Image by Daniel Öberg

From sports to business to the general public, the modern field of coaching is just in the beginning of its evolution.

The Coaching Industry



1990 - 2000's



The modern field of coaching got kick-started in the early 1980's, when Timothy Gallwey published a book called The Inner Game of Work.  He had originally been trying to understand why humans get in their own way of learning and achievement, and had been conducting his research on tennis players. But he soon realized that the implications extended much farther, into the business world. Executive Coaching emerged as the first “modern” coaching profession, and the job focused on helping business leaders set and reach organizational performance goals.  

In the 1990's and early 2000's, research on coaching as an industry took off. Life Coaching was created to bring the benefits of coaching to the general public, with the goal of helping people develop themselves, achieve their own personal goals, and maximize their potential.


Health and Wellness Coaching followed in the late 2000's and 2010's, as health care professionals began to recognize that there was a gap in the efficacy of their practice; they were experts in their field, but it wasn’t enough to guarantee patients would act on their recommendations – even if their lives were at stake. Unfortunately, behaviour change doesn’t occur just because someone (including you!) tells you that you should change. Coaching bridges the gap because it focuses on identifying and building clients’ own autonomous motivation to change.


In 2020, the American Medical Association approved Health and Wellness Coaching to be considered for insurance coverage in the US, recognizing what the research shows: a coach approach is the link that's missing from traditional health frameworks, particularly in preventative care. And the benefits extend far beyond the medicinal field.


Coaching as a professional field has roots in several different disciplines, including psychology, business, sports, and philosophy. It is highly diverse, dynamic, and contextual, so if you’re confused about the different terms and definitions, that’s because each coach may have their own unique focus even within their sub-field of coaching. Although the science gets clearer every day – it works! – coaching is still an extremely young field, and it’s still creating its footing as a professional industry.

As a result, there are a million and one Coaching Certification Programs out there offered by other Coaches, private institutions, and more recently, Colleges and Universities. All of this is possible because the industry is unregulated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s part of what has enabled the field to become so diverse and tailored to a narrow subset of clients’ specific needs. However, the downside is that pretty much anybody can call themselves a Coach, which has contributed to uncertainty and skepticism of the job.


There are several 3rd party bodies that accredit the coaching profession worldwide. These organizations certify Coaches for meeting training and experience standards, and require members to acquire continuing education credits to maintain their Professional status. Here is a brief overview of what are widely considered to be the top two in North America, the ICF and the IAC:

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In 1995, a guy named Thomas Leonard – widely considered to be the originator of the modern Life Coaching profession - founded a not-for-profit organization in the US designed to help the rising ranks of Coaches support each other and the Profession. He called it the “International Coach Federation” (ICF).

Four years later, the ICF began to accredit coach-training programs (including the school through which I am obtaining my education, Wellcoaches) that meet the educational criteria for learning how to coach, and established a credentialing process. A Regulatory Committee was established to protect the integrity of the profession, ensuring that anyone who earns their ICF credentials meets the highest standards of coaching capabilities and professionalism.

In 2003, the International Association of Coaching (IAC) was established by Leonard to streamline the Coaching Certification process. The IAC focuses on the results of coach training, mentoring, and experience, as opposed to the ICF’s documentation of it. Both bodies are widely considered to set the Gold Standard in Coaching.