ICF Definition Of Coaching (2024) – 14 Important Facts Explained

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You’re about to find 14 important facts about the International Coach Federation’s (ICF) definition of coaching.

In this deep dive into the ICF definition of coaching, you’ll learn more about what coaching really is and how the International Coach Federation (ICF) helps coaches. 

Also, check out my guide about the Best ICF Approved Life Coach Certification Programs.

Let’s dive right into it.

ICF Definition Of Coaching


  • ICF defines coaching as a collaborative process between a coach and a client aiming to maximize the client’s personal and professional potential.
  • To become an ICF coach, you need to complete a coach-specific training program, gain coaching experience, apply for certification, and pass the certification exam.
  • Coaching is a collaborative process focused on helping clients maximize their potential, while mentoring involves a more experienced professional guiding.

1. What Is The Best Definition Of Coaching?

It’s widely agreed across the world that the International Coach Federation’s definition of coaching is the best one. This is an internationally recognized credentialing program developing professionally trained coaches.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

2. What Does International Coaching Federation Coaching Stand For? 

The International Coach Federation is the standard governing body for coaches around the world.

This global body sets the standards for coach training programs and accredits the programs that meet these standards. For many years, ICF has offered an independent credentialing program for coaches all over the world.

Although the International Coaching Federation has competitors, it is widely recognized for enforcing the highest standards of coaching. ICF members are some of the best coaches in the coaching industry.

This means: if you work with a coach who has an ICF-accredited qualification, you can be sure they are ready for the task at hand because ICF members represent the highest quality of coaching and mentoring.

Indeed, anyone with the slightest knowledge of the coaching industry will suggest you only work with coaches who have an ICF certification and who have gone through a coach knowledge assessment. This independent credentialing program is one of the best ones.

3. ICF Definition of Coaching PDF

According to the International Coaching Federation, coaching is a partnership between a coach and a client where they connect in order to improve the client’s life and ensure they reach their full potential.

It’s a collaboration that helps the client set clear goals and achieve them. Check out this ICF definition of coaching PDF.

4. ICF Definition Of Coaching and Mentoring

International Coaching Federation says that coaching and mentoring are two completely different practices. They have different approaches and outcomes.

International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as a partnership with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to boost their potential. The ICF coach’s role is to support the client and help them identify goals, develop strategies, and take action to achieve those goals.

Coaching is focused more on helping the client to gain clarity, make decisions, and take responsibility for their actions. Here the ICF coach practitioners do not offer any advice or solve personal challenges for the client. Instead, they help them to tap into their own wisdom and use their own resources.

On the other hand, mentoring, according to the International Coaching Federation, is “a developmental professional relationship in which a more experienced person shares their knowledge, skills, and experience to support the development of a less experienced person.”

Mentoring is the transfer of knowledge from the mentor to the mentee. Mentors guide the mentee and help them make decisions, solve problems, and develop new skills and knowledge in a particular field.

Both a coaching relationship and mentoring relationship are a collaborative relationships between two people. However, coaching is focused on helping the client to achieve their goals and maximize their potential with reflective practice, while mentoring focuses on transferring expertise from the mentor to the mentee.

Constructive Conversations
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5. ICF Coaching Certification

To become an ICF professional certified coach, you need to obtain ICF coaching certification and then get ICF credentials. First, you need to get the necessary training in coach training programs, get coached yourself, then practice coaching, go through a coach knowledge assessment, and finally apply for certification.

But coaches need to have continuous education and coach training in order to maintain their professional code and achieve extraordinary results with their clients.

These coach-specific training programs have a goal to have every coach goes through a rigorous review process to measure the coach’s commitment and alignment of core values. Then, if they have met stringent education and passed the rigorous review process, they can obtain an independent certification and start achieving credentials.

ICF is a globally recognized organization that also accredits programs that provide coach training and education and also demonstrates that its curriculum aligns with the core values, Core Competencies, and ICF’s Code of Ethics. These coach-specific training programs are some of the most well-known in the coaching industry.

Here are the 25 best life coach certifications online ICF accredited.

6. What are the ICF Core Competencies?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) Core Competencies are the essential strengths that trainee and professional coaches will be evaluated on during their coach training and throughout their careers.

The 11 competencies are: 

  1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines And Professional Standards
  2. Establishing The Coaching Agreement
  3. Establishing Trust And Intimacy
  4. Coaching Presence
  5. Active Listening
  6. Powerful Questioning
  7. Direct Communication
  8. Creating Awareness
  9. Designing Actions
  10. Planning And Goal Setting
  11. Managing Client’s Accountability and Progress

For a more detailed explanation of these competencies, see this article: ICF Core Competencies of Coaching – Easy Explained

7. ICF Coaching Competencies Evaluation Checklist

The International Coaching Federation developed 11 core competencies as well as the corresponding performance evaluation criteria used to assess a coach’s proficiency in each competency. You can find the ICF coaching competencies evaluation checklist here.

