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The Difference Between Training and Coaching

Posted by sean
Published on 10 June 2020

Deciding whether you are going to be a ‘trainer’ or a ‘coach’ to your students will depend partly on your relationship with your students; their attitude to you, and of course the nature and the context of the training itself.

One neat way of summing up the difference is to say that ‘Training’ is about ‘doing things right’ and ‘Coaching’ is about ‘doing the right things’.  ‘Training’ will teach you how to use the tools correctly; ‘Coaching’ will help you apply those tools in different contexts.

In reality, most of the time, we will need to blend the two together on each occasion and often we will find that we start the day broadly ‘training’ (This is how it works) and finish broadly ‘coaching’ (How do we apply it to your situation?).

For the sake of this article, however, I want to look at Training and Coaching from one very specific perspective. 

As I consider my Training Outcomes I will ask myself:

a) Do I need my students to be able to ‘think’ (ie be able to evaluate and adapt their knowledge to suit different situations) or
do I just want them to be able to ‘do’ (ie learn a procedure and apply it the same way each time)?

b) If I want my students to think, evaluate and adapt, I will need to take on more of a coaching role with them.

c) If I want my students to listen, copy and apply, it will be better to take on more of a training role with them.

My youngest son came to me a few years ago and asked:

Where are my shoes?

And I said: Where did you leave them?

He thought for a moment and then said:

‘Oh Yeah!’

That – on the most basic level in this context - is coaching!

Whereas if he had asked:

‘Where are my shoes?’

And I replied: ‘Over there.’

That in essence would be more like training!

Coaching involves people thinking for themselves and finding their own solutions, whereas training depends more on the trainer to provide all the answers.

Coaching gets people thinking.

Training, on the other hand, gets people doing and in some cases actually deters them from thinking at all.

Neither is good or bad.

There is nothing wrong with me telling my son where his shoes are.

He needs his shoes. I know where they are. So the quick solution is to tell him!

In fact, that is probably the quickest and simplest solution - for now.  But it might not be the best solution in the long term; because I have now created a relationship where I will be required to find his shoes for him for the rest of his life!

Encouraging him to think for himself may take more time now, but it is not giving him the solution to his problem, it is teaching him to solve it for himself so that in the future he can find his own shoes. I have now shared with him a useful principle that he can also apply to help him find many other things in his life, without having to come to me first. My approach to teaching him is governed by the type of result I need.

The first thing we need to work out in any teaching session is its purpose: the ‘why’. 

Why is the training necessary?

(He needs to find his shoes to have something to wear outside).

We then need to plan the content of the lesson: the ‘what’. 

What do we need to write into the lesson plan to achieve that purpose?

(What steps do we need to cover for him to locate those shoes?)

Once we know the ‘why and the ‘what’ of the training, we can now think about the method of teaching: the ‘how’.

How do we run the session work with the student to achieve the best result?

(Do I tell him the solution (Training) or do I help him work it out for himself (Coaching)?)

The danger with taking a ‘training’ approach is that it makes students very passive, potentially over-reliant on the trainer and it can discourage them from thinking for themselves, whereas a ‘coaching’ approach encourages the students to take active responsibility for their own learning.

In fairly crude terms you could say that:

‘Coaching is something you do with people; Training is something you do for people.’

Coaching tells the student that she is an intelligent individual, who can work it out for herself, whereas Training suggests that she either cannot or should not be allowed to think for herself.

Coaching offers encouragement and focuses on the person; training offers instruction and focuses on the task.

What result are you looking for?  What is the purpose of the training?

As you choose which approach is best for your learning situation, a simple way of considering it is to ask yourself:

‘Do I want my students to think or do I just want them to do?’

If I want them to think, I probably need to take a ‘coaching' approach.

You cannot train someone to think; that can only be achieved through encouragement, through coaching.

If I want them to do, I just need to train them; a task needs to be completed in a certain way, so the less they think, probably the better.

Most of the time we need to find the right balance between coaching and training.

However, Coaching is more often than not the better attitude to take, even if the subject matter may suggest training, because if I let my students know that I think they are intelligent individuals who can work things out for themselves, they will probably bring a level of engagement and that level of intelligence to the task in hand; if I teach them in a style that suggests they are not capable of working it out for themselves and are not required to think, again they will probably bring that level of intelligence with them.

School teachers will tell you that if you treat your students as if they are stupid, it is amazing how stupid they can become.  Show that you believe in them and they are more likely to believe in themselves.

Clearly, some subjects clearly lend themselves more naturally to training and others more to coaching. Processes, repeatable skills and implementing procedures will lean towards training.
Personal development, applying principles, and innovation will lean towards coaching.

The reason it is important to gain this perspective on the differences between ‘training’ and ‘coaching’ is so that we can choose the best approach for working with our particular set of circumstances.  We may need to deliver the same training programme on different days, but because of the different circumstances (time available, the attitude of students, aims for those students), we may need to alter our approach and train more or coach more. 

The basic outcome may be the same, but would the result be even better if my students were encouraged to think for themselves or would it be better if they were just encouraged to complete the task without asking why?

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