Coaching psychology is a field of applied psychology that applies psychological theories and concepts to the practice of coaching. Its aim is to increase performance, self-actualization, achievement and well-being in individuals, teams and organisations by utilising evidence-based methods grounded in scientific research.[1] Coaching psychology is influenced by theories in various psychological fields, such as humanistic psychology, positive psychology, learning theory and social psychology.

Coaching psychology formally began as psychological sub-discipline in 2000 when the first "coaching psychology" course was offered at the University of Sydney. Since then, learned societies dedicated to coaching psychology have been formed, and peer-reviewed journals publish research in coaching psychology. Applications of coaching psychology range from athletic and educational coaching to leadership and corporate coaching.


Early history

Early applications of psychological theory and practice to coaching (in particular, athletic coaching) can be traced to the 1920s.[2] In 1926, Coleman Griffith published The Psychology of Coaching: A Study of Coaching Methods in the Point of View of Psychology.[2] Based on observations of football and basketball teams, Griffith discussed a wide variety of aspects of coaching such as spectator effects, over-coaching problems, principles of learning.[3] Griffith has been noted as "America's first sport psychologist" and a pioneer applying the science of psychology to coaching.[4] Years later, more texts on coaching psychology began to emerge. In 1951, John Lawther of Penn State University published Psychology of Coaching.[5] The earliest book in WorldCat with the term "coaching psychology" in the title is Modern Coaching Psychology by Curtiss Gaylord, published in 1967.[6][7]

21st century

Despite these early developments, contemporary coaching psychology was only formally established at the beginning of the 21st century.[4] In January 2000, Anthony Grant implemented the first "coaching psychology" unit of study at the University of Sydney and his doctoral dissertation set the stage for further research to establish the field of coaching psychology as an evidence-based discipline.[8][9] Many coaching psychologists consider Grant as a pioneer in the field.[4][10]

The logo of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), which founded the Interest Group in Coaching Psychology (IGCP).

Further development began in 2006 when the Australian Psychological Society (APS) held a conference that founded the Interest Group in Coaching Psychology (IGCP). Outside Australia, Stephen Palmer of the British Psychological Society (BPS) formed the Special Group in Coaching Psychology (SGCP).[4] Both the IGCP and the SGCP aimed to further develop the profession of coaching psychology in terms of theory and application by providing a platform for sharing relevant research and experiences among coaching psychologists.[4][1][11] Since the establishment of the IGCP and SGCP, more international societies dedicated to coaching psychology have been established in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa.[4] On December 18, 2006, the International Society for Coaching Psychology (ISCP) was founded in order to promote the international development of the field.[4][12]

Currently, there are a number of peer-reviewed journals dedicated to literature and research on coaching psychology. For instance, The Coaching Psychologist (since 2005) is provided by the SGCP.[13] The IGCP and IGCP jointly publish the International Coaching Psychology Review (since 2006).[14] Coaching Psychology International (since 2009) is published by International Society of Coaching Psychology.[15]

Theoretical influences

Humanistic psychology

See also: Humanistic Psychology and Person-centered therapy

The humanistic approach to psychology is regarded as a large contributor to coaching psychology.[3] Both humanistic and coaching psychology share the common view of the human as self-actualising. That is, whenever given the opportunity, humans will seize the capacity to improve themselves.[16] Coaching psychology looks at this development as a process consisting of concrete positive changes in one's life. Furthermore, this process of growth is undertaken by both the client and the coach who facilitates self-actualisation in their clients.[1][17]

In Carl Rogers' person-centered therapy, the client-therapist relationship is a key element in facilitating growth.[17] Thus, the relationship between the coach (the facilitator) and the client (the learner) is crucial.[18] In particular, Rogers identified three key qualities in a good coach-client relationship: "realness" (genuineness), trust, and empathetic understanding.[17][18] Additionally, an important distinction is made between working on the client and working with the client. A coach must be willing to collaborate and actively engage with the client in order to understand their experiences and make choices that promote growth.[17] When this is achieved, the coach-client relationship becomes an active partnership.[19]

Additionally, according to Rogers, growth in a client is attained through unconditional positive regard.[20] Coaches must empathise with their clients in order to understand their experiences and viewpoints.[1] To achieve this, the coach must be able to understand their clients not only on an intellectual level, but also on an emotional level.[17] Along with empathy, coaches must be able to accept their clients for who they really are since individuals need to feel valued for their "true selves" in order to self-actualise.[1]

Positive psychology

See also: Positive psychology

Martin Seligman is a psychologist who studies positive psychology.

