The History of Coaching: Everything You Need to Know

May 15, 2023

Incomplete Evolution

Etymologically, a coach trundles and wobbles on cobbled streets. Coaching myths suggest that Oxford used this term for a tutor who ‘carried’ a student in 1830. 30 years later sporting institutions adopted this word. I wonder why they didn’t use the word ‘nanny’, more appropriate for Oxford scholars.

Leaving English alone, for now, coaching as it’s currently interpreted is about creating awareness in the mind of a client by reframing limiting beliefs in order to progress to an emerging desired future. Many other adjectives and adverbs can be added to this definition to embellish and enlarge. Coaching is not dependent on expertise and experience as in the case of a mentor, and not digging into the past as in therapy. It’s a transformational journey into the future in self-awareness. 

Every one of us has the potential to be a coach. All one needs is the mindset to listen to a client curiously, empathetically, and generatively and inquire into the client’s sensations, emotions, and thoughts to create awareness of limiting beliefs and reframe perceptions. To start with, the coach has to shed one’s judgment and ego through self-coaching and reflection. 

This is what the Mandukya Upanishad said 5000 years ago as it traversed through four states of awareness. It started with the foundational level of mindful sensory awareness, moving through the subconscious and unconscious awareness states, to a mindfree witnessing state it terms the Fourth State. 

Freud rediscovered the first three states in 1900 and Jung stumbled on it while visiting India in 1910. They made the modern world conscious of the unconscious. The fifties to the seventies were heydays of reframing psychology with Rogers, Perls, Berne, Grinder & Bandler creating powerful conceptual and application frameworks. Thomas Leonard, who worked for Werner Erhard founded the International Coaching Federation in 1995 along with several other coaching institutions. It took 20 years for the European Mentoring Council to rebrand itself as European Mentoring & Coaching Council in 2002.  

In the entire history of coaching, it has traditionally been considered as an individual, though coaching it’s used with teams as well. It’s only recently that the wisdom of Organisational Development concepts of Kurt Lewin and Edgar Schein has impacted this approach in making coaching a systemic team approach. In my experience, individual coaching is inadequate in organizational leadership development. Leaders do not sustain the transformational effects of coaching unless the organization is prepared. There is no measure of evidence of success in individual coaching to organizational performance, except through indirect derivatives.

The bones of organizational leadership need the muscles of teamwork to be strong. Individual warriors do not contribute to the long-term growth of organizations, collaborative teams do. Great leaders inspire, influence, and empower teams. It’s only recently that coaching institutions adopted frameworks to define team coaching. They are yet to expand this to systemic coaching, which is the future, in which individuals are linked through teams to aligned organizational goals. 

At a personal level, systemic coaching defines what in our environment impacts us and how we impact the environment. The systemic approach takes us beyond selfish wants to societal needs. This makes us spiritual. 

I hope 10 years from now when the history of coaching is reviewed, systemic coaching gets it’s due.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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