Life coaching

What is
life coaching?


So although there have been many influences on the development of coaching, the metaphor of a sports coach applied to the general area of personal development is certainly one of them.

Anthony Grant and Jane Green put it nicely:

"No serious sportsman or woman would expect to get very far in their chosen sport without a coach. To succeed, athletes need someone who can guide them towards their personal best."

But what does it mean to have a coach in your corner when it comes to your life?



What do you think of when you hear the word coach? Does it conjure up images of gymnasiums full of sweaty teenagers and somebody in track pants blowing a whistle? Do you think of a coach as a person who teaches you specific athletic skills and specialized training (how to jump farther, kick further, throw faster)?

Athletic coach

If so, it might be strange to think of a coach as someone who is more of a partner than an expert, who gets you to find your own answers instead of providing them for you.

But take a moment to think back to that coach. Is it really their job to instill specific skills and specialized training? As Grant and Greene point out, that's not all it's about. Sports coaches do much more than help their clients develop technical expertise. They also help them to:

  • Set performance targets.
  • Cope with pressure and stress.
  • Develop and maintain vision.
  • Deal with negative beliefs that might affect performance.
  • Maintain motivation.
  • Analyze performance.
  • Stay focused.
Coach gymnasium

So coaches are as much trainers of the mind as they are of the body. They can't play the sport for you-but they can help you set goals, assess your performance objectively, take action to improve your performance, and keep you motivated and on track.

Hiring a coach or a personal trainer helps you get results in sports and fitness because he or she helps you to develop the knowledge, skill, confidence and motivation you need.

Personal trainer L
  • Do you know how to lift that weight?
  • Do you lift it correctly?
  • Do you have the confidence to pursue a rigorous training schedule?
  • Are you motivated to keep training?
Personal trainer R



So how does all this happen? Life coaching uses a different methodology for enhancing personal development compared to other professions, which includes two key features:


Coaching is all about what Laura Whitworth calls "powerful conversations" between you and your coach. Sure, we have conversations all the time, but many of these are based on cementing social ties, passing the time or conveying information. Coaching conversations are powerful because both the coach and client concentrate fully during the discussion, and direct their energies in a very focused way.

Life coaching conversations

In fact, as we'll see below, coaching conversations take some planning and follow-through to get the best from them. Clients submit a coaching plan before their conversations, to outline the key points of focus for the session-what they want to achieve during the time they talk to their coach. And they also submit a coaching follow-up after the call to ensure that they have recorded and internalized the fruits of the conversation, including any action items they have committed to.


These conversations are different from our regular talk in another way. They involve the coach asking questions of the client.

The Socratic method of question-asking certainly has a long tradition. In the 5th century BC, Socrates used the power of the question to prompt his conversation partners to discover their beliefs and uncover logical errors.

Why do coaches tend to ask Socratic questions instead of dispensing wisdom or issuing commands? O'Connor and Lages (2007) argue that such questions are "irresistible": "Whether clients agree or disagree, answer 'yes' or 'no', they have to think. A question is a searchlight that the coach shines into the dark places of their clients' mind."

Socratic method
Life coaching questions

Questions force us to think for ourselves, think about what is being asked, think about where we want to be headed. They foster awareness of the current reality around us, and self-awareness of what is happening inside us. O'Connor and Lages summarize this perfectly:

"When people are told something, they do not have to think, and it raises little awareness, motivation or creativity. Powerful questions raise all three."

Powerful conversations with your coach will reveal how you view things, how you are inspired, and what issues may be blocking your progress. Powerful questioning will help you and your coach develop the right exercises and action plans to help you achieve your goals. You'll begin to see and think through things in a clearer and more balanced way.

So when you work with a coach, expect a lot of conversations and questions. Much of the time these take place on the phone, but they can also take place face to face or online.

Life coaching phone sessions



So given all this, does life coaching have a common philosophy?

As we have seen, life coaching has a number of theoretical origins, and has made its entrance into different parts of the world in different ways. Unsurprisingly then, there are several schools of thought about what constitutes best practice as a life coach. Differences will exist among life coaches, and each coach will adopt their own personal life coaching philosophy.

