As with many helping professions where the universal aim is to help people get to outcomes that work for them, there is a significant amount of overlap between Coaching and Mentoring.

Coaching Vs Mentoring for Teenagers

The differences discussed are not prescriptive, they give a flavour of each approach and can help helpers, as well as beneficiaries, to navigate approaches and find one that fits the circumstance. 

What is Coaching?

Coaching supports young people to access patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are associated with, or give rise to results in life which they do not want. Coaching focuses on how a young person would choose for those patterns to be different and what may be possible when such differences are made a reality. 

Coaching breaks down the process of embedding these chosen patterns into a young person’s day-to-day life in manageable steps and keeps them accountable and on-task to making them a reality. A Coach’s role is to listen intently and compassionately to the young person, using questioning that draws out and reframes these patterns and possibilities. A Coach helps the young person to access their own life experience and build resourcefulness and autonomy. 

How can young people benefit from the coaching relationship?

The coaching relationship forms the foundation upon which meaningful change can develop. According to Lai & McDowall, (2014), as cited in Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh (2016, P84) the coaching relationship includes: 

  • Equality
  • Positivity
  • Listening
  • Questioning skills
  • Belief in the young person
  • Non-judgement
  • Openness

These ingredients create “a comfortable, engaging and safe space for young people” (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P84).

This is supported by Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh’s (2016, P84) findings that coaches in their study demonstrated:

  • An adaptive, integrative approach
  • A range of styles to fit the young person’s needs
  • Friendliness
  • Empathy
  • Challenge

When these qualities are in place young people get to “experience having a positive, supportive relationship with a trusted adult” (Campbell & Gardner, 2005), in addition to gaining “a chance to learn a range of tools and strategies and experience trying them out” (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P84).

What is mentoring?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Mentor as “an experienced and trusted advisor”. This advisor gives support, guidance and feedback to a less experienced individual, often (but not always) in an area related to the individual’s life, vocation, or career path. You could say that a Mentor has been there, done that and got the t-shirt and helps others to do the same. 

There aren’t usually suggested effective processes to the way Mentors listen, ask or ask/answer questions, while there are for Coaches. A Mentor offers their life or personal experience for the young person to draw upon on the basis of the young person’s existing autonomy and resourcefulness. A Mentor may have knowledge of specific resources or avenues for success that the young person can take advantage of, should they have the volition to do so.

How can young people benefit from the mentoring relationship?

When mentoring relationships are sustained long-term they can help young people to raise their self-efficacy, aspirations, and possible-selves (Maldonado et al., 2008, as cited in Pritchard & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P58). In addition they have the potential to positively impact how young people view themselves academically, although this seems to be sustained, with little impact on “classroom effort, self-esteem and peer/parent relationships” (Herrera et al., 2011, cited in Pritchard & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P58). Perhaps this could be an area where coaching can help by keying into a young person’s underlying view of the world.

When would coaching, or mentoring be appropriate?

Circumstance Coaching Mentoring
Supporter must genuinely care that the young person progresses * *
Relationship of trust and accountability * *
Voluntary relationship * *
Solution focussed * *
Purpose / passion / direction strongly understood before engagement *
Purpose / passion / direction uncertain before engagement *
Awareness-raising questioning from the helper *
Thought-exploring questioning from the young person *
Motivation can be nurtured *
Motivation as a prerequisite *
Change to fundamental patterns of thinking / feeling / behaving *
Gaining academic / social / career-based knowledge *
Broadening of resources * *
Broadening of resourcefulness *
Intrinsic success *
Extrinsic success *
Support from an expert in a given field, not necessarily related to psychological development *
Support from an expert in practical psychological development or those who have gained skills in this area *
Advice is given from life experience *
Potential to independently seek out opportunities and advice nurtured *
A young person expresses difficulties that we find overwhelming and beyond our current responsibility, or capability Refer for other professional support as appropriate (Mental health or otherwise) Same as for coaching

How to Switch Between Coaching and Mentoring

Identify the needs and goals of the young person

Firstly it is important to identify the needs, or aspirations of the young person. Many of us have a lot of responsibilities and busy minds. It is essential to take the time to relax in ourselves, park our other responsibilities, be present and listen carefully to the person in front of us. Once a young person’s needs are identified you have an opportunity to adapt your communication style to fit their needs (Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P84).

If this person’s circumstance seems overwhelming, or beyond your current capability, be comfortable in your own limitations and refer them on for other appropriate professional support.

Build intuition about the differences between coaching and mentoring

Be clear about the differences between Coaching and Mentoring and gain, and/or access experience of engaging in each conversation type. This can help you to identify the appropriate approach more intuitively.

Indicators that mentoring is the appropriate intervention

If the young person seems reasonably confident, or comfortable in themselves, does not appear to be contending with unhelpful thoughts, or feelings and has a desire to gain more knowledge about how to get ahead from the outset, Mentoring may be the appropriate approach.

Indicators that coaching is the appropriate intervention

One-to-one coaching with adolescents has been proven to be effective in school environments both for holistic life coaching and for academic performance (Campbell & Gardner, 2005; Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007; Passmore & Brown, 2009; van nieuwerburgh & Passmore, 2012, as cited in Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016, P76)

If the young person appears to be experiencing negative emotion, internal conflict, worry, stress, a withdrawn, or attention-seeking demeanour from the outset, Coaching may be the appropriate approach. You might identify this by noticing extremes in body language, or voice quality. For example, closed, or invasive body language, lack of, or overabundant eye contact, blank, or tense facial expressions, loud, or quiet, meek, or antagonistic use of voice.

It is never too late to change approaches

If you make a mistake and end up Coaching someone who may benefit more from Mentoring, or vice-versa, all is not lost and as your conversation/s progress you will understand more about how to support them.

If you find, working as a Mentor over time, that a problem or difficult circumstance persists, it may be that the young person has underlying emotional difficulties that have not been expressed, or addressed. It may then be helpful to switch to a Coaching approach.

Conversely, if you find, working as a Coach over time, that a young person is settled, confident and balanced and just needs more knowledge to help them progress, it may be helpful to switch to a Mentoring approach.

Interested in becoming a Young Persons Coach?  

Take a look at our Coaching Webinar Series. Download or find out more about our Worth-it Coach Training.


Pritchard, M., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016, March). The perceptual changes in life experience of at-risk adolescent girls following an integrated coaching and positive psychology intervention group programme: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. International Coaching Psychology Review11(1), 57 - 74.

Robson-Kelly, L., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2016, March). What does coaching have to offer to young people at risk of developing mental health problems? A grounded theory study. International Coaching Psychology Review11(1), 75 - 92.

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