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What is Coaching Research?

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

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If the term “coaching research” is unfamiliar territory, this article will shed some light on what it is, and why it is important.

Since life coaching fully emerged in the 1990s, it has boomed into an A$ 4 billion global industry with 53,300 professional practitioners, according to the Global Coaching Study of 2016. With the rapid development of the many platforms and programmes to train coaches, as well as the coaching of clients, it is paramount that the best practices are developed, established and maintained.

And what do we mean by ‘best practices’?

We’re talking about practice that is research-informed and evidence-based.

This means ensuring coaches are trained with and to implement interventions that are based on established theories and practice. Because it’s a cross-disciplinary field developed from psychology, business, education and philosophy, we can draw from longstanding knowledge within these disciplines. These coaching methods themselves have to undergo rigorous testing. Only when this step is complete can we say that the coaching practice is evidence-based.

Ultimately, coaching research is imperative to (a) ensure coaching as a practice is effective; (b) that it does not fall victim to the dangerous realm of pseudoscience; and (c) reinforce the professionalization of coaching.

What kind of research is out there?

While conducting coaching research does not typically involve any microscopes or hazmat suits, it does still involve employing empirical methods. This refers to making objective observations in systematically controlled, replicable paradigms (think, the baking soda volcano experiment you did back in primary school science class).

When venturing through empirical research, you might encounter several research designs and methodologies. Here’s a basic glossary for the most common ones used:

In terms of content, coaching research that has been published to date can be categorized into six key topics:

  1. The coach

  2. The client

  3. The coach-client relationship

  4. The process of coaching

  5. The effectiveness of coaching

Who is magically churning out this research?

In the coaching industry, research may be published from several different sources. This includes independent researchers, coaching bodies and coaching schools.

Several key researchers in the field are Anthony Grant, Lew Stern and Francine Campone.

Where can I find this research?

Now when you’re ready to get your hands dirty, or if you’re simply wondering what magical world research exists in, here is a list of journals to source peer-reviewed, high quality research:

And yes, Google Scholar is also your best friend.

Another platform to search for and read about the research are coaching bodies—for instance, here on International Coach Guild (ICG)—where articles on the research are published (and sometimes synthesized into comprehensive, bite-sized pieces).

The International Coach Federation (ICF) Research Portal is another search engine for coaching research.

In sum, while the coaching industry is consistently garnering attention and recognition, this is inevitably accompanied by criticism as well. As such, it is critical for both practitioners and researchers to do our parts to establish and promote coaching as an evidence-based profession.

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