What is Coaching?

Coaching means supporting someone in reaching their goals. The coach may or may not help define those goals but once they are set, it is the coach’s job to support, empower, encourage and challenge their client to fulfill those goals and to be the best they can possibly be.

The easiest way to visualise this is to look at the example of an athletics coach. The coach is not the one who runs the race. He or she is not the one who puts in the long hours of training, with the goal of winning Olympic gold. That’s the athlete. But the coach is still fully involved, and is there to ensure the athlete has everything they need to succeed. It’s the coach who:

  1. Is also at the track at 6am (Motivation)
  2. Has his stopwatch ready to time the athlete and chart his/her progress. (Assessment)
  3. Shouts encouragement from the sidelines. (Support)
  4. Offers input on performance, based on his knowledge, experience and observations. (Guidance)
  5. Highlights areas for improvement – what the athlete can do better. (Challenges)
  6. Points out areas of excellence – what the athlete does well. (Feedback)
  7. Provides everything the athlete needs to be able to concentrate fully on his/her performance. (Empowerment)
  8. Prompts the athlete to make commitments for the next step(s) of the process. (Accountability)

Showing You Yourself

A good coach makes you aware of your behaviour, your talents and your shortfalls. Every one of us has abilities which we think are normal; those things we do naturally, easily, and which we assume everyone else can do. When we make such assumptions we sell ourselves short. A good coach will correct that. He will make sure you see how good you are. Similarly, he will make you aware of the areas which can be improved, in order for you to become a better version of yourself.


We are reliant on others to point out certain behavioural traits to us. The coaching relationship is an ideal place for that kind of feedback. Without such appropriate feedback our blind spots remain just that, and our behavioural patterns go unchanged. During my own training we had regular group feedback sessions in which we all had the opportunity to evaluate our own performance and the performances of others in the group. It was during those sessions that we received the kind of feedback about our behaviour which meant there was no hiding place – if you have eight people telling you your communication is not good enough when you think it is, then you really have no choice but to listen to what people are telling you.

Seeing Your Own Behaviour

Once we become aware of our behaviour, the next step is to change the aspects which need changing. And this is where we come across one of the most important and most fascinating aspects of the work I do. All we have to do is see our own behaviour. All we have to do is see what other people have been seeing for days, weeks, months, even years. Because once we see it, the changes and transformations are already taking place. There is no need for any additional effort. There is still the need for awareness, focus, discipline and application (here, again, we see the same kinds of words we hear in connection with top-class athletes). But there is no need to make any extra effort to change your behaviour. You know where you are and you know where you want to be. The rest is down to you, your coach and the development process.

Forming New Habits

When we try a new approach it often doesn’t work first time around. When we try to establish new patterns of behaviour we often fall back into old habits. It’s at these times that a coach becomes invaluable because he will remind you why you started this journey; he will remind you of your goals and of how enthusiastic you were at the beginning. A coach will also show you how far you have come. It is easy to lose sight of or underestimate the progress we have made, so it is the coach’s job to remind clients where they were and show them where they are now.

There is more information on the process in this blog entry under the heading ‘Cycle of Transformation‘.

There are good reasons why all top sports men, women and teams have coaches. To be successful they need someone to be straight with them, to guide them, provide constructive and critical feedback, to challenge their patterns of behavior and create more successful habits. They need someone to show them what they are doing well, and also what they can do better; someone to show them how good they are and, when things are not going so well, to remind them why they started and what they set out to achieve.

It’s the same for all of us.

Related post: The Essence of Coaching

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