Tim Gallwey initially proposed a modern version of coaching in his very famous book “The inner game of tennis” (Gallwey, 1974). Gallwey was the coach of the Harvard University tennis team and tried to find an effective way to improve player performance. In the ’70s he learned the meditative technique that prompted him to focus his attention inward rather than outward because “the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net” or “There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure”. Through an accurate and non-judgmental observation of one’s own behavior, the body adjusts its movements automatically, increasing performance. Focusing on the inner part favors the development of one’s “potential” and diminishes internal “interferences”. Thus, enhancing inner resources and being able to express them outwardly becomes a central aspect of the approach introduced by Gallwey, which aims to increase perceived self-efficacy and achieve optimal performance. In this way Gallwey introduced a modern coaching method that he defines as follows: “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them”.
The “inner game” approach can be applied to many areas beyond sports, particularly in the corporate world. In this area, John Withmore gave an important contribution (Whitmore, 1995). Withmore initially collaborated with Gallwey and subsequently brought the shared approach with Gallwey to maturity within the business world by introducing the famous GROW method (Goals, Reality, Options, Will) (Whitmore, 1995). The GROW model is one of the most commonly used methods for structuring the dialogue of a coaching session. Each letter of the GROW acronym represents a phase of the session: the first begins by defining the objective of the session, then the coach and coachee explore the current reality before developing future plans of action, then they proceed to identify the specific steps that define the strategy to follow in order to achieve the set goals. It should be noted that this process is not linear, but iterative and is realized through conversation between the coach and coachee that moves back and forth between phases to refine and clarify the best course of action. Each coaching session ends with the identification of clearly defined actions to be implemented before the next coaching session. The next coaching session begins by examining and evaluating the actions performed over time between the previous session and the current session, before moving on to setting a goal for the current session (Brown, & Grant, 2010). The central instruments of this method are the so-called “powerful” questions that the coach asks the client, as means to stimulate awareness of the situation, of the goals, of the strategies and of the obstacles (Stoltzfus, 2008).
Several other interesting contributions can be found in recent coaching literature. First of all, we mention that of Professor Anthony Grant, who in 2000 founded, the first worldwide department of Coaching Psychology at the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney (Grant, 2003, Grant, 2007, Grant, & Green, 2004). Grant introduces the Self-regulatory goal-oriented cycle which consists of a series of successive steps that aim to achieve the goal set using the self-regulating skills of the coachee (who receives coaching) facilitated by the coach (Grant, 2003). The characteristics of the self-regulation cycle are based on self-awareness, self-reflection, metacognition and insights. With these skills the coachee, facilitated by the coach, moves through the cycle consisting of the following steps: in the first step the coachee defines the goals to be achieved and develops a plan of action to achieve them, then engages in action, where the plan of action is put into motion and monitors activities with self-reflection and awareness; subsequently the coachee evaluates his or her performance and what has been achieved. Insights into the situation may occur at this stage. If the results of the evaluation are positive, one exits the cycle and confirms success, if they are negative one changes what has not worked and improves what has worked, continuing to move through the cycle in order to facilitate the achievement of goals. Another important contribution comes from the founders of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), Laura Whitworth, Karen and Henry Kimsey-House, who, in the 80s, introduced the co-active coaching based on balancing self-awareness, on agility in relationships and courageous actions to create an environment in which people can be fully satisfied, connected with others and successful in what is important in their lives (Kimsey-House, Sandahl, & Whitworth, 2011). Finally we mention the contribution of Julie Starr (2007) who covers all the essential elements of coaching and presents an excellent guide for coaches in her book “The coaching manual”.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as a “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. Grant offers another interesting definition (2003) about life coaching: “Life coaching can be broadly defined as a collaborative solution focused, result-oriented and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of life experiences and goal attainment in the personal and / or professional life of normal, nonclinical clients “. Coaching is therefore a relationship between two partners, the coach and the coachee (the one who receives the coaching), in which one of the two partners, the coach, serves the other as a facilitator of awareness. The coach’s facilitating action takes place due to the ability to listen and to formulate and ask appropriate “powerful” questions to the coachee.
Active listening and powerful questions
According to Stoltzfus “Questions hold the power to cause, create answers we believe in, and motivate ourselves to act on our ideas. Asking, or staying stuck in present circumstances, to aggressively applying our creative ability to the problem. “(Stoltzfus, 2008). The questions are central to the work done by the coach in the setting and it is crucial to be able to formulate them in a “powerful” way. The coach’s powerful questions reflect active listening and an understanding of the coachee’s perspective, which stimulate discovery, introspection, openness to new visions, pushing the coachee towards what he wants rather than justifying and looking back. As mentioned, the powerful questions arise from “active listening” by the coach towards the coachee. Active listening is based on the coach’s ability to respect the coachee’s schedule, to listen to his questions, goals, values and beliefs about what is or is not possible for him; to distinguish between words, the tone of voice, and body language; to summarize, to paraphrase, to reiterate, to reflect what the coachee has said, to ensure clarity and understanding; to encourage, accept, explore and support the coachee in the expression of feelings, perceptions, issues, beliefs and suggestions; to integrate and elaborate the ideas and suggestions of the coachee; to focus or recognize the essence of coachee’s communication and help him get there; to give free rein to the coachee and to clarify the situation without making judgments or opinions.
