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Different Types of Coaching

Table, chairs, blue sky

The Business Coaching series is now available to download as a free ebook Creative Management for Creative Teams.

Following on from the differences between Coaching, Training, Mentoring and Counselling, this post will look at different types of coaching. These should not be seen as rigid categories but areas of specialisation, and many coaches work in more than one of these areas.

Sports coaching

This is what many people think of when they hear the word ‘coach’. The term sports coach encompasses a wide range of roles and approaches, from the football manager on the touchline, through one-to-one coaches for athletes and players, to specialist coaches for fitness and health. There are also coaches who focus on the ‘mental game’, helping sports players fine-tune their psychological preparation for high-pressure events.

Several coaches have bridged the gap between sports and business coaching. Tennis pro Timothy Gallwey proposed a radical new approach to tennis coaching in his book The Inner Game of Tennis, which he later adapted for business in The Inner Game of Work.

John Whitmore is a former champion racing driver who wrote the coaching classic is Coaching for Performance, which is chiefly concerned with coaching as an approach to management in business. Another example of a cross-over between sports and business coaching is The Little Book of Coaching: Motivating People to be Winners by business author Ken Blanchard and the American football coach Don Shula.

Life coaching

A life coach works with clients to help them achieve their goals and reach fulfilment, in the personal and/or professional sphere. Finding a healthy balance and integration between work and personal life is often a key feature of life coaching. Coaching can encompass a wide range of issues, from inner work on thoughts and emotions through relationships with significant others, to very specific career goals and practical action plans.

The difference between life coaching and business coaching is often one of degree of emphasis, and will depend on the individual coach and client. Broadly speaking, in life coaching the main focus of attention is on the client’s life as a whole; while in business coaching, the main focus is on someone’s work, while recognising that truly effective professional development requires a healthy balance between work and other areas of life.

Another difference between life coaching and business coaching is that life coaching clients are more likely to be private individuals, whereas business coaches are more typically employed by organisations. There are exceptions – some companies engage life coaches to help their employees balance their personal and professional needs, and business coaches are also hired by individuals to help them achieve their career goals.

Business coaching

A business coach is primarily concerned with improving performance at work and facilitating professional development. Formerly confined to senior management and known as executive coaching, the more general term business coaching recognises the importance of coaching for people at all levels within an organisation.

Whereas coaching was formerly identified with external consultants brought in to provide a fresh perspective and specialist expertise, many companies now expect their managers to act as coaches for their teams. In my next two posts, I will look at the differences in the type of coaching provided by external consultants and managers.

Creative business coaching

I’m a slightly unusual business coach in that I specialize in facilitating creativity, and many of my clients are drawn from the creative industries. I describe myself as a business coach rather than a life coach because the main focus of my coaching is on my clients’ work – their creative process, their working relationships and their professional goals.

Working within the creative industries however, the line between the personal and professional is often blurred, since most artists and creatives seek to make a career out of their passion rather than to keep the two separate. I describe my clients as ‘creative professionals’ to emphasise the importance of balancing creativity, authenticity, and a professional approach to high-level creative performance.

This may be a good place to point out that I do not believe the term ‘creative’ should be reserved for the ‘creative department’ – it includes everyone involved in the creative process, whether as writer, artist, designer, performer, programmer, director, manager, producer, editor, account handler, planner, marketer or client. And maybe even the artist formerly known as ‘the audience’.

Next in this series – The External Coach


  1. That’s a thoughtful and helpful delineation, Mark.

    You got me thinking about the business/creative dichotomy. I realize how much time I spend at the executive level yet how much I truly enjoy the creative types (my background is PR and Music). I began thinking about feedback that I’ve gotten from the execs who tell me I have a different approach and energy than some other executive coaches. It really is a reflection of the “artist-at-heart” thing.

    Thanks for doing a post that made me think clearly about something that’s been swirling around in my mind uncaptured for a while!

  2. Thanks Steve. I think a lot of creativity is the result of the meeting of two different worlds – e.g. business/creative, online/offline, social/technology, design/functionality. So I can imagine how you provide stimulation and value to the executives with your artist’s mindset. And it would probably work the other way round – i.e. your business experience would be a novel perspective for many artists. And you never know, if you spent too long hanging around artists in cafes, you might start to hanker for the boardroom…

  3. Mark I think you’re spot on concerning Life Coaching vs Business Coaching. One thing I would add is that in the context of an entrepreneur either starting out or already engaged in running his own business, the overlap is obvious… with life coaching brings the possibility to substantially impact business success.

  4. Thanks Wendy, yes I agree overlap is inevitable – I can certainly testify to this as a creative entrepreneur! So it’s often a case of emphasis on one area, but being mindful of the balance with other areas of life/work.