Positive psychology (developed by Martin Seligman and others) dwells on the positive aspects of human characteristics such as strength and competency.[17][21][22] At its core, coaching psychology shares this focus; effective coaching entails improving the performance and well-being of the client.[23] Positive psychology thus provides a foundation for coaching.[21] Coaching psychology has been considered a type of applied positive psychology.[23]

Positive emotions motivate individuals to enhance their abilities and competencies.[24] The broaden-and-build theory by Barbara Fredrickson posits that positive emotions can play a role in sparking not just motivation, but also actions that are productive and beneficial.[25] In coaching, encouraging positive emotions is emphasised in order to inspire clients to take concrete action towards their goals.[17]

Aside from emotions, full engagement in activity is also a factor in maximising one's performance.[26] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described this level of maximal involvement in a task as flow. In other words, individuals experiencing flow are "in the zone".[17] Coaches play a role in setting an environment that induces flow. This can be achieved through clear and consistent goal-setting.[26] Providing clear and immediate feedback also keeps the client informed about whether their actions are helping achieve their goals.[17] Coaches also help strike a balance between challenge and skills as tasks that are too easy or too difficult for the client may hinder goal-achievement.[17][26]

Theories of learning

See also: Behaviorism and Social learning theory

Operant conditioning (as described by B. F. Skinner) views learning as a process involving reinforcement and punishment.[27] Coaches are encouraged to always reinforce healthy and productive behaviours through verbal reinforcement, such as motivational words and images.[28] Intrinsic reinforcement (i.e. reinforcement from within the individual) can also play a huge role in improving performance and encouraging goal-directed action.[19] Though punishment can direct clients towards desired behaviours, performance may be hindered by unwarranted side effects, such as anxiety and resentment towards the coach.[19][27]

David A. Kolb's experiential learning theory posits that individuals learn through their experiences.[29] Experiential learning is facilitated by self-reflection, self-assessment and action.[21] Coaches can encourage critical self-reflection of experiences through "coaching logs" wherein coachees analyse their thoughts and emotions in various incidents and circumstances.[21] This helps clients examine and challenge their own beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.[21] Insight gained from this aids in transformative learning where trainees develop an action plan for further self-improvement and increased performance based on their own experiences.[17][29][30]

The Zone of Proximal Development is located between what the learner can easily do and cannot do.

Lev Vygotsky described the zone of proximal development (ZPD) as a space between what a person knows (an action that can be performed easily) and what a person doesn't know (what is considered difficult).[31] Vygotsky theorised that learning is most effective within this zone.[32] Coaches facilitate effective learning by providing coachees with activities within the ZPD, which are neither too easy nor too challenging (this is a process called scaffolding).[31][32]

Social learning theory also influenced coaching psychology. According to Albert Bandura, observational learning occurs when individuals learn from the people around them (called models).[33] Coaches should be aware of their coachee's models as this can shape their attitudes and behaviour.[34] Additionally, coaches should assess factors affecting observational learning in their trainees, such as attention and the frequency of the observed behaviour.[34]

Other influences

See also: Gestalt psychology, Social psychology, Cultural psychology, and Psychopathology

Gestalt theory explains that people perceive events around us in a way that conforms to their personal ideas, beliefs and experiences.[3] Coachees must be guided in their awareness of their own attitudes and experiences, which shape their perception of the world.[3] Concepts in social psychology such as interpersonal influence and compliance emphasise the powerful role that social interactions play in shaping thinking, performance, and behaviour in coachees.[19] Cultural psychology assists coaches in facilitating growth and learning in clients from various cultural backgrounds.[35] Study of psychopathology may also be important in developing the proper methods of coaching for mentally unhealthy individuals.[19]


Coaching psychology has a large number of models and frameworks derived from psychological theories and evidence.[1] These models are used in order to guide the practice of coaching psychology and to ensure that coaching is informed by scientifically-proven concepts.[21]


Main article: GROW model

The GROW model is considered one of the most popular behavioural coaching models.[3] Its four stages outline the process of problem-solving, goal-setting and improvement of performance.[3][1] The name of each stage varies slightly depending on the source. This model has also been expanded upon with the inclusion of TGROW and GROWTH frameworks.


Stephen Palmer developed the PRACTICE model as a guide to problem-solving and solution-seeking.[1] The issues are identified during first stage is Problem identification.[36] Next, Realistic goals are developed with regards to the issues.[1][36] Afterwards, Alternate solutions that work towards the goals are brainstormed.[1][36] The possible outcomes of the solutions are then critically evaluated during the Consideration of consequences.[1][36] Following this, the best options are chosen during Targeting the most feasible solution(s).[1][36] Then comes the Implementation of the Chosen solution(s).[1][36] The final step is the Evaluation where coaches and coachees discuss the effectiveness of the solution and any lessons learned from the experience.[1][36]


According to the SPACE model, actions are influenced by emotions, physiological reactions, cognitions and social contexts.

