NOTE: As of 2022 the Center for Executive Coaching is now accredited with the ICF as a Level 2 Coach Training Organization. The ICF has changed their language and replaced ACTP with Level 2. We were among the first group of coach training programs to receive this accreditation, after a rigorous review by the ICF.

Clearing up some differences between sports coaching and executive/leadership coaching

Coach n 1: (sports) someone in charge of training an athlete or a team 2: a person who gives private instruction (as in singing or acting) 3: a railcar where passengers ride 4: a carriage pulled by four horses with one driver 5: a vehicle carrying many passengers; used for public transport; “he always rode the bus to work” v 1: teach and supervise (someone); act as a trainer or coach (to), as in sports; “He is training our Olympic team”; “She is coaching the crew” 2: drive a coach.

Source: WordNet ® 2.0 and dictionary.com

The formal definition of a coach, noted above, is interesting. Many coaches who coach leaders, executives, managers, and up-and-coming talent don’t like comparing what they do to what sports coaches do. When people think of the word coach, however, they usually think of sports coaches. Plus, it is hard to argue with the dictionary when it associates coaching with sports coaches.

Let’s compare traditional sports coaches with coaches who coach in more of a business, career, or organizational setting.

[This article is an excerpt from the book Coach!: The deceptively simple, crucial leadership skill for breakaway performance. For a signed copy, visit http://centerforexecutivecoaching.com/book]

Such coaches tend to meet with our clients in an office setting, where we sit down in a meeting room and coach. Coaching for us largely entails asking many questions so that clients can determine what to do on their own. We provide advice and observations but try to do so only when clients have exhausted their options.

During the heat of an athletic contest, when most people get to observe sports coaches, we don’t see much of this kind of coaching. Sports coaches are much more active, drawing up diagrams, putting players in and taking them out of the game, calling time-outs, yelling at the referees, giving quick remarks to motivate the players, and shouting as they walk up and down the sidelines. They also have a role in recruiting players, cutting players, and setting salaries.

In other words, sports coaches are primarily managers. They manage games, and depending on their level of authority and relationship with the general manager, they also help manage their team.

Behind the scenes, though, top sports coaches sit down with the athletes on their teams and do indeed coach them. They watch tapes to learn what went well and what the athlete and team can do better. They ask questions and engage in a dialogue to understand the athletes’ perspective about their performance. They make resources available for the player to train and improve, and then they try to connect with the players so that they take accountability for improving their own performance. Some coaches have more of a command-and-control approach, tending to tell players what they need to do. Others are better at engaging the players in a dialogue to understand what drives them, what makes them tick, and how they can take responsibility for improving their own performance.

Coaches who work with executives, managers, and up-and-coming talent can learn from sports coaches, especially the ones who know how to engage their players. Asking a never-ending circle of open-ended questions, as some coaching associations require, is not always the best way for a coach to get results. In real-world coaching, sometimes the coach needs to intervene a bit more proactively as a sports coach might. An effective coach sometimes makes observations, gives tough advice and feedback and, when needed, even gives a firm kick in the pants.

If you manage and coach a team of employees, the lines get even more fluid. Like a sports coach, you wear many hats, depending on your job description and span of control.

Moving away from the sports coach metaphor for a moment, notice the third, fourth, and fifth definitions of the word coach. These definitions focus on the coach as a vehicle. Personally, I like this more traditional definition best. Think of yourself as a railcar or carriage that gets people from where they are to where they want to be. You are a vehicle that moves individuals, teams, and sometimes the people in an entire organization from their current point A to a better point B.

We have more resources for you! Whether you are a Seasoned Coach or looking to become a Certified Executive Coach. The Center for Executive Coaching has you covered.

Tools for Seasoned Coaches Executive Coaching Certification

Aflac

Amazon

Ancestry

Army Corp of Engineers

Ascension Health

AT&T

Bank of America

Bechtel

Best Buy

Booz Allen

Bose

Bristol-Myers Squibb

Brown University

Capital One

Caterpillar

Charles Schwab & Co.

Children’s Hospital Colorado

Cisco

Citrix

Coca-Cola

Deloitte

Dropbox

Duke Energy

Galveston Independent School District

General Atomics

General Electric

Google

Harvard Business School

Home Depot

Inland Steel

International Red Cross

Johnson and Johnson

Kaiser-Permanente

KPMG

Laser Spine Institute

Lexis Nexis

Liberty Mututal

L’Oreal

Macy’s

Mckinsey Consulting

Merck

Microsoft

MIT

NASA

National Basketball Association (NBA)

Nike

Nissan

Nvidia

Partners Healthcare

Philips

Procter & Gamble

Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC)

Ralph Lauren

Regeneron

Rice University

Ross Stores

Russell Reynolds Associates

Schneider Electric

Shell Oil

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Stryker

The Ohio State University

Tom’s Shoes

United Nations

University of Florida

Unum

UPS

US Air Force

US Army

US Army Medical Corps

US Marines

US Navy

USAID

Valassis

VMWare

Xerox

Zappos

Our featured articles