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The difference between Mentoring, Coaching and Counselling: Coaching [3/6]

Posted on 22 October 2021

Where does a boundary need to begin between them for Practitioners?  [Blog three of six]

Authored by Mark West  

What is Coaching? 

A Literature Review 

The term coaching was initially used in the sports world and has evolved over time. It has been argued that through coaching some of the best athletes have been produced (Whitemore, 2002). In the sports world, how coaching is carried out has adapted and changed but the terminology and definition has not. It is argued that the classic, sports coaching model should be classified as mentoring due to the high level of instruction and the need for an ‘expert’. This is shown by Sports Coach qualifications, which require coaches to demonstrate a particular level of skill and expertise in the area of sport they desire to coach (Sports Coach UK, 2011).  

Coaching as it has progressed into the commercial and educational sectors, moving away from the classic sports-based concept, will be the primary focus of this blog post. ‘Life coaching’ is not considered because it is not especially relevant to the educational field. 

Much of the coaching literature focuses on helping leaders and managers to become better at their jobs. Mentoring generally seems to start with the concept that there is a ‘lack’ of something. Coaching does not assume there is a ‘problem’ and instead explores potential growth; this is a crude dichotomy that needs further expansion.  

In the following section, three different approaches to coaching are explored: mentor-coaching, bounded coaching and purest coaching. Within the literature there seems to be a spectrum of approaches to coaching. 


In some models, there is an overlap between mentoring and coaching on the idea of a ‘problem’, which is why the idea of a spectrum is important. This overlap introduces a new section within the continuum – Mentor-Coaching. 

Table 3: Emerging model for mentoring and coaching 

One example of overlap is shown by Champathese’s (2006) coaching model, which has a fixed road map ‘solving’ the identified ‘problem’. Champathese provides an acronym ‘COACH’ to represent five steps in the process.  

The ‘C’ stands for ‘clarifying needs’ and Champathese (2006) states that, ‘Clarifying needs is an explanation from coaches that may be needed to convince a person why the coaching relationship is needed’ (p.18). Champathese’s model shows clear direction from the coach at the very beginning of the process, with a potential requirement to ‘convince’ the person of the need to improve, implying that the coach ‘knows best’ and that there is a ‘problem’ to solve. Hence, placing this concept of coaching within the same theoretical and philosophical camp as mentoring in the initial stages of the process. This model and similar models, would therefore fall within the hybrid of mentor-coaching. 

Champathese (2006) continues with ‘O,’ using the term Objective setting, which requires an ‘agreement of the learner’ (p.18). This overlaps with Poulsen’s (2006) Guide on the Side – a movement towards the right on the above model. The coach or mentor is trying to get agreement from the recipient as opposed to helping them find their own goals or objectives. The listening and questioning of the recipient in Champathese’s (2006) model not only informs the coach but also persuades and facilitates a process. Facilitation is the key component, overlapping with coaching and placing it within the proposed hybrid approach. 

Pask and Joy (2007) overtly advocates a hybrid ‘mentor-coaching’ model, describing an approach similar to directive mentoring as a starting point, but builds in a listening component with empathy and understanding achieved through supportive and challenging questions. This approach is also seen as a hybrid, taking some ideas from the following section on ‘bounded coaching.’ 

Bounded Coaching 

Many coaching models seem to focus on people becoming ‘better’ at something, or as described by Tolhurst (2006), ‘looking at their potential’. This moves away from the concept in mentoring of a ‘gap’. More importantly, Tolhurst (2006) advocates that the mechanism of discovery is handed over to the coachee. One underlying belief is that the person’s own concept of self must be engaged so the person takes on the viewpoint of ‘potential’, this is only possible if ‘direction’ is handed over to the coachee. 

The following table shows how these approaches to coaching are a further step along the continuum away from mentoring in the emerging model. 

Table 4: Emerging model of mentoring and coaching 

Whitemore (2002) proposes that coaching requires the coachee to take responsibility for their own development. He states that, ‘Every time [expert] input is provided the responsibility of the coachee is reduced’ (p.41). This statement seems logical but unfortunately, Whitemore (2002) can only provide observational, anecdotal evidence, without any benchmarking to back it up. However, Whitemore (2002) suggests that ‘direction’ is handed over to the coachee, making it less directive. 

Martin (2001) believes that the key components to coaching are effective communication skills, residing primarily in effective listening and questioning by the coach. The coach is not ‘directing’ but ‘facilitating’ the process, thus increasing the responsibility of the coachee. This idea of coaching as a facilitation method through listening and questioning is repeated in several models, including learning process coaching (Griffiths, 2009) and change cube (Thomas, 2004). This process of facilitation is fundamental from start to end, unlike previously mentioned hybrid models that only use facilitation in later stages of the process. 

