On the playing field, a coach's goal is to help an athlete or a team improve performance, drawing on the coach’s own knowledge and experience. When the arena is conflict management, the coach’s role is similar: he or she instructs, trains, and tutors individuals and organizations so they can do a better job of managing conflicts on a daily basis, of keeping small disagreements from degenerating into disputes. If a dispute does arise, coaching can help identify best ways to uncover and overcome obstacles to resolution.
As James McGuire, a Boston-based longtime lawyer, mediator, arbitrator, and coach has written, "coaching is not mediation. A mediator may have all the same tools, but by definition, a mediator is a neutral in the middle of a dispute between or among various parties. A mediator usually enters the scene only after a conflict has developed into a concrete, specific dispute, usually after those involved have been unable to work things out on their own. Coaching differs in two key respects: a coach usually works with only one party, and he or she may be engaged at any stage, ideally long before a dispute has developed.''