The SPACE model is a bio-psycho-social framework based on cognitive-behavioural psychology.[37][38] Its purpose is to guide the coach in assessing and understanding the behaviour of their clients during specific situations.[37] SPACE is an acronym that stands for Social context, Physiology, Action, Cognition and Emotion.[38] It can be further subdivided into smaller frameworks: ACE and PACE. The ACE framework examines the relationships between the action, emotions and cognitions of the individual.[38] The PACE framework then takes the ACE model and considers the physiological or biological response that accompanies cognitions, emotions and behaviour.[38] Finally, the main SPACE model takes into account the social context in which the behaviour occurs.[37][38]

Other models

Other approaches such as the ABCDE cognitive model for problem-solving have been developed.[38] The OSKAR, ACHIEVE and POSITIVE models stem from the GROW model that focuses on goal-setting, solution-seeking, as well as nurturing coaching relationship.[36][38] For leadership coaching, LASER (which stands for Learning, Assessing, Story-making, Enabling and Reframing) outlines a five-step process for effective coaching.[38] The transtheoretical model of change (developed by James O. Prochaska and others) and appreciative inquiry focus on understanding the process of change and encouraging clients to act towards positive change.[1]

Coaching education

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2019)


Further information: Coaching § Applications

Athlete coaching

Main articles: Coach (sport), Sports medicine, and Sport psychology § Coaching

Coaching psychology influences training methods for athlete development.[18] It aims not only to improve performance in sports, but also to develop athletes holistically.[39] Thus, factors affecting development such as athlete motivation have been studied through cognitive, social and emotional theories.[40] One study found that athlete narcissism impacts the effectiveness of performance expectations set by the coach.[41] Physical and mental skill enhancement are also studied with cognitive-behavioural theories.[40] Research has shown that effective goal-setting improves performance in sport.[42] Additionally, self-efficacy is also an important factor affecting athlete development.[40] Thus, coaches are encouraged to increase self-efficacy in athletes through positive feedback and being a model of self-confidence themselves.[43] Even coaches' own beliefs about their skill level in coaching affect the development of self-efficacy in athletes.[43]

In education

Coaching psychology can also be applied in schools.[37] It examines the most effective ways of educating students grounded in psychological theory.[37] For instance, theories on motivation focus on the effects of self-efficacy and motivation on student performance.[37] Improving teacher confidence and self-efficacy is also an area of study for coaching psychologists.[4] Coaching psychology also guides students, teachers and staff in effective goal-setting and goal-attainment.[44] Additionally, coaching methods like reciprocal peer coaching (the process of teachers evaluating each other's performance) are encouraged because they cultivate support and trust among educators.[45] Peer coaching in the classroom also provides a collaborative environment for students, which is conducive for learning.[45][46]

