top of page

What Is Coaching?

There is a lot of confusion around the term 'coaching', partially because it is used in other fields, like sports coaching, but also because of vague professional requirements to practitioners who offer their services. This article defines important criteria to help you navigate the world of coaching with a lot more confidence. I am also inviting you to explore my other articles on the Benefits of Coaching and How Is Coaching Different from Therapy or Counseling


What Coaching is Not?

Let's begin our deep dive into coaching by defining what coaching is NOT. Coaching is very different from: 

  • A chat with your best friend with (or without) a drink

  • A conversation with your mom (or dad) who knows it all

  • A therapy or counseling session 

  • Sports coaching, although sometimes similar techniques are used​

International Coach Federation (ICF) is an organization that sets standards in the Coaching profession 

"Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.”

- International Coach Federation

Within coaching, there are multiple coaching schools and approaches but all of them could be organized into two main groups: directive and non-directive coaching.  Both have their benefits and limitations. Understanding this fundamental distinction will help you make a more informed choice of a personal coach and design interaction with him/her in a more productive way. 

Directive Coaching

In terms of style, directive coaching could be quite similar to sports coaching where a practitioner has a narrow specialization and would suggest you a predefined roadmap on how to reach an objective within his/her area of expertise. Examples here would be a Wellness Coach or a Relationships Coach, among others.

Benefits of Directive Coaching

The main benefit of directive coaching is that you get expert guidance on how to reach your goal in the shortest and most effective way, provided that there is a clear and well-known path to what you are trying to achieve.

Most Suitable Goals for Directive Coaching

If your goal is very specific and practical, like for instance, getting good at public speaking in front of large audiences, directive coaches specializing in public speaking could be your best choice. This approach could be summarized in a short sentence: "Why would you invent a bicycle if someone else has already done so?"

Directive non-directive coaching

"Here are the parts of the bicycle. Please follow the instructions on how to assemble it..." 

A directive coach would guide you though the step-by-step process to help you reach your objective fast and effectively, in a way that reflects the vision of a coach.

Non-Directive Coaching

Non-Directive Coaching is an opposite approach. There is no step-by-step program that is offered by a coach, there is no expert’s advice, unless a coach may use both approaches. Instead, non-directive coaching allows you to come up with unique and creative solutions to reach your objective. Oftentimes, instead of focusing on one specific area, these coaches work with a person wholistically, bringing together deep-down values, aspirations, and stimulating a client to activate own unused powers and resources.

Benefits of Directive Coaching

The main benefit of non-directive coaching is that it allows to access a much deeper motivation to move towards goals, and access your unique resources and creativity.

Most Suitable Goals for Directive Coaching

The challenges that are best suitable for non-directive coaching are major life changes, a deep sense of dissatisfaction at work or in personal life, or when we need to better understand what is going on or why we keep doing things we should not be doing. Using our metaphor of a bicycle, in a non-directive session, instead of following step-by-step instructions on how to build a traditional bike, you may come with a highly unique model that would best serve your transportation needs.


"Design your unique spacecraft to get you to your goals and far beyond." 

A non-directive coach would help you refine your objective, unleash your creative potential to achieve it in your unique way, and help expand your vision and awareness beyond your initial goals.


Limitations of Directive and Non-Directive Coaching

With all of the benefits of each approach, there are limitations to each method or situations when one of the methods may be less effective than the other.


Limitations of Directive Coaching

  1. Since it mostly focuses on skill training, it may leave behind a deeper level of our personality. For instance, one can be perfectly aware of what a healthy diet is, yet he/she is constantly breaking the promise to self to eat healthily. In this example, the real problem might be not as much the lack of knowledge, but the motivation, which is usually not effectively addressed by directive methods.

  2. One size doesn’t always fit all. For instance,  a relationships coach promotes a very straightforward manner to articulate own needs, and a client who is more of a gentle nature may be unable to apply suggested techniques as he/she may find this approach too aggressive or confrontational. 

Limitations of Non-Directive Coaching

  1. There are situations when there may be a clear benefit from an expert’s advice. For instance, if you’d like to set up your own business and have no practical knowledge in that field, a non-directive life coach may be inspiring and may help you get a much better vision but he/she would fail on guiding you on critical steps to establish and successfully run your company. 

  2. Non-directive coaching may open a “Pandora Box” instead of a “quick fix.” Because non-directive coaching works on a much deeper level of personality it may unveil our deep-rooted limitations that may need extra time to work through. Metaphorically speaking, you were planning to clean dust and suddenly ended up doing a deep cleaning of the house. On the coach's side, it takes a good deal of skill and dedication to the client's interests to balance effective goal achievements with "core" work.


Coaching is a powerful tool that you may benefit from at different stages of your life. There are multiple coaching techniques and styles, not to mention that individual coaches add their own flavor to their work. In the meantime, understanding the difference and best uses of directive and non-directive coaching would be the first step in choosing the right type of coach and shaping the coaching relationships with him/her to your best interests. To learn more, I invite you to read the articles Benefits of Coaching and How Is Coaching Different from Therapy or Counseling?


bottom of page