8. How Can Someone Ensure They Benefit From Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation provides guidance on the behaviors a client can adopt to get the most out of coaching.

Here are some of its key ideas and wonderful benefits: 

  • Focus on yourself and your own success. 
  • Embrace tough questions and hard truths. 
  • Observe the behaviors and communications of others.
  • Listen to your intuition, assumptions, and judgments.
  • Understand the way you sound when you speak.
  • Challenge your existing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. 
  • Develop new attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that better serve your goals. 
  • Take decisive actions, no matter how uncomfortable they might seem. 
  • Show yourself compassion and maintain composure while learning new behaviors and experiencing setbacks. 
  • Commit to not taking yourself too seriously. 
  • Continuously engage in self-examination to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Have the courage to reach for more. 

9. ICF Coaching Principles

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) has created a set of coaching principles that help guide professional coaches in their everyday practice. These principles are based on ethical standards and best practices in coaching, and their goal is to promote integrity, accountability, and excellence in coaching.

The International Coaching Federation coaching principles are about effective coaching, and they provide a framework for coaches to deliver high-quality coaching services to their clients.

Here are the 10 International Coaching Federation Coaching Principles to ensure ethical practice:

  1. Professional conduct
  2. Client-centered approach
  3. Coaching presence
  4. Active listening
  5. Powerful questioning
  6. Direct communication
  7. Creating awareness
  8. Designing actions
  9. Planning and goal setting
  10. Managing progress and accountability

10. What Is The ICF Code Of Ethics?

The Code of Ethics is a document that explains the ethical guidelines that ICF credentials holders should aspire to meet at all times.

There are 28 standards in the code of ethics document outlining a coach’s responsibility to clients, practice and performance evaluation, professionalism, and society at large. 

To learn what these 28 standards of the code of ethics are, see this article on the ICF Code of Ethics

11. ICF Coaching Competency Framework

A coaching competency framework is a set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are vital for effective coaching. It is a tool that is used to assess and build coaching competencies. It also provides a standardized framework for measuring and improving coaching skills.

International Coaching Federation has developed a coaching competency framework that consists of 11 core competencies that professional coaches should possess. Here they are:

  1. Establishing the coaching agreement
  2. Establishing trust and intimacy with the client
  3. Coaching presence
  4. Active listening
  5. Powerful questioning
  6. Direct communication
  7. Creating awareness
  8. Designing actions
  9. Planning and goal setting
  10. Managing progress and accountability
  11. Facilitating learning and results

These competencies have specific performance evaluation criteria that are used to assess a coach’s proficiency in that specific competency.

Coaches can use the coaching competency framework to identify their areas of strength as well as areas for improvement. Then they can develop a plan for continuous education and professional development.

The framework is a standard for coaching, and it helps ensure that coaches are providing high-quality, effective coaching services to their clients.

12. ICF Definition of Coaching Presence

International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching presence, it is the ability to be fully present and engaged with the client, using a range of communication and listening skills to support the coaching process.

Coaching presence involves being fully present and focused on the client, using active listening and nonverbal communication to convey empathy and thorough understanding. It’s also about being comfortable with silence and allowing the client to think and reflect without interruption. Also, coaching presence is about creating a safe, supportive coaching environment that encourages the client to explore new perspectives and take risks.

It goes without saying that coaching presence is essential for effective coaching, as it cultivates trust with the client, fosters honest communication, supports the client in achieving their goals, and helps support greater understanding of their needs.

Coaches who are able to demonstrate coaching presence are also able to create a deep and meaningful coaching relationship with their coaching clients and facilitate long-lasting change and transformation for them.

13.  ICF Definition of Group Coaching

According to International Coaching Federation, group coaching is a collaborative, thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a group of individuals toward a common goal or outcome.

Group coaching is different from individual coaching in that it focuses on the collective learning and growth of the group rather than the individual needs and goals of individual participants.

Group coaching can be done in different ways and can have different formats, such as face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings, or a combination of both.

It can be done in different settings too, including corporate coaching, leadership development, greater personal growth, and wellness coaching.

Group coaching session is a very powerful and effective approach to coaching supporting individuals in achieving their goals while also building a sense of community among group members.

Related: (BCC) Board Certified Coach Vs. ICF – Complete Guide

14. FAQ: international coaching federation (ICF) Definition of Coaching

What Is the Best Definition of Coaching?

Coaching is a process aiming to improve personal and/or professional growth in an individual through structured coaching sessions, active listening, and other coaching techniques. It’s a form of development and partnering with clients where an experienced person, called a professional certified coach, supports a client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing guidance.

The ultimate goal of coaching is to help the individual achieve their desired outcomes, live a fulfilled life, and be more present in the current moment.

What Is the ICF Philosophy of Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation’s philosophy of today’s coaching profession is based on the belief that coaching is a collaborative, thought-provoking, and creative process that supports individuals in achieving their personal and/or professional goals through understanding, new learning, and growth in coaching sessions. It’s partnering with clients that inspires them to maximize their potential.

