What Is The History Of Coaching?

 Sai Blackbyrn/ 10th April 2022

In 1992, the book ‘Coaching for Performance’, written by John Whitmore defined coaching as  “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” This was when people began to realise the benefits of the coaching approach beyond sports. 

Coaching has ripened slowly over the years through education, training, self-improvement and more. After this gradual evolution, there is hardly an arena left untouched. Be it singing, dancing, writing, financial planning or even dating! There’s a coach for everyone and everything.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a process of developmental learning wherein an individual is guided through the advice and suggestions of his mentor. Especially in the 21st century, people have started to believe in the ideas of self-advancement and skill-enhancement more than ever. 

While one can surely not learn everything, they can take advice from people who specialise in their respective work. Since the advent of technology, there are no age/geographical limitations for an individual who wants to learn more about his own finances, dating life or health and a mentor who can help them with it. To know more about coaching, you can check out “What is Coaching?

Coaching is important because it not only empowers an individual by seeking help for themselves, it also enables them to take greater responsibility and accountability for their habits. A coach also gradually helps an individual to realise their innate potential by letting them make their own decisions. 

What is the purpose of coaching? The purpose of coaching is to maximise people’s performance, regardless of the subject in which it is exercised. It brings forth the innate potential of an individual by inculcating healthy habits into their schedule. The benefits of coaching are making an individual more self-reliant, encouraging effective communication, inculcating decision making qualities and providing a better quality of life.

What Is The History Of The Word “Coaching”?

The history of the word ‘Coaching’ has its roots in the English word ‘carriage’ which comes from French coche or the German word klatsch. The true origin of these words, however, lies in the Hungarian village named ‘kocs,’ where a carriage was first made. This word has been used since the fifteenth century and has influenced a lot of other languages. Hence, a coach is someone that “carries” a student through a particular challenge or hardship by guiding them through their advice and suggestions. 

Here’s more, the word was first used in 1861 in an athletic sense (and then gained popularity) but the idea of fruitful relationships through advice and conversations has existed as far back as ancient Greece. 

What Are The Origins Of The Coaching Profession?

The origin of Coaching came about at the beginning of the 1900s. Due to the Industrial Revolution, businesses scrambled to find the best ways of increasing employee productivity. Concepts like management, organizational structure and motivation were developed.

In the thriving world of sports and athletics, the use of the word ‘coaching’ gained popularity. So much so that even now, the word is generally connected to a ‘person that instructs an individual sports player or team.’

Coaching first began as a profession, in the 1970s.

Up until the 1970s, Coaching in the business world was simply referred to as ‘counselling.’ In the next decade, things changed drastically in the business literature. Coaching had almost completely dominated the sector by the end of the century. A large number of books and articles were penned on the meaning and future of coaching. A history of coaching as a profession can hence be summarised as a slow, eventual and comprehensive process that took the global business society by a storm.

Who started Coaching?

Coaching was started by Thomas Leonard, a financial planner from the United States. He is often credited as the first to establish it as a profession in the 1980s and the idea and history of life coaching today owes much to him. He was well-known for his Coach 100 approach, a concept that helped coaches attract new clients.

Thomas is also known as the father of coaching, owing to his deep dedication to various arenas of public coaching. He founded Coach U, the International Coach Federation, the International Association of Coaching and Coach U. 

By this time, people were convinced that a skilled coach could help them with (almost) all their problems. For some, however, coaches were no help. Andy Murray, the British tennis player is an excellent example. You can find more about his relationship with his coaches here, titled ‘Andy Murray – a history of coaching splits.’

When was Coaching First Introduced?

Coaching was first introduced as a profession in 1992 when Thomas Leonard founded Coach U (Coach University) a formal coaching programme that still trains a large number of people. It was done through Tele-calls; a word used to signify telephone conference calls. While the history of coaching in sport goes back to at least a couple of decades, life coaching and the concepts of coaching methodology were still unheard of. With the advent of Coach U, these concepts involved with the idea of coaching fell perfectly in place. 

Where Is The Word Coaching Used As a Term?

The word coaching was first used by Oxford University in 1830 with relation to the terms ‘trainer’ or ‘instructor.’ This became university slang for a mentor/instructor who ‘carried’ their mentee through a skill, exam, activity. It also marked the onset of the history of coaching in the UK. Since then, coaching is defined as a developmental process that carries people from where they are and where they desire to be. Gradually the word became popular with sports, education, skill development and so on.

Was There Coaching In Prehistory?

Yes, there was coaching in prehistory. The existence of the Socratic method is substantial proof for this answer. While some may argue that the principles of the Socratic method were philosophical, we’d probably agree. But does this exclude the method from the ambit of coaching? Not at all. In his method, Socrates believed in asking questions and having meaningful conversations with his pupils instead of tutoring them or answering questions. He challenged the ideas of his time by using examples and applying practical knowledge. 