Whilst many of these models above advocate a facilitation process, where the coachee is setting the direction, they also seem grounded in a ‘step by step approach’ to ‘goal setting’. Griffiths (2009) considers ‘goal orientation’ as a central part to coaching. This seems entirely plausible although ‘target setting’ has permeated mentoring within the educational context. It is the ‘step by step’ component that gives the title of ‘bounded coaching.’ Authors, such as Zeus et al (2011), might argue that the coachee is in control of the direction, it is adaptable and tailored to individuals, however some direction is given by the coach when following a process bounded by steps. 

Purest Coaching 

As mentioned earlier, the term coaching within the classic sports model was considered closer to mentoring. However, the concept of coaching seems to have gone full circle in the sports field. Some progressive sports coaches have moved away from this classic concept and started to draw upon psychological research, shown by the first World Congress of Sport Psychology meeting in 1965. Gallwey (1974) explored the concept of the ‘inner game’, where he considers the cognitive processes (‘the inner game’) inside a person just as important for winning, if not more so, than the physical development of technical precision. Downey (1999) adapted this concept of sports coaching and used it within the commercial industries, focusing on the idea of ‘flow’, whereby distracting cognitive processes are minimised. The approach of these writers highlights a general shift in thinking; sports coaching moved away from an improvement model based upon an observable skill ‘gap’ and began focussing on process.  

Within this less bounded type of coaching, congruence of being, thinking and feeling become important. The coach is trying to achieve ‘flow’ for themselves and their coachee. It becomes a state of ‘being’ rather than a skill set, trying to ensure the ‘thinking’ self (with doubts and head talk) does not get in the way of the ‘being’ self. This style of coaching starts with the premise that the coachee does not have a ‘problem’ and they can unlock their own potential, the coach merely facilities this process. In fact, it is proposed that there is no need for any expert knowledge as the ‘direction’ is not set by the coach but wholly by the coachee. 

Authors such as Whitemore (2002), Downey (1999) and Thomas et al (2004), describe increasing awareness in the coachee as being one of the most important factors in improving performance. In this model, the coach does not require expert technical knowledge of the industry, as the coachee can access this for themselves. Therefore, the coachee has the greatest level of direction and can undertake their own transformation

From this literature, some skills appear to be more attributed to coaching than to mentoring. For example, the skills of listening and understanding might be used within both mentoring and coaching but the purpose behind them is different. In mentoring, listening and understanding could be included so that the mentor can provide what is needed. However, for coaching, listening is connected to generating questions designed to make the coachee think for them self.  

Key points have been summarised in the model below. Since this is a continuum, the divisional lines have been removed. 

Table 5: Mentoring and coaching model with key points 

The next steps are to consider how counselling is similar and different to mentoring and coaching… 


Allan, P. (2007) The benefits and impacts of a coaching and mentoring programme for teaching staff in secondary school. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 12- 21 

Bueno, J. (2010) Coaching: one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Therapy Today, September 2010, pp.10- 15. 

Carrol, M. (2011) Interview on the Boundary Between Coaching and Counselling. Conducted by West, M. on 20.09.2011 at the home of Carrol, M. (address not disclosed). 

Champathese, M. (2006) Coaching for performance improvement: the “COACH” model. Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 20, Issue 2. pp 17-18. 

Downey, M. (2001) Effective Coaching. London: Texere. 

Gallwey, T. (1986) The Inner Game of Tennis. London: Pan Books 

Griffiths, K. and Campbell, M. (2009) Discovering, applying and integrating: The process of learning coaching. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. Vol 7, No. 2, pp 16 – 30. 

Martin C (2001) The Life Coaching Handbook. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. 

Pask, R., and Joy, B. (2007) Mentoring-Coaching – A Guide for Education Professionals. Maidenhead (UK): Open University Press. 

Poulsen, K. (2006) Implementing successful mentoring programs: career definition vs mentoring approachIndustrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 38, Issue 5, pp. 251 – 258. 

Sports Coach UK (2011) [accessed on 20/10/11] 

Thomas, W. and Smith, A. (2004) Coaching Solutions. Practical Ways to Improve Performance in Education.  

Tolhurst, J. (2006) Coaching for Schools. Harlow: Pearson Education 

Whitemore, J. (2002) Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 

Zeus, P. and Skiffington, S. (2000) The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work. Sydney: McGraw-Hill