Know Your History: How Life Coaching Came to Be

February 11, 2022 by Lauren Gombas

Know Your History How Life Coaching Came to Be

Where Life Coaching Began

Before life coaching formed as a distinct profession, let alone an idea, the coaching industry developed its original identity. Raja'a Allaho and Christian van Nieuwerburgh's book Coaching in Islamic Culture: The Principles and Practice of Ershad (Professional Coaching) outlines the emergence of the word coach. 

Their first chapter begins with Mentor, a character in Homer's Odysseus who uses wisdom and knowledge to impart guidance. This concept would help form the supporting role of former sportspeople and their mentorship of up-and-coming athletes in Ancient Greece. Although distinct ideas, coaching and mentorship contain enough overlap for mentorship's creation to have influenced the concept of coaching. 

The word “coach” later pops back up. In the 1830s, at the University of Oxford, the word coach was formally added to the dictionary. With this definition, the dictionary defines a coach as a tutor helping pupils close the gap between what they know and any missing knowledge. Jump thirty years, and coaching moves into England's athletic space. This move influenced business, executive, and life coaching in the twentieth century.

What is Life Coaching

As a fast-growing industry with an estimated 5.4% growth rate yearly, and an estimated evaluation at over a billion dollars in the United States alone, coaching continues to serve as a distinct profession and mission. Life coaches can work as an organization's internal life coach practitioners, or as business owners, independent life coaches, HR representatives guiding employees, or as managers or leaders, to name a few.

Life coaches must distinguish from therapists, counselors, mentors, consultants, and other practitioners within similar industries. Although these professionals intend to improve personal development, a life coach's goal is not to treat a condition but to develop the client as a whole. Coaches focus on the learning and being of the client because they believe the client is the expert of their own life, instead of the client’s problem. This enables the client to gain clarity and develop strategies for obtaining their goals. 

The coaching industry has grown exponentially, with coaches able to specialize in a variety of niches. For example, business and executive coaches focus on performance within a company setting, whereas academic coaching focuses on performance within an educational environment. Coaches exist for people seeking to improve their health, relationships, or finances, among many different niches. People hoping to write their first novels or enhance their energy will also find coaches specialized for their specific needs. The coaching world has never been more accessible. 

The Major Players of Life Coaching

In the 1980s and 1990s, est Training's Werner Erhard and CoachVille's Thomas Leonard elevated life coaching as a distinct profession. The est Training, created by Werner Erhard in 1971, opened up self-improvement training to the general public. Recently celebrating its 50th Anniversary, est Training boasts alumni including gold medalists, professors, and intellectuals across all levels of education.

Erhard's motivation for creating est Training as a means for self-improvement came to him when he felt a sense of meaninglessness one day when walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. According to his website, in acknowledging his autonomy, he realized his freedom, which led to est Training. In his own words, "The real purpose of est was to create space for people to participate in life - to experience true space and freedom in life."

Believing in the same ideas as Erhard, Thomas Leonard's website credits him as the founding father of life coaching. His work in establishing the International Coach Federation in 1994 opened the opportunity for accreditation globally. His foresight also led him to utilize technology, specifically conference calls in 1998, to expand the opportunity to take coaching courses.

Life Coaching Influences and Tools

Life Coaching pulls from many notable influences and tools, many of which deserve dedicated articles; however, here are a few:

  • C.R. Snyder’s Hope Theory claimed hope as a motivating factor from a rational state of mind. Hope Theory consists of three key ingredients; a person must have goals guiding them like the North Star, pathways towards achieving these goals, and agency to carry out these pathways.
  • Life coaching today is intimately connected to positive psychology theories. Carl Rogers' ideas about self-actualization and Barbra Fredrickson's theories about positive emotions, especially love, provide powerful tools for life coaches and clients. Carl Rogers believed individuals could achieve their goals, but they would need to receive unconditional positive regard from a loved one to help them on their way. Similarly, Barbra Fredrickson promotes love as a motivation for self-improvement
  • Going down the same path of reducing negative emotions, Timothy Gallaway's The Inner Game of Tennis pulls on the idea of external and internal obstacles. His research illuminated the correlation between lowering negative emotions and improving performance.

