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/ The Origin of Coaching

The Origin of Coaching

IN: Coaching.24 AUGUST, 2017
The Origin of Coaching

In order to tell you about the origin of coaching, I suggest starting with a trip to Greece and going back in time about 2400 years. We can then rise to the shoulders of the giants Socrates, Plato and Aristotle!


Although they did not use the word “coaching”, their assumptions are the ones of the current coaching, so it can be considered that it is in these philosophers that its roots are deepest. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had a common goal, which is the same as coaching: live a life most worth of being lived.


Plato considered that the search for a fulfilled life as a person, with what this supposes for its own happiness and of others, was very difficult to do alone. He said it was much better when one had “someone” – currently, the coach – who would help us to know better and to develop the habits that allow us to be fulfilled. The Platonic conception of what education is – and which in our day is coaching – is based more on taking away rather than on giving knowledge. Each man has within himself a part of the truth, but to be able to discover it he requires someone to give him a hand.


According to Aristotle, true happiness is achieved when people develop all their abilities. Our goal in life is to pursue well-being through the practice and development of virtues, that is, our values and behavioral patterns. Aristotle wrote that one thing is ‘what we are’, while another, quite different, is what we can ‘become’. In coaching, the focus is also for the coachee to discover and develop his abilities and thus, to have a happy life.


Socrates created the Socratic method defined by open questions to stimulate insight and self-consciousness. This method consists in making use of simple and almost naive questions that aim to reveal the contradictions present in the current way of thinking of another individual and thus help him to redefine his theirs by learning to think for himself. He made his interlocutors discern on their own failures and weaknesses of reasoning. In coaching, the basic methodology also goes through the open questions, with the purpose of the coachee discovering the truth by himself, connecting with his essence, extracting his best and broadening his horizons.


Although these philosophers have been well-known throughout history, the application of these ideas had little expression until a few years ago.


But before that, let’s go on a new trip to discover the first use of the word coaching. Let us then go to the eighteenth century, to Oxford. At that time, the University Nobles of England went to classes in their carriages, led by coach drivers. By 1830, the term “coach” was used informally at the University of Oxford to name the private tutor, the one who leads and prepares students for their exams. Today we use the term coaching to describe a trip, but one that is much more in-depth, as it takes the coachee to exceed his goals, visions and dreams in his personal and professional life.


I propose one last trip, now to Harvard, forty years ago. So let’s get to know whom many consider the father of current coaching – Timothy Gallwey. Let’s watch how he trained his tennis students. Instead of giving them technical instructions, he helped the player to remove or reduce internal obstacles to his performance. And the player had an unexpected natural ability to learn! Timothy Gallwey then published The Inner Game of Tennis, which, thanks to his success outside the world of tennis, was quickly followed by The Inner Game of Golf, Inner Skiing and later by The Inner Game of Work. This proposal of a change of approach was not well received by the teachers, because they felt like they were being questioned, but it pleased the students a lot. Timothy Gallwey was emphasizing the essence of coaching – awakening people’s potential to maximize their performance. Basically, it followed the natural and innate way of learning, which is often disturbed by the instructions we receive. Timothy Gallwey’s books coincided with the advent of more humanistic psychological models when compared to the behavioral model, which assumed that human beings were like a shallow board in which everything was printed from the outside. For Timothy Gallwey, people are like seeds, each holding within all the potential to be a magnificent tree. We need encouragement and light to get there, but the tree is already inside us.


The transition from sport to business was swift. John Whitmore, currently well known for the GROW model, went to learn from Timothy Gallwey and together they created The Inner Game in Britain. There, sports clients began to wonder if they could apply the same method to their business affairs, and so coaching was born in business about thirty years ago.


Since that time, we can see that coaching has developed exponentially and extended in several contexts. The coaches sought various concepts and techniques for systemic psychotherapy, namely the work of the Palo Alto team and Milton Erickson, as well as cognitive and behavioral psychotherapies, also focused on the present and the future, focusing on quick solutions. The Neuro-Linguistic Programming created by Bandler and Grinder is also a source of numerous techniques used in coaching. The International Coach Federation (ICF) has been professionalizing this activity for the past twenty years, defining good practices, the code of ethics and the skills required for a professional coach.

English translated excerpt of the 1st chapter of the book “Coaching: Going Further Inside”, ICF (International Coach Federation), co-author and Executive Coach Isabel Freire de Andrade