The Origins and Definitions of Coaching

Although coaching is a relatively new profession, the origins of this learning method are to be found further in history than one would expect.

If one were to think of the coaching relationship as a learning journey, it might be appealing to those with an interest in etymology that the origin of the word “coach” is deemed to be the French “coche”;  originating from the Hungarian town, Kòcs, where the first coach or wagon was built in the 16th century.

The entry for the word “coach” in the Oxford Dictionary, lists two definitions. The first meaning relates to traveling via a bus, carriage or train and the second is the person or act of training people in a sport or to do something better. In my opinion, coaching has more to do with the first definition than the second.

Coaching is not about teaching, but rather about a journey, and therefore the original meaning of the verb, ‘to coach’, aptly meant to “convey a valued person from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be” (1).

Coaching uses a flexible questions-based structure to assist clients to think for themselves without interference (2). This practice is loosely based on the Socratic method which encourages ongoing questioning and self-analysis. Socrates, the Greek philosopher who lived during the second half of the 5th century BC, revolutionized teaching and learning.

He did not lecture or instruct his students, but rather used a method of questions within a discussion. The method was designed to draw out and pick apart any false assumptions about a topic and by using the knowledge of the students, to eventually come to an agreement that is closest to the truth. (3).

In the same way, coaching is designed to trigger new self-awareness through questioning for example unhelpful assumptions that were picked up from other people or past experiences and which you believe to be true.

These assumptions, which one might not even be aware of, could lead to patterns of self-fulfilling prophecies. This is when an expectation based on an untrue belief can lead to an outcome that proves that belief and cements it into your thinking about what is possible. This forms a repetitive pattern that sadly keeps you from reaching your wants and needs in life.

The partnership relationship between the coach and the client is the catalyst because it makes better thinking and the resulting better outcomes possible (4). The role of the coach is to provide an enabling environment and act as a thinking partner (5). The role of the client is to tap into their expertise regarding their own life to assist them in making the changes they want.

There is no universal definition for coaching, but there are common threads that run through the different definitions the common aspects are as follows: It takes place within a conversation between the coach and the client(s), and it aims to promote sustainable change to behaviors or ways of thinking, and it focuses on learning and development (6).

The ICF provides one of the most widely accepted definitions of coaching: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” (7).

I see coaching as a process of creating a master artwork, with the client being the masterpiece in the making as well as the artist. Certain steps must be followed to create this masterpiece, but there is an allowance for an artistic license along the way. Like an artwork that always has room for improvement, a coaching client is a person with unlimited potential.

They are resourceful like an artist and control the choice of what they work on in coaching and up to what point.

What should we journey on together to achieve the change you need to take you to the next level in your life?


  1. Stout-Rostron, S. (2006). The history of coaching. ABC Press.
  2. Stout-Rostron, S. (2012). Business coaching: Wisdom and practice. Knowres Publishing.
  3. Maden, J. (2021, July). Socratic method: What is it and how can you use it?.
  4. Aspey, L. (2010, March)The art of coaching. Therapy Today, March, 27.
  5. Kline, N. (1999). Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind. Ward Lock.
  6. Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2017). An introduction to coaching skills: A practical guide (2nd ed.). SAGE.
  7. International Coaching Federation (ICF). (n.d.). What is coaching?.
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