Think twice before calling someone a ‘coach’

by 28 Jun 2012


The idea that one needs “a coach” has become pervasive. There are sports coaches, life coaches, health coaches and executive coaches. There are coaches acting as cheerleaders, confidantes, guidance counsellors and psychologists. The term coach is bandied about and it seems everyone can be a coach these days. Now the idea of the “coach” has even hit mainstream TV with the hit program The Voice.

Don’t get me wrong, like many Australians I have been captivated by The Voice and have enjoyed the camaraderie and goodwill displayed by the “coaches” with the contestants. But as a coaching and mentoring consultant I am concerned with the use of the title “coach” when referring to Seal, Joel, et al.

If the role of “coach” is to continue to hold any meaning then we must ensure that there is a core understanding of what it is to be a coach. A sports coach and an executive coach may have different models and techniques. But all true coaches seek to either build a great team or to enable individuals to perform at their best. All great coaches are focused on the needs of the team or the individual, rather than their own egos and agendas. Great coaches are capable of having difficult conversations and providing balanced and fair feedback. Great coaches know their limitations and have devoted time and resources to being rigorously trained in the skills of coaching. They work to develop mastery in their profession.

The Voice makes for great TV, but confuses the role of the coach. The “celebrity coaches” are great musicians and lovely human beings I’m sure, but they can’t be great coaches whilst they are also trying to be Judges, Team Captains, Individual Performers, Celebrities and even Competitors themselves. These conflicting roles create competing agendas that only well-trained and highly experienced professionals would be able to juggle.

You might think this is an argument of semantics. Who cares if The Voice chooses to call Keith Urban a coach? But it is more than the word; it is our understanding of the role of the coach and what it takes in professional development to become a coach. As people become increasingly interested in finding a coach to help them individually or as an organisation to achieve their best then they must have a clear understanding of what the role involves. By calling their celebrities “coaches” The Voice has muddied already unclear waters. 


About the author

Melissa Richardson is director, Horizons Unlimited. For further information visit


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