The Ancient Greek philosophers caught onto the idea of coaching a long time back. Since most of the philosophers of Ancient Greece were interested in understanding the purpose of a man and the way one should live life, diverse theories were formulated. While Socrates encouraged learning and wisdom to attain a happy life, Pluto insisted on finding a deeper purpose in life to be happy. 

The most important theory comes from Heraclitus who asserted that change was the nature of the universe. He insisted that man should exercise rational thinking because he has been bestowed the capability to do so. Through experience and observation, one can acquire knowledge and elevate themselves mentally and spiritually. Hence, the idea of self-improvement and skill advancement is archaic and has taken various forms throughout history.

How Was The Term ‘Coaching’ Used In History?

The term ‘coaching’ has been used in varied forms such as mentoring, training and educating, throughout history. However, there are many similarities between the circumstances that inspired these forms. To understand the history of coaching philosophy, we have some stories from the days of old – 

  1. Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece, the word mentoring was commonly used. In the famous Greek epic poem titled ‘The Odyssey’  written by Homer, Odyssey’s son Telemachus is advised by a wise old man named ‘Mentor’. The name, ‘mentor’ eventually came to signify the existence of a trusted and valued man of wisdom who readily imparts the same to his pupil.

While the words coaching and mentoring have two different meanings today, in Ancient Greece, both coaching and mentoring signified the same thing, that is, to learn from the wise. 

  1. The Hungarian Town

A small town in Hungary is the reason we use the word ‘coach’ to imply training or education. Like we’ve already discussed, koc (Kotch) was the Hungarian small town where ‘coaches’ or ‘carriers’ were first built. 

Soon they were all across Europe and the word came into use somewhere between the 15th-16th century.

  1. University of Oxford

The first proper use of the word ‘coach’ in reference to an educator came about at the University of Oxford sometime in the 1930s. It was the first time the word was defined academically. The logic behind defining a tutor/instructor as a ‘coach’ was primarily due to the idea that a coach, like a carriage, takes his learner from one stage of the journey to another.

  1. Sports Coaching

After the word ‘coaching’ was first associated with sports in 1860 England, it has become an integral part of the industry. Every elite athlete and sports club now has one or more coaches for guidance. The integration of coaching in sports has been quick, extensive and easy. Safe to say, sports coaching marked the beginning of Coaching advancement in modern society. 

  1. Business Coaching

Corporate culture has always been curious about the capability of the human mind and body. Various management studies have been conducted on how to enhance and stimulate employee productivity. The idea of coaching (strictly referred to as ‘counselling’ at the beginning of the 1900s) was adopted by various companies that hired psychologists to enhance the efficiency of their employees.

What Are The Examples Of Coaching In History?

The examples of coaching in history are numerous – Alexander the great and his mentor Aristotle, Julius Caesar and his heir Octavius, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, among several others. 

Let’s begin with the one duo that remains undefeated to date. One of history’s greatest conquerors, Alexander the Great was a disciple of the legendary philosopher Aristotle. The latter instilled rational thinking, physics, chemistry and ethics in Alexander during their three years together. The two continued to be on friendly terms with each other irrespective of their differences.

Another example recounts the story of Julius Caesar and his great-nephew, Octavius. Since Julius did not have any heir to name, he taught Octavius everything he could manage including warfare, authority and administration. After an extended period, Octavian managed to restore Rome to its former glory.

In Indian history, the primary example of coaching can be found in the relationship between Acharya Chanakya and his pupil, Chandragupta Maurya, who established the Mauryan dynasty. According to sources, Chanakya played an integral part in establishing Chandragupta on the throne. Chanakya’s resentment for the previous Nanda kings incited him to pledge a vow to dethrone them by establishing the Gupta dynasty. Suffice to say, it might be very difficult to make it big without a coach by your side. 

Who Are The Biggest Coaches in History?

The biggest coaches in history include Thomas Leonard, Vince Lombardi and John Wooden among others. 

Thomas J. Leonard: Thomas brought several changes and improvements in the arena of personal coaching. In the 1980s, he found Coach U, the first professional coaching programme. Gradually, he went on to establish other coaching-related organisations and broadcasts like Coachville, International Association of Coaching and Today’s Coach.

Timothy Gallwey: In 1974, Gallwey wrote the first major publication on coaching titled – ‘The Inner Game of Tennis”. In his magnum opus, Gallwey distinguishes between coaching and teaching and how a sports coach can apply the principles of coaching to other areas of his life.

John Whitmore: The father of modern coaching, John Whitmore worked closely with Timothy Gallwey on his project ‘‘Inner Game.’’ Soon after, he developed his own model of coaching called GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, What). The model gained immense popularity and soon became a coaching handbook.

The most popular coaches in history also include Maya Angelou who mentored billionaire talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet who mentored Bill Gates and J.J Abrams who followed the footsteps of his coach and inspiration, Steven Spielberg. Looking for the best business coaches in history? Go to “Best Business Coaches.
The history of coaching and mentoring is extensive but not endless and we hope we were able to cover all the bases. If there’s anything we missed (unintentionally, promise!) Let us know!

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