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The history of coaching

Empowerment Coaching Krakow Blog-The history of coaching
University of Oxford by Pexel

It is not easy to present in a concise and orderly way such a multithreaded topic as the history of coaching. However, we took up the challenge. In this column, you will find a condensed history of the origin and development of coaching, from the 19th century to the present day.

In addition to information on how different types of coaching were born and how well-known global organizations associating professional coaches were created today, in our study you will also find information about key people who had an impact on the creation and development of coaching. Among them, three names are worth highlighting: Tim Gallwey, Sir John Whitmore, and Prof. David Clutterbuck. In separate dedicated posts, we present biographies of each of them.

In addition, in our history of coaching, we also devoted separate paragraphs to topics such as the results of research on the effectiveness of coaching and predictions about the development of coaching in the future.

The beginnings of coaching - the 19th century

According to Wikipedia, the first use of the term coach to refer to the concept of an instructor or trainer appeared around 1830 at the University of Oxford to refer to the tutor who "carried" the student through the exam. The word coaching thus defined a specific process of "transporting people" from where they are to the place they want to be.

An interesting fact about the origin of the English word "coach"

As a curiosity, according to one theory, the English word "coach" comes from the French word "coche", which in turn originated from the name of the Hungarian town of Kòcs, where the first carriage (wagon) was constructed in the 16th century. The noun became a verb and the "coachemen" began to describe their activity as coaching. 😊

In 1849, Thackeray described the coach for the first time as a tutor.

In 1861, the trainer who prepared athletes for competitions at the University of Oxford began to be called the coach.

Development of coaching - 20th century

In the twentieth century, the development of coaching was influenced by many areas, in particular the self-development movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Such as, for example, the Human Potential Movement and various groups such as LGAT (Large-Group Awareness Training), such as, for example, EST (short for Erhard Seminars Training).

In addition, leadership studies began and the development of psychology accelerated. In 2000, the University of Sydney established the world's first coaching psychology research unit, and in the following years, the first academic journals on coaching psychology were published.

Changing the Idea of Coaching

Development causes coaching to change from an instruction process to a process that facilitates and supports development. As a result, in 1994 coaching was defined in the academic world as:

A process of continuous on-the-job training conducted by an individual on a regular basis with the intention of developing another person's skills” (Ritter, 1994, p. 7).

As the years go by, the sheer popularity of the coaching approach causes enormous confusion. It moves to the business world. In the meantime, mentoring begins to develop, about which I will write more in a separate post on David Clutterbuck described as the father of modern mentoring. Clutterbuck writes in 2008:

"At the same time as we begin to clarify what makes for effective coaching and mentoring,however, the very popularity of the approach has resulted in greater confusion. Almost everyrelated profession has participated in a land-grab, trying to stake out its own coaching territory,with definitions, rules and practices based on its own particular perspectives and interests."

This great "boom" is probably best shown in the following graph:

The History of Coaching - citations 1935-2019
Source: International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring 2021, Vol. 19(1)

So let's at least try to find out and determine what is clear and unquestionable in the history of coaching development.

Establishment of Business Coaching

The "authorship" of the concept of Performance Coaching and the laying of the foundations for the billion-dollar business coaching industry is rather unquestionable.

The creator of the concept of Performance Coaching was Sir John Whitmore (1937-2017). Sir John coined the term in the 1980s to describe this self-directed learning process and to distinguish it from sports coaching. As a co-creator of the GROW coaching model (short for Goal, Reality, Options, Will), he created a foundation that has been adopted by business coaches all over the world.

All this is described in the groundbreaking book Coaching for Performance, which is referred to as the bible of business coaching or the GROW method of coaching.

In 1992, together with the aforementioned David Clutterbuck and 3 others, he founded one of the most famous coaching organizations in the world today, EMCC (European Mentoring & Coaching Council). According to data from this organization, at the end of 2018, it had 6,000 members from 61 countries around the world.

Establishment of Life Coaching

Almost at the same time, something is happening overseas that will also have a huge impact on the development of coaching in the world. And once again it shows how this discipline is developing in different ways. As reported by the Polish Chamber of Coaching, Genesis of Coaching:

(...) Representatives of the world of business and science quickly became interested in the effects of cooperation between coaches and athletes. In 1992, the first coaching school was established - Coach University*. Its founder, Thomas Leonard, an accountant and financial analyst from San Francisco, during meetings with clients, noticed that individual conversations about their private lives bring remarkable results in his work. Leonard's observations laid the foundation for the development of life coaching*. Thomas Leonard's contribution to the evolution and popularization of coaching was not limited to establishing a coaching school. In 1994 he founded the International Coach Federation* and in 2000 with Dave Buck he founded CoachVille, the largest online coaching community in the world.(...)

* underlines from Empowerment Coaching.

According to data from the ICF (abbreviation of International Coaching Federation), in 2018 the population of coaches certified by this organization exceeds 25,000 and they are present in 78 countries around the world.

Interestingly, Sir John Whitmore is involved in the development of ICF for which in 2007 he is awarded the ICF President's Award. In turn, the British newspaper Independent announced him as the Best Business Coach, and the International Association of Coaching (founded in the USA in 2003) recognized him in 2013 as the person with the greatest influence on the coaching profession in the world.

I will present the biography of Sir John Whitmore in a separate post. He was a colorful character (for example, he participated in Le Mans car races for many years), and his achievements go beyond coaching.

