From the ripe old age of six I’ve had coaches. Coaches for athletics, netball, basketball, softball, cross-country running… These coaches would be on the side line, clipboard in one hand, whistle perched on their bottom lip and shouting directions and game plays.

I loved most of my coaches – they were experts in their chosen sport, it was like they knew every play, every move. They pushed me, encouraged me, they saw the potential that I might not have seen at times.

Sports coaches are not the same as leadership, management, life, or executive coaches, and it’s important to understand the distinction.

Sports coaches are expected to know every facet of the sport they are coaching.

Coaching doesn’t require the coach to be the subject matter expert, the coachee is the expert, the coach is there to help guide the coachee to find the best plan to achieve what the coachee wants to achieve.

    • How? Via listening and questioning not game plans and key strategic game plays.
    • It is considered more beneficial that the coach is not an expert in the employee’s expertise, this is so the coach doesn’t get caught in detail, pulled into telling, and can hold a ‘clarity of distance’.

Sports coaches are there to spot any issues in the game and make adjustments and fix what’s not working. Sports coaches can look at how the player is moving and playing and tell them how to fix it.

Coaching creates a safe space for employees to reflect and identify what’s working and what’s not working and support adjustments. Coaches provide accountability to the actions the coachee has determined to take, The coachee is encouraged to think and plan and set their own course with the coach being a support and guide via questions that can challenge assumptions, ensure a clear plan is established and action is taken.

One of the most power ways to understand the distinction of coaching compared to other ways of supporting, leading and guiding others is through the model below by Farley:

A coach asks more questions than gives answers.

A coach sees the coachee as an expert rather than themselves as the expert. A sports coach is an expert.


This is can be a challenge for some managers when they can see how quick and easy it would be to simply give instructions, show how to do something, or give direction compared to stepping back, asking questions and investing time in helping an employee think, find and decide their way forward. 

This is where I see coaching and delegating as very similar in potential roadblock – it’s quicker if I do it myself and it’s just quicker if I tell them what to do – are powerful urges to resist. The reality is, it is quicker when you do it yourself; it is quicker when you just tell but that is an immediate stop gap with no long term gain for anyone. The coachee / employee doesn’t learn, doesn’t step up, doesn’t get to think through and set a goal and plan to implement; and you as their manager is left to carry the thinking and doing ongoing.


The International Coach Federation defines coaching as:

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.

I like to think of coaching as helping someone learn rather than to teach them.


Think about the interactions you’ve had over the last few weeks, can you think of any where you could have asked more questions, challenged thinking, encouraged learning?