A (Brief) History of Coaching

By August 18, 2016Coaching

Working with a certified coach is becoming the norm for people who want to reach their personal and professional goals. The industry is booming, with no signs of slowing down. In 2014, The International Coach Federation (ICF) reported they had examined and certified more than 14,000 coaches in more than 130 countries. The ICF is the largest worldwide organization for professional coaches and those who are seeking to be coached.

By the way, all the coaches at Tiggley have completed studies in institutions certified by the ICF.

Coaching gives proven benefits for anyone who wants more. From young entrepreneurs to celebrities, more people around the world are turning to professional coaches to seek that breakthrough that moves them forward. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Leonardo Dicaprio, Serena Williams, and more, attribute much of their success to working with a life coach.

So, how did we get here? How did professional coaching become an effective —and credible— solution? Sometimes, to understand how something got so big, we need to see how it began.

Coaching —the word

The word coach comes from the word Kocsi in Hungarian. It means carriage. Long story short, in the fifteenth century, people from the village of Kocs in Hungary built these carriages that transported goods between Vienna and Budapest. People were wild about them.


As the kocsi became more popular, Germany (kotsche), France (coche), and the US (coach) started building their own. Fast forward to the 1830s, and because language is this wonderful living thing, Oxford University began using the the word coach as a slang to describe a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam. About 30 years later, the word coach moved from tutoring students to training athletes.

Sports Coaching Principles applied to Life

At this point of the story, sports coaches were doing what most people understand by coaching today. But in 1974, Timothy Gallwey wrote “The Inner Game of Tennis,” where he proposed that in life and sports, “the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net.”

Until then, sports coaches focused only on improving an athlete’s physical skill. But the brilliance of Gallwey’s approach was that he wanted to work on the athlete’s mind to release all the human —and athletic— potential within.

That’s how modern coaching began.

Here’s what we Know so Far

  • Coach was the word for a cart that carried objects from one place to another
  • Coach became an education term. It described the assistance a tutor would do to help a student pass an exam.
  • Coach later became an athletics term. This sports meaning is what most people are familiar with today.
  • Gallwey proposed that for athletes to achieve their highest potential, they must first master their mind.
  • Professional coaching, in its broadest sense, is helping someone go from where they are to where they want to be.

Who Developed Modern Coaching?

We’ll focus on four main characters in this story. Timothy Gallwey, who you know as the tennis coach who sparked the mind coaching movement. Dr. Brock, who dedicated her life to organizing the history of coaching. Werner Erhardt, who started the first group coaching seminar, and Thomas Leonard, who promoted the need to certify coaches and founded ICF.

As fate would have it, these four people were personally connected somehow. Tim Gallwey was Erhardt’s tennis coach. Thomas Leonard was an accountant for Werner Erhard & Associates, and Dr. Brock knew all three personally.

Coaching has been and will always be about relationships. Click To Tweet

Vikki Brock

Dr. Vikki Brock is considered the authority in the history of professional coaching. She was so committed to understanding the evolution of coaching that she titled her Ph.D. dissertation “Grounded Theory of the Roots and Emergence of Coaching.” She wrote 693 pages. Over the years she has interviewed hundreds of coaches, researched thousands of documents and knew personally many coaching pioneers.

Werner Erhardt

Werner Erhardt is popular for starting ‘est’, short for “Erhard Seminars Training”, also Latin for “It is”. ‘Est’ was a 60 hour seminar where people learned communication and self-development. Between 1971 and 1984, 700,000 people enrolled in the est workshop.

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In 2011, in the 40th year anniversary of the founding of Est, Eliezer Sobel wrote:

People had enormous and powerful changes occur for them in a very short time—it was a two-weekend course—and no naysayer could talk them out of the very real value they experienced in their lives as a result of participating in est, whether it was dramatic transformations in their relationships with their families, with their work and personal vision, or most important, with the recognition of who they truly were in the core of their beings.

Thomas Leonard

Thomas Leonard was an accountant and financial advisor in the 90’s. Speaking with his clients, he realized their problems went beyond money. In fact, many of his clients’ money problems were consequences of personal convictions that were hurting them  —like the tennis player who can’t win because her mind is holding her back.

Leonard’s reputation as a financial/life coach grew. He realized how much people needed the guidance he was providing and dedicated the rest of his life train and certify other people to become coaches.

In 1992 he founded Coach U, the first school for professional coaches. In 1995, Thomas Leonard founded the International Coaching Federation. And in 2000 he founded Coachville, the largest online community of coaches.

Sadly, Thomas Leonard passed away in 2003. He was 49.

The Legacy of Coaching

Thanks to visionary coaches like Gallwey and Erhardt and Leonard and Flores and Whitworth and Blanchard and Brock, professional coaching is a calling for everyone who believes people can do anything they set their minds to. That there are no limits to human creativity and potential. And no one has to do it alone.

Coaching is so effective because it speaks to the human instinct to self-improve. In our quest for greatness, coaching empowers and gives freedom to become. The technology and the tactics have evolved. Coaching is different from its early version 40 years ago. But the message is still the same: we can do better.

Take the Next Step

At Tiggley, we love meeting people who believe we can do better. We think coaching can help you. Get connected to one of our certified coaches right now. Or if you have questions about how it works, we’d love to talk with you. Contact us now and get started.