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International standards, ethics, and competencies for coaches

International standards, ethics, and competencies that coaches need to follow

Coaching has become a widely recognized profession, and as such, there are national and international standards, ethics, and competencies that coaches need to follow. These guidelines ensure that business, executive, career, and leadership coaches (to name just four) are providing quality services and are held accountable for their actions. In this article, we will explore the various standards, ethics, and competencies that coaches should follow.


ICF Standards

 The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the largest and most recognized coaching organization worldwide. It has developed a set of standards for coaches that outline the ethical principles, core competencies, and ethical conduct that coaches should adhere to. The ICF’s standards are divided into three categories: Ethical Principles, Core Competencies, and Ethical Conduct Review Process.

The Ethical Principles outline the values and standards of behavior that coaches should uphold, including integrity, respect for others, and confidentiality. The Core Competencies are the skills and behaviors that coaches should demonstrate to effectively coach their clients. Finally, the Ethical Conduct Review Process outlines the procedures for reviewing complaints against coaches and taking appropriate action.

“Coaches have a tremendous responsibility to instill ethical values in their athletes,

because sports offer a unique opportunity to learn life lessons and develop character.”

– James A. Michener


Other national coaching organizations have established standards and ethics for coaches.

These include the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and the Association for Coaching (AC).

The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and the Association for Coaching (AC) are also two of the leading professional bodies for coaches. Both organizations have established ethical guidelines, competencies, and standards that coaches need to follow to ensure high-quality coaching services.


EMCC Standards

The EMCC has established a set of eight standards that outline what is expected of coaches, including:

  1. Ethics and Professional Conduct:

Coaches must act with integrity and adhere to ethical principles.

  1. Professionalism:

Coaches must be competent and committed to their ongoing professional development.

  1. Contracting:

Coaches must agree to terms and conditions with their clients, including confidentiality, boundaries, and objectives.

  1. Assessment and Goal-Setting:

Coaches must use appropriate assessment tools and methods to establish clear coaching goals.

  1. Coaching Relationship:

Coaches must establish a positive coaching relationship with their clients based on mutual trust, respect, and confidentiality.

  1. Coaching Process:

Coaches must use effective coaching techniques to facilitate learning and growth in their clients.

  1. Evaluation and Feedback:

Coaches must evaluate their coaching effectiveness and provide feedback to their clients to ensure continuous improvement.

  1. Continual Learning:

Coaches must engage in ongoing professional development to enhance their coaching skills and knowledge.


AC Standards

The AC has established a set of core competencies that outline the skills and knowledge coaches need to possess to provide effective coaching services. These competencies include:

  1. Professionalism:

Coaches should demonstrate professionalism and act ethically in their coaching practice.

  1. Competence:

Coaches should have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to provide effective coaching services.

  1. Accountability:

Coaches should take responsibility for the outcomes of their coaching services.

  1. Continuous Learning:

Coaches should engage in ongoing learning and development to enhance their coaching skills.

  1. Collaboration:

Coaches should work collaboratively with their clients and other stakeholders to provide effective coaching services.


International Standards

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has also developed standards for coaching services. ISO 20700:2017 Guidelines for Management Consultancy Services outlines the requirements for coaching services in the context of management consultancy. These guidelines are designed to ensure that coaches are providing high-quality services and meeting the needs of their clients.



 Ethics are an important aspect of coaching, and coaches are expected to uphold certain ethical standards in their practice. The ICF Code of Ethics outlines the ethical principles that coaches should follow, including maintaining confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest, and acting with integrity.

“The best coaches are ethical role models, who not only teach skills

and strategy but also guide their athletes in making good decisions and becoming better people.”

– Joe Ehrmann


Coaches work closely with individuals and organizations,

It is important for them to maintain ethical standards to ensure that the coaching relationship is professional and productive. Here are some of the ethics that coaches need to follow:

  1. Confidentiality:

Coaches must keep all client information confidential, except in cases where they are legally or ethically required to disclose information. Confidentiality helps to build trust and respect between the coach and the client.

  1. Integrity:

Coaches must maintain high levels of integrity in all aspects of their work. This includes being honest, transparent, and ethical in their interactions with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

  1. Professionalism:

Coaches must demonstrate professionalism in their interactions with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders. This includes maintaining appropriate boundaries, being respectful, and avoiding any behavior that could be perceived as unprofessional.

  1. Competence:

Coaches must have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to effectively coach clients. This includes ongoing professional development to stay up-to-date with the latest coaching techniques and best practices.

  1. Informed Consent:

Coaches must obtain informed consent from clients before beginning coaching. This involves explaining the coaching process, discussing the client’s goals and expectations, and ensuring that the client fully understands what coaching entails.

  1. Conflict of Interest:

Coaches must avoid any conflicts of interest that could affect their ability to provide effective coaching services. This includes refraining from providing coaching services to close friends or family members, or to individuals or organizations where there is a potential conflict of interest.

  1. Respect for Diversity:

Coaches must respect the diversity of their clients and colleagues, including their values, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds. They must avoid any behavior that could be perceived as discriminatory or biased.