Nevertheless, there are some common beliefs most coaches will hold that will show up in many of their personal life coaching philosophies.

Concrete, workable strategies.

Coaches believe in helping you to find concrete, workable strategies to help save you time and money, and stop reinventing the wheel.

Someone to inspire, motivate and keep you accountable.

Coaches believe that having someone to inspire, motivate and keep you accountable helps you save far more time and money that you spend on their services.

You have all the resources you need to succeed

Coaches believe that you are a whole person and have all the resources you need to succeed. Finding solid strategies to access these resources will make a huge difference to you in achieving success in all aspects of your life.

Be flexible until you find a solution.

Coaches believe that if what you're doing isn't working, it's important to try something else. There is always a solution. A life coach will help you be flexible enough to find it.

Model successful performance.

Coaches believe that if one person can do something, anyone can learn it. A life coach will help you model successful performance in order to reach excellence.

Be in charge of your own results.

Coaches believe that you are in charge of your own mind, and therefore your results. If you want your circumstances to change, you need to make changes in the only thing under your control: yourself. Your life coach will help you to be in control of circumstances in your life rather than at their effect, so that you can be in charge of your own results.

Life coaching philosophy



Coaching bears a "family resemblance" (Wittgenstein, 1953) to other professions such as consulting, therapy and counseling. Each of these involves a type of consultation in order to help a client. What makes coaching distinct?

Types of helping consultation

O'Connor and Lages (2007) make a useful distinction between three types of helping consultation.

Expert model

In the expert model, the client is interested in simply purchasing the expertise of the provider. They have no responsibility in how useful or desirable the outcome will be. For instance, if you were to hire an interior designer to redesign your office, you would be purchasing their services as work for hire, but you wouldn't be responsible for the quality of the work produced.

Expert model

Medical model

In the medical model, the client again engages with a provider. This time, they have a limited responsibility in the consultation process. So if you were to visit your doctor, you would mostly be relying on their expertise in telling you what you needed to do. But when you went home, youÕd have a small share of the responsibility in that you would need to take any prescriptions and follow any instructions given.

Medical model

Process consultation model

The final model is the process consultation model, outlined by Edgar Schein (1998). The idea is that the consultant is working with the client, not for the client. Here, the client has complete responsibility over the consultation process. According to O'Connor and Lages, "Coaching is a form of process consultation where the coach's main task is to help clients understand their way of generating problems, not to solve them" (2007: 16).

Process consultation model

How is coaching different from consulting?

It should be clear now that consultation generally follows the expert model outlined above. By going to see a business or financial consultant, you're looking for information and answers. You want expert advice.

By going to see a coach, on the other hand, you are more invested in getting guidance which will help you pinpoint limitations in your own internal and external processes. You're looking to find better strategies for doing things and more productive ways of thinking about things; you're looking to be motivated to take action and follow through on your goals; you're wanting to break out of patterns that aren't working for you. There are no specific answers which can give you these results. They can't be handed to you in the form of a report or downloaded to your computer. They involve a process of interaction between you and your coach.

It's like the old adage of teaching a person to fish instead of giving them the fish. Sometimes you just want the fish, and that's why you'd go to a consultant. But sometimes you want to learn new fishing strategies, to help your long term performance, success, fulfillment and happiness. That's when you need a coach.

Giving a fish                  Teaching to fish

How is coaching different from counseling or

Where consulting follows the expert model, counseling and therapy follow the medical model. When you see a counselor or a therapist, you are considered a patient. The model is one of examining what is wrong with you and prescribing ways to fix it.

Coaching works on the opposite principle. Since a core premise is that you are a whole person and have all the resources you need to succeed, you don't need any fixing. You just need guidance in getting to the next level of success. Coaching is based on a wellness model.

Just as someone with a sprained ankle is not going to go to a sports coach, they'll go to a doctor or physiotherapist, someone with a mental illness will go to a therapist. But someone who wants to jump higher and run faster will go to a sports coach, just as someone who wants to excel more in their personal or business lives will go to a coach.

Sprained ankle                  Coaching to Jump higher


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