Life Coaching Today

International Coaching Federation's 2020 study revealed a 33% increase in coaches globally from 2015 to 2019. Parts of Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean, which haven't been vital players before, can be credited with the increase. However, what's highly notable is the Caribbean's increase between 2015 to 2019 of nearly 200% in the number of coaches internationally. 

Seeing the expansion of life coaching as a distinct profession can be exciting and daunting. Here are three considerations for standing out and growing in an expanding market as a professional life coach:

  • Get credentialed/enroll in life coach training. Selecting suitable courses in coaching and a good coach training program can continue to support a coach's viability. Credentialing of coaches promotes life coaching as a discipline and career, which helps the industry. 
  • Consider a niche. Life coaching is still a young career field despite the rise in coaches and has many frontiers still out there to explore. The research shows that the more specific your audience, the more successful your business. If you want to explore coaching with marginalized groups or by focusing on a specific coaching tool, you are one step closer to setting yourself up for success. 
  • Remember technology. Stay on top of technology trends. With the global market expanding, coaches and clients can connect more freely. In our post-covid world, it's more possible than ever to live in the UK and video chat with a life coach living in Brazil. 

Life coaching can be a viable and beautiful career with such a rich history and exciting future. Think this might be the right career path for you? Then, check out Coach Training Edu’s Life Coach Training courses.

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Works Cited

“2020 ICF Global Coaching Study Executive Summary .” Coachfederation.org, International Coaching Federation, https://coachfederation.org/app/uploads/2020/09/FINAL_ICF_GCS2020_ExecutiveSummary.pdf. 

Allaho, Raja'a, and Christian van Nieuwerburgh. “Chapter One: A Brief History of Coaching.” Coaching in Islamic Culture: The Principles and Practice of Ershad, Routledge, 2017. 

Blackbyrn, Sai. “84 Key Life Coaching Statistics for 2022.” Coach Foundation, 13 Jan. 2022, https://coachfoundation.com/blog/life-coaching-statistics/. 

Davis, Tchiki. “Life Coach Certification .” Psychology Today, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/202010/life-coach-certification. 

Day, Dave, and Tegan Carpenter. History of Sports Coaching in Britain: Overcoming Amateurism. ROUTLEDGE, 2017. 

EDU, Coach Training. “Hope Theory as a Unified Theory of Coaching.” Coach Training EDU, https://www.coachtrainingedu.com/training/hope-theory/. 

“The Est Training.” Werner Erhard, http://www.wernererhard.com/est.html#:~:text=%22The%20real%20purpose%20of%20est,space%20and%20freedom%20in%20life.%22&text=%22Fundamentally%2C%20the%20est%20training%20is,do%20that%20fully%20and%20responsibly. 

“Founder Thomas Leonard.” CoachVille, http://www.coachville.com/connect/founder-thomas-leonard/. 

“History of the Est Training.” Erhardseminarstraining.com, http://www.erhardseminarstraining.com/history-of-est/. 

“The Inner Game of Tennis.” The Inner Game, 28 Feb. 2017, https://theinnergame.com/inner-game-books/the-inner-game-of-tennis/. 

“The Inner Game- Home.” The Inner Game, https://theinnergame.com/. 

LaRosa, John. “Top 6 Things to Know about the Personal Coaching Industry.” Market Research Blog, 14 May 2018, https://blog.marketresearch.com/top-6-things-to-know-about-the-personal-coaching-industry. 

“Love 2.0 - Brain Synchrony of Coaching Relationship Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D.” Partners Digital Media in Partners Healthcare, 2013, http://healthcare.partners.org/streaming/McLean/2013_Coaching_Conference/Fredrickson_Love.html. Accessed 18 Jan. 2022. 

Perera, Ayesh. “Self-Actualization.” Simply Psychology, 4 Sept. 2020, https://www.simplypsychology.org/self-actualization.html#:~:text=Carl%20Rogers%20believed%20that%20for,behavior%20(self%2Dimage). 

“Welcome from Timothy Gallwey.” The Inner Game, https://theinnergame.com/. Accessed 18 Jan. 2022. 

Willis, Rebecca. “3 Trends That Will Shape the Future of Coaching.” International Coaching Federation, 4 Jan. 2021, https://coachingfederation.org/blog/3-trends-that-will-shape-the-future-of-coaching.


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