Challenging coaching from within, is it time? by Yvonne Thackray


Speaking with authority and clearly defining what is coaching is a challenge for any experienced coach, not to mention those who are just starting out in coaching. Often the definition of coaching is:

- Either expressed in an abstract way by creating an emotional, practical and/or meaningful hook of why coaching is valuable to the client

- Or through an experiential process of ‘being’ coached: the aim of experiencing coaching allows the participant to verbalise what he/she noticed during the process (an internal shift or an awareness) that is cognitive, emotional and/or physical.

Both approaches allow the coach and participant to co-create an implicit understanding of what coaching is all about, however, is this sufficient?

I practice both because there currently isn't a better and more rigorous alternative. We are currently submerged in the practice of simply describing coaching from a sole practitioner’s perspective rather than as a group of practitioners, and in parallel confusing the market with conflicting messages. In my opinion and further supported by poll carried out by Coaching at Work in 2013, there is a growing desire within the field of coaching to be able to articulate with clarity what it is we do and demonstrate the value of our work.

Coaching is further confused by some of the challenges we face internally in the coaching industry:

  1. The presumption that coaching can simply be represented by proprietary 'universal' coaching models/frameworks, and
  2. Certain credentialing/accreditation processes focus on the coaching skills of the coach rather than the coach themselves and their relationship with the market.

Recent research indicates that coaching is more than just these. A coach’s identity is intricately linked with who the individual is. They draw on their professional and personal experiences (including. social groups, cultural and religious backgrounds, personality, character, values, motivators, education etc.) which are integral to his/her coaching practice (Thackray, 2014).

What else needs to be considered?Generalised competency models or ‘traditional’ demographic segments are becoming less relevant. Coaching is both fluid and inclusive because it can be applied in many different situations and contexts that overlaps with traditional disciplines e.g. coaching for ADHD, dyslexia, recovery, career, leadership, CEO and board, performance and skills, entrenchment, remedial, behavioural, students, juveniles, prisons, talent, health, well-being - the possibilities are endless. Using the ‘Trend Framework’ integral to’s methodology, it encapsulates the 16 mega-trends that will define the future of business and consumerism. Against each mega-trend I asked one simple question, 'Is coaching relevant to [mega-trend 1…]? Yes/No' What did it show me?  

Coaching has an important role to play, and it is here to stay.

What we know? Coaching is driven by the individual and it will always have its place in giving clients the space to meaningfully deal with chaos and uncertainty. The question we are being asked is how do we both rigorously and flexibly hold the space as both a practicing and a member of the coaching industry?  

What next? One of the ways to move the field forward is to carry out an extensive longitudinal study that explores, analyses and understand what each coach's tacit (intuitive) knowledge is. A classification may then be developed producing explicit knowledge that demonstrates approaches connected to specific outcomes for different individuals. As well as capturing the embedded knowledge that is locked in processes, products, culture, routines, artifacts, or structures (Horvath 2000, Gamble & Blackwell 2001).  How might we do this collectively around the world? I invite you to share your thoughts (coaches - beginners through to experienced, interested parties, and users of coaching) and opinions of how we might engage in this and...

  • What other shifts (small through to large) do you think are needed in the field of coaching to become even more aligned with the mega-trends?
  • What value will this bring to you as a coach and to the field of coaching?


Thackray, Y. (2014),

Building towards an anthropology of coaching: Constructing Identity,

University College London.

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