Professional ethics and regulation

See also: Coaching § Ethics and standards

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2019)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Allen, Kimberly (2016), Allen, Kimberly (ed.), Theory, Research, and Practical Guidelines for Family Life Coaching, Springer International Publishing, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-29331-8_2, ISBN 9783319293318
  2. ^ a b Griffith, Coleman (1926). Psychology of Coaching. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Palmer, Stephen; Whybrow, Alison (2007). Handbook of Coaching Psychology: A Guide for Practitioners. East Sussex: Routledge.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Adams, Mark (2016-03-17). "Coaching psychology: an approach to practice for educational psychologists". Educational Psychology in Practice. 32 (3): 231–244. doi:10.1080/02667363.2016.1152460. ISSN 0266-7363.
  5. ^ Lawther, John (1951). Psychology of Coaching. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  6. ^ Gaylord, Elisha Curtiss (1967). Modern Coaching Psychology. Dubuque, Iowa: W. C. Brown. OCLC 969263.
  7. ^ WorldCat search, 29 September 2019.
  8. ^ Grant, A.M., 2001. Towards a psychology of coaching. Unpublished manuscript, Sydney.
  9. ^ Boniwell, I. and Smith, W.A., 2018. Positive psychology coaching for positive leadership. In Positive Psychology Coaching in Practice (pp. 159-175). Routledge.
  10. ^ "Anthony Grant". Archived from the original on 2019-05-05. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  11. ^ "Special Group in Coaching Psychology | BPS". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  12. ^ "History – International Society for Coaching Psychology". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  13. ^ "The Coaching Psychologist | BPS". Archived from the original on 2019-05-05. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  14. ^ "International Coaching Psychology Review | BPS". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  15. ^ "Coaching Psychology International". ISCP International Centre for Coaching Psychology Research. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  16. ^ Rogers, Carl (1951). Client-centered therapy: its current practice, implications, and theory. London: Constable.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stober, Diane; Grant, Anthony (2006). Evidence Based Coaching Handbook: Putting Best Practices to Work for Your Clients. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  18. ^ a b c Nelson, Lee; Cushion, Christopher J.; Potrac, Paul; Groom, Ryan (2014-07-04). "Carl Rogers, learning and educational practice: critical considerations and applications in sports coaching". Sport, Education and Society. 19 (5): 513–531. doi:10.1080/13573322.2012.689256. ISSN 1357-3322.
  19. ^ a b c d e Peltier, Bruce (2010). The Psychology of Executive Coaching. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
  20. ^ Rogers, Carl (1980). A way of being. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Law, Ho (2013). Coaching Psychology: A Practitioner's Guide. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-119-95467-5.
  22. ^ Grant, Anthony (2006). "A personal perspective on professional coaching and the development of coaching psychology" (PDF). International Coaching Psychology Review. 1: 12–20.
  23. ^ a b Linley, P. Alex; Harrington, Susan (July 2005). "Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology: Perspectives on integration" (PDF). The Coaching Psychologist: 13–14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-04-03. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
  24. ^ Fredrickson, Barbara (2001). "The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions". American Psychologist. 56 (3): 218–226. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.218. PMC 3122271. PMID 11315248.
  25. ^ Fredrickson, Barbara (2004). "The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 359 (1449): 1367–1377. doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1512. PMC 1693418. PMID 15347528.
  26. ^ a b c Wesson, Karen; Boniwell, Ilona (2007). "Flow theory – its application to coaching psychology". International Coaching Psychology Review. 2 (1).
  27. ^ a b "B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  28. ^ Fazel, P. (2013). "Learning Theories within Coaching Process". International Journal of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences. 7 (8).
  29. ^ a b Turesky, Elizabeth Fisher; Gallagher, Dennis (2011). "Know thyself: Coaching for leadership using Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory". The Coaching Psychologist. 7 (1): 5–14.
  30. ^ Pappas, James; Jerman, Jeremy (2015). Transforming Adults Through Coaching. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. ISBN 9781119215172.
  31. ^ a b "Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  32. ^ a b Wise, Donald; Jacobo, Amber (2010). "Towards a framework for leadership coaching". School Leadership and Management. 30 (2): 159–169. doi:10.1080/13632431003663206.
  33. ^ "Albert Bandura | Social Learning Theory | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  34. ^ a b Connolly, Graeme (2017). "Applying Social Cognitive Theory in Coaching Athletes: The Power of Positive Role Models". Strategies. 30 (3): 23–29. doi:10.1080/08924562.2017.1297750.
  35. ^ Roth, Andrea (2017). "Coaching a client with a different cultural background - does it matter?". International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. 11: 30–43.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h Palmer, Stephen (2008). "The PRACTICE model of coaching: Towards a solution-focused approach". Coaching Psychology International. 1 (1): 4–6.
  37. ^ a b c d e f Adams, Mark (2016). Coaching Psychology in Schools. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-76263-0.
  38. ^ a b c d e f g h Edgerton, Nick; Palmer, Stephen (2005). "SPACE: A psychological model for use within cognitive behavioural coaching, therapy and stress management". The Coaching Psychologist. 2 (2): 25–31.
  39. ^ Jones, Robyn L.; Turner, Poppy (2006). "Teaching coaches to coach holistically: can Problem-Based Learning (PBL) help?". Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy. 11 (2): 181–202. doi:10.1080/17408980600708429. ISSN 1740-8989.
  40. ^ a b c Tenenbaum, Gershon; Eklund, Robert (2007). Handbook of Sport Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-0-471-73811-4.
  41. ^ Arthur, Calum Alexander; Woodman, Tim; Ong, Chin Wei; Hardy, Lew; Ntoumanis, Nikos (2011). "The Role of Athlete Narcissism in Moderating the Relationship Between Coaches'Transformational Leader Behaviors and Athlete Motivation" (PDF). Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 33 (1): 3–19. doi:10.1123/jsep.33.1.3. PMID 21451168.
  42. ^ Blaine Kyllo, L.; Landers, David M. (1995). "Goal Setting in Sport and Exercise: A Research Synthesis to Resolve the Controversy". Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 17 (2): 117–137. doi:10.1123/jsep.17.2.117.
  43. ^ a b Feltz, Deborah; Lirgg, Cathy D. (2001). Handbook of Sport Psychology. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 340–361.
  44. ^ van Niewerburgh, Christian (2012). Coaching in Education. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 9781780490793.
  45. ^ a b Hooker, Tracey (2013). "Peer coaching: A review of the literature". Waikato Journal of Education. 18 (2): 129–139. doi:10.15663/wje.v18i2.166.
  46. ^ Showers, Beverly; Joyce, Bruce (1996). "The Evolution of Peer Coaching". Educational Leadership – via EBSCOhost.

Coaching psychology societies

Coaching psychology periodicals