaching.

In the actual practice of coaching there are times when the coach may find that a coachee is so unfamiliar, inexperienced or ignorant of an area (that needs sharp focus in order for them to achieve their stated aim), that the coach will need to impart knowledge and examples to the coachee, before again returning to the facilitation style.

Because the practice and professional desciplines of coaching are so diverse, it is useful to consider the effect of coaching on the coachee as these are more consistent and more universally observed. The questioning style of coaching has different levels of challenge: at the lowest level, these questions create intellectual processes in the coachee and the coachee is observed to be alert and responding quickly. Where questions are more demanding (for example, imagining what it might be like to experience being the other party with whom they are experiencing relationship difficulties) then the coachee will be observed to be actively alert, thinking and leaving pauses between some of their responses. The next levels of challenge cause the coachee to access deeper structure in their experience than rapid, intellectual recall. This deeper information may include feelings (emotions), pictures, auditory experiences and metaphors, see metaphor. As the coachee starts these deeper processes their physiology changes. Their eyes may move to a new, non-central position and there is a complete absence of tics (physical movements). These so-called 'reflective silences' typically last a second or two, or several seconds. At the next and final level of accessing deeper level structure, the coachee's muscles relax further, they may slouch and the head nod slightly, breathing rate reduces very significantly and peripheral blood supply is reduced, causing a loss of pallor. This level of reflective process may last for a minute, sometimes much longer. When the coachee returns their attention to the coaching space/dyanamic, they are invariably unaware that the period of introspection has been lengthy. In some case catharsis has occurred, where the coachee has moved to a revolutionary new level of understanding.

Coaching can be wholly coachee-centred and reponsive to the coachee's objectives and needs. Other coaches set up a programme or 'learning journey' which the coachee must follow over a specified period of time. Some coaches or coaching schools prescribe a certain number of models or a 'toolkit' to guide the coach in the process. There are also many generic coaching pathways to help coaches know where they are in a coaching process and these are often used by both independent coaches and the training schools (including academic, associations and commercial). The most well-known of these if the GROW Model, popularized by John Whitmore.

Coaching is most often performed on a one-to-one basis and face-to-face but can involve some telephone or web-based sessions in between. Sometimes it may be facilitated totally by phone/web-based interaction.

The facilititive approach to coaching in sport was pioneered by Timothy Gallwey, hithertoo, sports coaching was (and often remains solely a skills-based learning experience from a master in the sport). Other contexts for coaching are numerous and include executive coaching, life-coaching, emotional intelligence coaching and wealth coaching.

Today, coaching is widespread. For example, Newcastle College registered 15,000 students on its Performance Coaching Diploma Course from launch and within its first four years. The UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel Management reports that 51% of companies (sample of 500) 'consider coaching as a key part of learning development' and 'crucial to their strategy', with 90% reporting that they 'use coaching'. The basic skills of coaching are often being developed in managers within organizations specifically to upskill their managing and leadership abilities, rather than to apply in formal one-to-one coaching sessions. These skills can also be applied within team meetings and are akin then to the more traditional skills of group facilitation.

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