Establishing the Coaching Agreement: ICF Core Competency 3

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Establishing the Coaching Agreement: ICF Core Competency 3

What Should the Coaching Agreement Include and What is Its Role?

by Lucia Baldelli

Establishing the coaching agreement is about creating the foundations of a productive and effective coaching relationship. We partner with our clients to define the rules, the scope and the objectives of our engagement, as well as, of each individual session, so that we maximise value and collaborate effectively. The Coaching Agreement provides the clarity and focus to start a coaching journey with the right foot. In this article we will discover more about what it is, why it is important, how to structure it.  

What is a Coaching Agreement?

Have you ever started a journey without a clear destination in mind but limited with time and resources? It is quite hard to plan your trip effectively unless you have a clear idea about where you are going and what you need along the way! And if you are travelling with someone else, you might also need to discuss some ground rules that will make your adventure enjoyable. 

What if you don’t do that? Maybe they need to travel at a different pace or to a different destination! 

The Coaching Agreement (also called Coaching Contract) is the starting point of any effective coaching relationship and defines relationship rules and boundaries about how the Coach and the Client will collaborate along the way. It also defines the goals that the Client wants to achieve as a result of the coaching engagement. It is a legal document that defines terms and conditions of the collaboration and it also creates the opportunity to clarify the destination of our journey and our key milestones.  

Core Competencies by ICF: Establishing and Maintaining the Coaching Agreement

The Updated ICF core competencies, fundamental part of the ICF certification process, say that the Coach 

  • “Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals.”
  • “Establishes agreements for the overall coaching engagement as well as those for each coaching session.”

Therefore the two key elements of this Core Competency are: 

  1. the Coaching Agreement (or Contract): agreements about the relationship, including the definition of the relationship focus and goals
  2. the Session Agreement: definition of each session’s focus and goal. 

In this article we will explore the key elements of a Coaching agreement and how to create an effective session agreement.

handshake of coach and client after signing an coaching agreement

Why Do You Need a Coaching Agreement?

A recent research run by Professor David Clutterback and Eve Turner revealed that “…half of the issues brought by Business and Executive Coaches to their Supervisors were related in some way to the original contracting with their Clients. Interestingly, Coaches believe this figure to be lower – only 34%.” 

This means that many Coaches, often at the beginning of their career, highly underestimate the importance of the coaching agreement and, as a result, they experience numerous issues in the relationship later. Misunderstandings, unmet expectations, wrong assumptions, frustration, and disappointment can be avoided if we create a solid contract. Partnering at the start of a coaching engagement on the other hand builds trust and connection in the coaching relationship, creates a better understanding of one another and brings transparency on our coaching plan, milestones and tangible outcomes

In the next few paragraphs we will look at how to structure the Coaching Contract and later we will explore how to partner with a Client to define focus and goals for the relationship and in each session. 

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What Should a Coaching Agreement Comprise Of?

Here are some important information that you should include in your coaching contract. 

Definition of Coaching

Many clients are new to coaching and do not understand the difference between coaching and other service professions. You can read more about what coaching is and is not in my article and maybe find some inspiration to prepare your elevator pitch! 

Coaching Relationship

This clarifies roles and responsibilities of the Coach and the Client in the relationship:

  • The Coach declares to abide to the ICF Code of Ethics
  • The Client is solely responsible for his own mental and emotional health and physical wellbeing
  • The Client is solely responsible for any actions (or lack of) towards achieving the desired outcomes. 
  • The Client acknowledges that coaching can touch several areas of the Client’s life, even if the topic is apparently related to one, and therefore is expected to communicate with the Coach openly and transparently. 
  • The Client is responsible for making time to attend coaching sessions and will ensure the availability of relevant stakeholders.


The Coach clarifies the services that will be offered, for example the duration of the engagement, the number of sessions, and the duration of each session. 

Fees and Payments

The Coach clarifies how much the Client will be charged, the available payment 

methods and deadlines. 

The Coaching Process

The Coach clarifies how sessions dates and times will be agreed, scheduled and run (in person, by phone or video call).

The Coaching Approach

Bringing clarity about what we will do and not do, our Code of Ethics and our approach to individual, team or enterprise coaching is essential to align Client’s expectation to how we will partner with them. 


The coach declares that the relationship itself as well as any information shared during sessions will be kept confidential. The Coach might also specify how the documented information (notes or digital documents) will be protected.

Client’s Expectations and Goals

This clarifies the Client’s stated expectations and goals for the coaching engagement. These goals should be realistic, measurable and clear to both parties. Clarifying goals and expectations is likely to need stakeholder alignment before the engagement starts. 

Rescheduling and Cancellation Policy

Many clients tend to reschedule or cancel at the last minute. In this clause the Coach clarifies how this can happen at no cost for the Client. This clause is important to ensure that the Coach’s time is valued as much as the Client’s. 


The Coach clarifies how the Client might terminate the contract. 

Limited Liability

The Coach will not be liable to the Client for any damages consequent to Client’s actions.

Dispute Resolution

This clause regulates how disputes will be handled. 

Waiver, Applicable Law, Binding Effect

We understand that the law in your country might be different than other countries. Therefore I suggest you get the help of a lawyer to craft these clauses and language that is applicable to your region. 


You both sign to show mutual agreement of the contract. 

When to Establish the Coaching Agreement?

The coaching contract should be established at the beginning of the coaching relationship. It is crucial to discuss where we are going, how we know we will get there and how we will travel together before we set off.  Often times the contracting phase is skipped or rushed and this can happen for several reasons:

  • misunderstanding about roles
  • there is not enough time – our Client is busy 
  • outcomes are not clear or not measurable
  • different stakeholders have different ideas about outcomes
  • team members not aware of the new coach and not willing to be coached
  • lack of clarity on stakeholders involved and/or other influencing factors.

It is in our control to mitigate all of these potential traps to effective contracting and make sure we put the right attention to the definition of a coaching agreement. 

ICF Coaching Agreement Sample

If you need a template to start a coaching agreement, the ICF Sample Coaching Agreement is a great start to create your own and customise it with your company graphics. 

I normally work with enterprise clients that have a Legal Team and would suggest we use their template to which I will recommend amendments. 

How to Establish the Session Agreement

The Session Agreement is the second part of the ICF core competency 3 “Establishes and maintains agreements.” It is about clarifying what the client wants to achieve in the session by defining a clear and successful outcome. The session agreement defines the purpose of the coaching session, our destination, so that we can begin with the end in mind. 

In the video, I will share an overview of the importance of the session agreement and the key questions to ask. How do we begin? How do we create a measurable session goal? How do we continue the coaching conversation?

Here are the Updated ICF PCC markers related to the session agreement:

  • 3.1: Coach partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what the client wants to accomplish in this session. 
  • 3.2: Coach partners with the client to define or reconfirm measure(s) of success for what the client wants to accomplish in this session. 
  • 3.3: Coach inquires about or explores what is important or meaningful to the client about what they want to accomplish in this session. 
  • 3.4: Coach partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address to achieve what they want to accomplish in this session.

These can be used as guidelines to better understand the questions you need to ask and make sure that all the important topics of the session agreement are covered. 

Creating a strong coaching agreement is crucial for the success of your relationship. If you’re wondering how to develop this tool further, we welcome you to join our upcoming cohort of students!

  • Start Date: 25/09
  • End Date: 18/12


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