Monday, November 13, 2006

Training, Coaching, Mentoring

A colleague asks me the difference between these terms, so here goes:

Training refers to any repetitive activity with the objective of making what is considered to be "best" so ingrained as to be subconscious. So does an athlete "train". Equally, one can "train" a horse or a dog. One can have a "Personal Trainer" for physical fitness, or someone can be a "Dog Trainer" or a "Horse Trainer". The purpose is in any case to enhance performance in what might be considered a one-dimensional way. The dog is trained to do certain specific tasks. The horse is trained to obey specific commands. My "Personal Trainer" ensures that I exercise in the best possible way in order to increase my physical fitness. The word "training" has therefore a repetitive and graduated feel to it.

Coaching is provided by a coach (as in "a football coach") in order to enhance a wider range of skills. The term "coaching" has, therefore, a professional or technical feel to it. You can "coach" me in order to try and improve my abilities for example in public speaking or in time-management.

The word "coach" started being used in 1556 for a "large kind of carriage" and comes into English via the Middle French word "coche", as well as from the German word "kotsche", both originally deriving from the fifteenth century Hungarian word "kocsi", meaning a "carriage made in Kocs," the Hungarian village where it was first made. In the 1830s, "coach" came to be used in Oxford University slang for a tutor who "carries" a student through an examination. The use of the word was extended from academics to sports and athletics from 1861. The word "coaching" has therefore a remedial but also an objective-related feel to it, where the objective needs the rather more flexible deployment of a range of skills or abilities.

The "mentoring" has quite different roots. Mentor is the name of the person to whom Odysseus (or Ulysses) entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, when he set out on what we now call an "odyssey" and which took him, among other places, to the Trojan Wars. Mentor was Odysseus' wise and trusted counsellor as well as tutor to Telemachus. Mentor's name - with a lower-case "m" - has passed into English as a term for a wise and trusted counselor and teacher.

In modern English the term is used in two ways:
First, the word "mentor" refers to a person providing regular or continuous counsel or teaching ("My mentor is Joe Smith").

Second, the word "mentor" is used of an older, influential person who takes a younger, promising person "under the wing," for the purpose of advancing the younger person's career. The older person is then a mentor to the younger one. And the younger person is traditionally referred to as the "protégé" of the older person. This sort of relationship usually comes about for family-, power-, psychology- or relationship-oriented reasons.

In business circles, a new and somewhat inelegant term "mentee" has started being used, where it refers to the person "being mentored" - though the usage is confined to official programmes for such purposes organised within companies.

HOWEVER, the words "coaching" and "mentoring" are increasingly used interchangeably... so much so that some people claim to find no difference between the terms...though I maintain that there is a distinction between the words, "coaching" applying to a rather more narrow academic, technical or professional "objective-related" process; "mentoring" to a wider, life- and wisdom-related process that is more concerned with developing or unfolding the personality.... Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

_ivan said...

Truth in Languages: Relative or Absolute?

You base your final distinction partly on your definition of the word "coach". But this definition is largely an ethymological one. Ergo, you hinder the development of the language on historical grounds.

I would do the same, but I find people countering me saying that the language has evolved, and that "coaching" and "mentoring" mean the same now.

Are there any official guidelines that specify whether the meaning of words are that of their origines or that of the majority?