What is The Coach Knowledge Assessment?

The Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) is a tool that can be used to check coaches’ thorough understanding of the knowledge and skills necessary for the effective practice of coaching clients. The Coach Knowledge Assessment tests coaches on their coaching mindset, greater understanding of what coaching through ICF signifies, Core Competencies, and Professional Code of Ethics.

Only professionally trained coaches that met stringent education can pass the Coach Knowledge Assessment and become a part of this internationally recognized credentialing program. After completing coach training programs, they can continue to hone their coaching skills.

What is Performance Evaluation in ICF?

Performance evaluation in ICF (International Coach Federation) coaching refers to the process of assessing a client’s progress and performance in achieving their coaching goals as well as reviewing the coach’s experience requirements and coach’s commitment. This evaluation is typically done by the coach in collaboration with the client and may involve various tools and techniques such as feedback surveys, self-assessments, and goal attainment scaling.

To prepare for the performance evaluation, coaches need to study the ICF Core Competencies and practice them in their coaching sessions. Then, before making an audio recording and written transcript, they need to agree with the client that they’re co creating this together. Submitted an audio recording and written transcripts without client’s permission is not allowed.

You will need two audio recordings plus written transcripts for your ICF performance evaluation.

How to Become Master Certified Coach?

The ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC) is the highest level of ICF credentials awarded by the International Coach Federation (ICF). To achieve the Master Certified Coach ICF credentials, a coach must show mastery of coaching skills and competencies through a complex assessment process.

What Is the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring ICF?

The main difference between coaching and mentoring, according to the ICF, is in the approach toward the client. While mentor coaching is there to provide guidance and give advice to the mentee, a coach uses a different approach in each coaching session. A coach doesn’t provide personal opinions or advice. Instead, they’re just there to support the client in reaching their personal and professional potential, but also, a coach unlocks previously untapped sources.

What Is the Definition of Professional Coaching?

ICF defines coaching profession as a collaborative, thought-provoking and creative process where the client and the trained coach work together to improve individual growth and development. The goal is to help the client complete a milestone, improve their skills, and reach greater personal and professional potential.

How Do Coaches Serve Their Clients?

According to the ICF website, a coach’s job is to: 

  • find out, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve;
  • encourage self-discovery within their clients;
  • help clients who feel stuck;
  • hold their clients responsible and accountable.

This creative process aims to enhance their clients’ outlook on work and life while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their personal and professional potential. Coach practitioners must honor the client as the expert in their own life. They must believe every client is creative, resourceful, and whole. 

On top of that, coaches will:

  • Provide objective assessments and observations that foster self-awareness and awareness of others;
  • Listen to and fully understand the circumstances of their clients who feel stuck;
  • Act as a sounding board to and implement thoughtful decision-making;
  • Champion the client’s opportunities and professional potential; 
  • Foster shifts in thinking that reveal new perspectives;
  • Challenge blind spots to illuminate new possibilities and support the creation of alternative perspectives;
  • Maintain professional boundaries in the coaching relationship, including confidentiality.

You can expect an associate-certified coach and a professional certified coach with an ICF certification to always adopt an appreciative approach with constructive communication skills based on what’s right, what’s going well, what’s wanted, and what’s needed to get there. 

With that said, according to the ICF website, it’s the responsibility of the client to partake in the following:  

  • creating their own coaching agenda based on personally meaningful goals;
  • defining and envisioning their own personal success in this world;
  • taking the ideas provided by coaches and engaging in effective courageous forward action toward growth;
  • engaging in big-picture thinking;
  • Assuming full responsibility for personal decisions and actions.

What Is Coaching Not?

The ICF helps its website visitors to define what the coaching profession is not by comparing it to similar support-based practices. 

We’ll do the same here.

  • How Does Coaching Compare To Therapy? 

Therapy is primarily focused on healing pain, conflict, or difficulties arising from the past that hamper the emotional function of the client. There’s a lot of communication about the client’s past. 

You might not have any of these problems to benefit from coaching. Coaching clients is about setting and smashing goals. It’s therefore future-focused.     

  • How Does Coaching Compare To Consulting?

The delivery of consulting varies wildly, but you can usually expect a consultant to diagnose a client’s problems and sometimes implement solutions. They take more of a leadership role.  With coaching mindset, clients are encouraged to discover their own problems and solutions, with coaches lending helpful guidance along the way.

  • How Does Coaching Compare To Mentoring?  

Mentoring is purely based on improved results in a specific field. Mentors provide advice based on their own experience requirements. The mentoring process rarely involves any focus on the client’s emotions.

  • How Does Coaching Compare To Training?    

Training programs have objectives defined by the trainer. They mostly have a linear ongoing learning path. In a coaching relationship, it is up to the client to define their objectives. The coaching process is extremely flexible, depending on what the clients need.

  • What About Sports Coaching? 

The sports coaching profession tends to differ from the ICF definition. Sports coaches direct the behavior of their clients, usually based on their greater experience or knowledge.    

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.