By following these ethical standards, coaches can establish a professional and productive coaching relationship with their clients. Additionally, these ethics help to ensure that coaching is a trusted and respected profession, both nationally and internationally.

“Good coaches build trust and respect with their athletes by being honest,

consistent, and fair in their dealings with them.”

– John Wooden


In addition to the core competencies established by the ICF, there are other competencies that coaches may need to possess depending on the context in which they work. For example:

  • Business acumen:

Coaches working with business leaders may need to possess knowledge and understanding of business concepts, such as strategy, marketing, and finance.

  • Cultural competence:

Coaches working with clients from different cultural backgrounds need to be aware of cultural differences and adjust their coaching approach accordingly.

  • Emotional intelligence:

Coaches need to possess the emotional intelligence to effectively work with clients’ emotions and help them develop their own emotional intelligence.

Other coaching organizations have established ethical standards for coaches, including the EMCC and the AC.

These ethical standards provide guidance for coaches and ensure that they are providing high-quality services to their clients.


EMCC Ethics:

  1. Respect for the client’s autonomy, dignity, and privacy
  2. Maintaining confidentiality and protecting the client’s information
  3. Providing a safe and non-judgmental coaching environment
  4. Avoiding any form of discrimination, harassment, or exploitation
  5. Conducting coaching sessions within the coach’s area of expertise and training
  6. Maintaining boundaries and avoiding any form of dual relationships
  7. Continuously developing and enhancing coaching skills and knowledge through ongoing professional development.


AC Ethics:

  1. The coach’s responsibility to act in the best interests of the client and to avoid conflicts of interest
  2. The importance of maintaining the confidentiality and respecting the client’s privacy
  3. The need for coaches to operate within their level of competence and expertise
  4. The importance of establishing clear goals and objectives for coaching sessions
  5. The coach’s obligation to promote diversity and inclusion and to avoid any form of discrimination or bias
  6. The need to maintain professional boundaries and avoid any form of dual relationships
  7. The importance of ongoing professional development and self-reflection.

Both the EMCC and AC expect coaches to adhere to these ethical guidelines to ensure that they provide high-quality coaching services and maintain the trust of their clients.



 Coaching competencies are the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that coaches should demonstrate to effectively coach their clients. The ICF has established 11 Core Competencies that coaches should possess. These competencies include active listening, powerful questioning, and creating awareness:

  • Meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards
  • Establishing a coaching agreement
  • Establishing trust and intimacy with the client
  • Active listening
  • Powerful questioning
  • Direct communication
  • Creating awareness
  • Designing actions
  • Planning and goal setting
  • Managing progress and accountability

“Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen.

The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”

– Vince Lombardi

Other coaching organizations have established competencies for coaches.

The EMCC has established the European Individual Accreditation (EIA) framework, which includes a set of competencies for coaches.

The framework consists of three levels: Foundation, Practitioner, and Senior Practitioner.

At each level, coaches are assessed against a set of competencies that are grouped into eight categories:

  1. Ethics, Professionalism, and Conduct
  2. Contracting and Clarifying Expectations
  3. Co-creating the Relationship
  4. Communicating Effectively
  5. Creating Awareness
  6. Designing Actions
  7. Planning and Goal Setting
  8. Managing Progress and Accountability

The competencies for each level build upon the competencies of the previous level. For example, at the Foundation level, coaches are expected to demonstrate competence in the areas of ethics, professionalism, and conduct, as well as contracting and clarifying expectations. At the Practitioner level, coaches are expected to demonstrate competence in all eight categories of competencies, while at the Senior Practitioner level, coaches are expected to demonstrate mastery in all eight categories.


Some examples of the specific competencies that coaches are assessed on within each category include:

  • Ethics, Professionalism, and Conduct:

Demonstrating ethical behavior, maintaining confidentiality, adhering to professional standards and boundaries, and continuing professional development.

  • Contracting and Clarifying Expectations:

Establishing a coaching agreement, clarifying roles and responsibilities, defining boundaries, and identifying expectations and outcomes.

  • Co-creating the Relationship:

Building rapport and trust, creating a safe and supportive environment, demonstrating empathy and understanding, and managing emotions.

  • Communicating Effectively:

Listening actively, asking powerful questions, providing feedback, and using appropriate language and tone.

  • Creating Awareness:

Raising awareness of self and others, challenging assumptions and beliefs, facilitating insight and learning, and exploring possibilities.

  • Designing Actions:

Setting goals and objectives, creating strategies and action plans, identifying obstacles and challenges, and exploring options and alternatives.

  • Planning and Goal Setting:

Setting measurable goals and objectives, prioritizing actions, creating timelines and milestones, and evaluating progress.

  • Managing Progress and Accountability:

Reviewing progress and results, addressing setbacks and obstacles, adjusting strategies and actions, and celebrating successes.

“The best coaches are those who lead by example and

demonstrate the highest level of integrity and ethics both on and off the field.”

– Nick Saban



Coaching is a profession that has established national and international standards, ethics, and competencies that coaches should follow. These guidelines ensure that coaches are providing quality services and are held accountable for their actions. As a client, it is important to understand these guidelines and ensure that your coach is adhering to them.


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