For the sake of order and compliance with historical truth, it should also be said that in 1980 Erickson Coaching International was founded in Canada, by Marilyn Atkinson, a student of the well-known psychologist Milton Erickson. According to data from this company, 4,500 coaches in 36 countries around the world have been trained to date. The certificates issued by this school comply with the ICF standard. Apart from coaching, an important part of Erickson's activity is also the NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) method.

Further development of Coaching - 21st Century

Time flies. The 21st century begins. Modern communication techniques and the development of the Internet are being used as new methods of coaching. In this way, coaching and mentoring are becoming one of the most important development tools for leaders and managers.

The Impact of Technology on the Development of Coaching

Technological development affects all types of development support: new techniques create new forms such as e-coaching, video support, and chatbots. Personalized and localized learning is tailored by a community of coaches and mentors.

Establishment of other Associations of Coaches

In 2001, Joseph O'Connor and Andrea Lages founded another association in London which today plays a significant global role. This is ICC (short for International Coaching Community). According to data from this association, it is currently present in 78 countries and can boast a group of 15,000 certified coaches.

Both ICC and the aforementioned ICF and EMCC conduct their separate certifications.

In 2002, the Association for Coaching was established in London. This non-profit organization aspires to bring together not only coaches but also representatives of business and the academic world. It wants to work on the unification of standards and, according to its website, in 2030 it would like to reach the target of 100,000 members.

In 2009, The Institute of Coaching was established at Harvard University, whose goal, according to its website, is:

"to cultivate the scientific foundation and best practices in coaching". (...) Their vision was to create an academic home for coaching while applying the science of positive psychology to empower individuals to reach their peak health and performance."

It can be said that this trend is rooted in Positive Psychology and in its beginnings, it focuses primarily on the application of the coaching method in medical practice. They cooperate with the Association for Coaching.

To make it even more interesting, in 2012 the GCMA (abbreviation of Global Coaching and Mentoring Alliance) was created, which includes ICF, EMCC, and the Association for Coaching, in order to, as they say:

"work alongside other global coaching & mentoring bodies, to provide a shared view of the practice of professional coaching."

It may not be a coincidence that at the time of the announcement of this decision, women were at the head of 3 large member organizations.

Research on the effectiveness of coaching

With the development of the discipline, the ability to prove the effectiveness of the methods used is becoming more and more important. The more so that coaching and mentoring are becoming a valuable, globally present service sector. Every year, new results of research on the effectiveness of coaching appear. Let's look at a selected few.

Results of selected studies on the effectiveness of coaching

A 2005 survey of 664 UK training managers shows that 88% benefit from line manager coaching and 72% from mentoring/buddying programs (CIPD, 2005).

Very interesting, comprehensive data on the results of the various studies can be found in the following Korn & Ferry report from 2009:

The Effectiveness of Coaching- What We Can Learn from the Research Literature
Download PDF • 3.54MB

A 2013 survey of 1,004 British business respondents shows that coaching and mentoring are starting to focus more and more on effectiveness.

In 2019, the Coaching Institute reported that over 70% of coaching people benefited in the areas of work efficiency, relationships, and communication skills. In addition, as many as 86% of companies believe that their investment in coaching has returned.

Finally, the report from 2021 informs about the positive impact of coaching on the "well-being" of employees who had to face the "lockdown" due to the Covid-SARS-2 pandemic (International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring 2021, Vol. 19 ( 1),)

Here is an example of the benefits cited in the report:

The participants in the Experiment group stated that it was a great experience to be able to connect with everyone in a meaningful way during the 5 weeks of experiment. The participants found coaching sessions really rewarding and helpful as they were able to share their experiences, listen to the experiences of other participants and learn what can be applied in their situation. The Experiment group was very diverse, the participants found it very beneficial to be able to ‘hear everyone else’s perspective and thoughts - different roles, different industries, different countries’. What was also very important was that the coaching sessions became a marker during every week, so when the participants looked back, they saw ‘4 distinct points in the past month and this month went by so quick’.

History of Coaching - what is worth remembering

Therefore, in the development of coaching and mentoring, we can distinguish three main periods:

The period up to 1970 was a time of experimentation and change.

Until then, some companies and researchers were interested in this type of development support, but they did not use a systematic approach.

From 1970 to 2002, systematic interest arose, and formal areas of coaching and mentoring emerged.

The first schools and structured models were built. Associations are founded. Along with the interest on the part of business, scientists also increase their interest. The areas of coaching and mentoring are still treated as separate concepts.

Since 2000, interest has grown and both concepts are seen as useful to both themselves and the other party.

This is bearing fruit in the direction of joint research. However, the search for the only correct definition is still very difficult. Moreover, in the business world, with the development of project management methods, new terms such as Agile Coach or Scrum Coach appear.

Coaching - looking to the future

What can we expect in the coming years?

The next steps may be to develop models that combine coaching and mentoring

Also, other forms of development support may be integrated with coaching. And the study of the benefits of these forms as a whole will begin. For example, looking for answers to the question of what is the impact of certification or the type of education and experience of coaches and mentors on their performance. Today we do not have confirmed, representative data on this subject.

The impact of modern technologies, which is difficult to predict today - in particular, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI)

The development of digital technologies in the 21st century is accelerating at a dizzying pace and affects virtually all areas of our lives. At the time of writing this article, the direction of development and the way of regulating the technology related to artificial intelligence AI is not yet known. But there are many indications that AI will also have a significant impact on the future of coaching and may complement (or take over?) activities and techniques that are currently the domain of a human coach.




















  19. Zemełka, A. (2016). Wczesna historia coachingu: poszukiwanie definicji i interferencji idei.

  20. Wujec B. (2012). Geneza i definicja coachingu.

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