11 coach’s core competences (according to ICF)
The ICF indicates rather precisely what the skills of a coach should be to offer an effective coaching service. We report them because we believe they are the basis on which to find a valuable service:
1) Meeting Ethical Guidelines & Professional Standards – Understanding coaching ethics and standards and applying them appropriately in all coaching situations.
2) Establishing the Coaching Agreement – Understanding what is required in the specific coaching interaction and coming to an agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship.
3) Establishing Trust & Intimacy with the Client – Creating a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.
4) Coaching Presence – Being fully conscious and creating spontaneous relationships with clients,
employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.
5) Active Listening – Focusing completely on what the client is saying and is not saying,
understanding the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and supporting client self-expression.
6) Powerful Questioning – Asking questions that reveal the information needed to benefit the coaching relationship and the client to the maximum.
7) Direct Communication – Communicating effectively during coaching sessions, and using language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.
8) Creating Awareness – Integrating and accurately evaluating multiple sources of information, and
making interpretations that help the client to gain awareness and thereby achieve agreed-upon results.
9) Designing Actions – Creating opportunities with the client opportunities for ongoing learning, during coaching
and in work/life situations, and for taking new actions that will most effectively lead to agreed-upon coaching results.
10) Planning & Goal Setting – Developing and maintaining an effective coaching plan with the client.
11) Managing Progress & Accountability – Focusing attention on what is important for the client, and giving responsibility to the client to take action.
The use of coaching
Beginning in sports, where it has found its roots, coaching has been widely promoted in the last thirty years in business contexts, within individual or group settings (Grant, 2003, Goldsmith, 2010, Kets de Vries, 2015) and in individual settings through so-called life-coaching (Grant, & Green, 2004). Coaching has also been introduced in academic settings to improve student performance and promote goal-oriented self-regulation (Van Nieuwerburgh, 2012). In particular, coaching can stimulate self-efficacy and facilitate students to move through the cycle introduced by Grant (Grant, 2003) that in this context can be defined as a “self-regulated academic goal oriented cycle”. The cycle consists of successive steps aimed at achieving goals: in the first step the students develop a plan of action. Then they engage in the action, monitor performance and evaluate performance. Finally, on the basis of this evaluation, they modify the action, in order to facilitate goal achievement and maximize their academic potential. Some researchers have said that coaching is emerging as a potential approach to facilitate the process of self-improvement (Deiorio, Carney, Kahl, Bonura, & Juve, 2016) and that students who have received coaching are more likely to reach their academic goals and are more motivated to continue attending college a year after the conclusion of a coaching path (Bettinger, & Baker, 2011). In addition, a study conducted in the university context has shown that coaching positively influences motivation and self-regulation in PhD students (Lech, van Nieuwerburgh, & Jalloul, 2017).
Group coaching, in addition to individual coaching, introduces a sharing process that encourages intuitions and discernment. Participants take advantage of the experiences of other group members to develop and grow personally. In addition, the group creates a safe space in which participants can speak openly without worrying about judgment and privacy, within which individual awareness processes are activated (Brown, & Grant, 2010; Gorell, 2013). In moments of sharing, each member of the group shares something with others such as as emotions, feelings and thoughts. Sharing within the group is based on the so-called active listening in which those who listen are ready to accept what the other brings to the group without judging and without interpreting it. The coach is a facilitator rather than an expert or a consultant, so he/she does not interfere during individual sharing but only at the end when, using appropriate and “powerful” questions, he/she deepens self-awareness and facilitates understanding and insight (Brown, & Grant, 2010; Stoltzfus, 2008).
Coaching and mindfulness are both effective in improving learning: coaching acts on motivational aspects and goal-oriented self-regulation (Bettinger, & Baker, 2011; Deiorio, Carney, Kahl, Bonura, & Juve, 2016; Lech, van Nieuwerburgh, & Jalloul, 2017); mindfulness acts on cognitive and metacognitive abilities (Hussain, 2015; Jankowski, & Holas, 2014; Fabio, & Towey, 2017; Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010), on emotional regulation and self-awareness ( Tang, Hölzel, & Posner, 2015) and on the regulation of attention (Lutz, Slagter, Dunne, & Davidson, 2008). It has since been shown that the introduction of mindfulness into the coaching setting improves the effects of coaching itself (Cavanagh, & Spence, 2013; Chaskalson, & McMordie, 2017; Collard, & Walsh, 2008; Kemp, 2016; Passmore, & Marianetti, 2007, Spence, Cavanagh, & Grant, 2008). In particular Cavanagh and Spence (2013) emphasize “acceptance” as a factor present in coaching and mindfulness so that the latter can promote the effectiveness of coaching; Collard and Walsh (2008) have introduced mindfulness training in coaching to reduce stress in the coachees (those who receive coaching) and make coaching more effective; Kemp (2016) states that coaching and mindfulness are both aspects of education and training and that it might be useful to integrate the two approaches; Passmore and Marianetti (2007), first proposed mindfulness for coachees as well as coaches and said that coaching can be improved by preparatory mindfulness training; finally, Virgili (2013) introduced “Mindfulness-based Coaching” and underlined the importance, in terms of effectiveness, of the attention given to the present moment and of the non-judgmental awareness introduced by mindfulness in the coaching session.