Find out what are the different types of coaching and why there are so many. We want to give aspiring coaches or potential clients an exhaustive overview of coaching and its background.

The origins of coaching

The word coach was first used to describe a “large kind of carriage”. It got its name from the city of Kocs in Hungary, where wagons, carts, carriages and wheeled vehicles were designed in the 16th century. It also later applied to railway cars. So it carried the sense of traveling from one place to another. At the beginning of the 19th century, Oxford University started using it as a slang for “instructor/ trainer”, “for a tutor who carries a student through an exam”. Around 1860, it was used in sports for the trainer of a team or an athlete, which is nowadays the most common definition.

From sports performance…

Fast forward to the 1970s. The Inner Game of Tennis introduced the idea that the self plays a huge part in sports performance. In this book, a Harvard-English-major-turned-tennis pro named Timothy Gallwey writes that the right approach to improve performance is not to focus on technique and practice, but rather to understand that “every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game.”
  • The outer game is facing an opponent in a match, which all sports coaches focused on.
  • The inner game is internal: competing self-doubt, lack of confidence or concentration, anxiety, etc.
Timothy Gallwey suggested that there are two selves:
  • Self 1 is the brain, the analytical and worrying self,
  • Self 2 is the body, the intuitive and physical self.
Self 1 instructs, Self 2 acts. The inner game is to let go of Self 1 (stop being so self-critical) to let Self 2 in control (the unconscious).

…to business performance

Timothy Gallwey’s approach was quite revolutionary at that time. It quickly spread to the business world, where organisations began to create workshops, trainings, and seminars on leadership and personal effectiveness (e.g. Werner Erhard’s work). By the 80s, coaching for performance had become increasingly popular. John Whitmore, who had trained with Timothy Gallwey, worked on a methodology inspired from The Inner Game of Tennis. The GROW model was born and his book Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose was a best-seller. Since then, GROW has been one of the most popular and used models in companies. Positive psychology was also developed in the 90s as a result of the success of self-help, personal growth, and well-being. Psychologists and researches started studying what makes people happy, rather than what makes people unwell. Since then, many new concepts and models have emerged that apply to both psychology and coaching, like resilience, self-awareness, or emotional intelligence.

The types of coaching

Because every person and situation is different, the topics brought in coaching are various. As the practice and study of coaching grew, new models and tools were developed to better answer each of these specific situations. As a result, coaches started specialising themselves in certain areas. People choose the coaching they need depending on what areas of their life they want to explore, and what they want to achieve. If you want to handle a personal change, a business coach will not support you through that transition like a life coach would. Here are the 9 most common types of coaching you will come across.  

> Leadership Coaching

Leadership coaching focuses on what makes someone a leader. It explores the way people perceive themselves as leaders and their behaviours. Rather than working on improving managerial tasks, it helps people define their values and purpose. People doing leadership coaching know what is driving them and how it impacts their work. Topics: leadership style, purpose and values, inspiring others, building resilience, big picture thinking, taking risks, etc.  

> Executive Coaching

This type of coaching is for managers who need guidance on how to handle their day-to-day but also develop their managerial skills and confidence. It supports managers in having difficult conversations, motivating a team, prioritising tasks, communicating effectively and building confidence in their role. Topics: relationship building, challenge with an employee, time management, proactivity, etc.  

> Career Coaching

Career coaches help clients with their career. They both work on tangible goals like setting an action plan to move up in a company, or intangible goals like motivation and work identity. It is very useful at all the stages of a career as aspirations and goals will change overtime. Many models and tools can be applied to career coaching for the client to make the most of their sessions, including the use of psychometric tests. Topics: changing career, work status, job loss, promotions, etc.  

> Life Coaching

Life coaches work with their clients on issues in their personal life. The scope is very wide and ranges from developing a more fulfilling and purposeful life to defining a direction and dealing with sudden life changes. It is goal-oriented so the client knows why they are here and what they are achieving. It can be transformational becauses it touches on values, beliefs, and identity of the person being coached. Topics: work-life balance, personal transitions and changes, etc.  

> Business Coaching

Business coaches work with business owners, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders on organisational efficiency and strategic planning that fits their company’s objectives. They support decision makers on issues they might encounter in their business and support them into finding a solution and implementing sustainable change to processes and culture. Bringing a person outside the business to conduct audits is a great way to bring a new perspective. Topics: setting business goals, strategy, optimising processes, improving efficiency, etc.  

> Health and wellness coaching

Health and wellness coaching focuses on lifestyle choices people make and how they can improve their health. It supports clients in setting health goals and implementing change to support healthy habits. The coach should be educated on topics related to health to provide guidance if the client is lacking knowledge in these areas. It’s very important that health coaches are training and hold professional credentials in the fields they are coaching people on. Topics: physical activity, nutrition, health-related issues, weight loss, etc.  

> Performance Coaching

Performance coaching is assisting people in improving their performance at work according to success criterias they define themselves or others have defined for them (company or manager). It works on developing motivation, identifying learning opportunities, supporting efficiency and consistency, and celebrating every success along the way. Topics: performance issues at work, setting an action plan, etc.  

> Skills Coaching

Skills coaches work with their clients in developing, learning and improving skills they don’t master yet. One of the most common skills to learn that way is public speaking. In this partnership, the coach can act like a mentor, guiding the client in what should or shouldn’t be done, but also building confidence and resilience. Topics: public speaking, communication, soft skills, etc.  

> Team Coaching

Team coaches facilitate conversations and workshops for groups that work together, whether it is on building trust, solving issues, improving efficiency, or simply raising awareness on what makes a good team. There are a number of exercises the coach can ask the group to do and discuss. Team members are usually more comfortable to open up when their manager is not the one leading the meeting. Topics: team efficiency, improving processes, promoting a positive environment, etc.

So, do you need coaching?

After reading the different categories of coaching, chances are you probably realised that at some point in your life, you could have used some sort of support in at least one area. And that’s perfectly fine. No one has everything under control at all times. The best way to understand if you need coaching and when to get it is to reflect on the topic that came to your mind when reading this article.
  • What are you thinking about right now?
  • What are the reasons why you are thinking about this topic?
  • What have you already done to solve/explore it?
  • What hasn’t worked?
  • Who did you talk to about it and what did you get from talking to them?
  • How important is it to you now or in the near future?
  • What would you gain from dealing with it?
If you have tried a couple of things but you can’t stick to them, if you have talked to people around you but the impact was limited, and if it’s important to you, you should consider working with a coach. They will ask questions you were never asked before and you will be fully accountable for the change you want to implement.

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