A certified professional coach is one who has gone through a certification program from a recognized training program. The certified life coach then applies the acquired skills to support their clients in discovering and exploring their potential, and thereby create happier and more fulfilled lives.

Where exactly does one get their professional coach certification?

There are many programs that offer professional coach training but it is advisable to only go with a training program that is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The ICF is a global governing body that helps to maintain professionalism and high ethical standards in the life coaching profession. Most clients will not consider hiring you, if they realize you are not ICF certified.

The ICF has a rigorous process that institutions are taken through before they get accredited. This is meant to ensure their students will get the best training to become productive life coaches. The ICF has rigorous training standards that every accredited program must adhere to, and these same programs are subject to regular reviews to ensure they maintain ICF’s standards.

combined logos ICF and ACSTHWhat to look for in a training program

  • ICF accreditation

The ICF has three main types of accreditations: Accredited Coaching Training Program (ACTP), Approved Coaching Specific Training Hours (ACSTH), and Continuing Coach Education (CCE).

ACTP programs can be said to be “all-inclusive” because they offer 125 hours of life training, the number of hours needed to being the PCC credential level and can also be used to towards the ACC credential.

ACSTH programs can be considered as “al la carte” training. These programs range from 30 to 60 hours. While they must be ICF approved, only programs that offer 60 hours of training should be considered by coaches who want to quality for their ACC credentials.

The CCE accreditation is given to institutions that want to offer continuing education for coaches who are looking to acquire new skills, or those who are moving towards renewing their ICF credentials. There are two categories of CCEs offered by various training groups: core competencies and resource development. Core competencies offer advanced training that correlates to the ICF core competencies whereas resource development offers skills that will help the coach in their professional development. As well, coaches who want to use their CCEs towards their ACC credential can follow the ACC portfolio path.

Understanding the different types of accreditation will help you know which one makes sense for you. For instance, if you your goal is to obtain ICF credentials, it is best to choose a ACTP or ASCTH accredited program.

  • Your niche

Your coaching niche refers to your specific area of specialization. As a professional coach, you should specialize in a niche that interests you the most, and this should guide you when choosing a training program. You want to get training that is tailor-made to help you be a better coach in your niche of choice. Here are some examples of some popular niches:

  • Health
  • Goal Attainment
  • Industry-specific
  • Mindset
  • Love/relationships
  • Family
  • Career
  • Spiritual
  • Life skills
  • Corporate
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Money

Before you start your professional coaching career, it is important to remember that clients don’t necessarily sign up for coaching—they sign up for solutions. Choosing a niche helps you to identify specific individuals that you can help. The people who contact you will know exactly what they are getting, and how your coaching expertise can help them achieve their desired outcome. Understanding your audience is the first step in creating a clear nice “elevator pitch.” You can pinpoint your services by zeroing in on the issues your audience is facing. For instance, you can let them know of what you are offering and how it will help them overcome their challenges.

choosing your coaching NicheChoosing a niche will make you an expert in your field of specialization, and you can position yourself to be the “go-to” coach in the field. Not only does it give you more credibility but you will receive referrals from satisfied coaching clients.

Picking a niche can be a daunting task … or not. It depends on your passion, expertise, and what you “bring to the table.” For some professional coaches, it is clear what they want to focus on from the very onset. But others get confused developing a niche. If you are not sure on how to go about it, you can use your professional background and experience as a guide. For instance, if you have a background in human resources, you might consider become a career coach. But you can also use your passion as your guide in niche selection. This means you can choose a niche that doesn’t necessarily relate to your career background.

  • Curriculum

Your ultimate goal as a coach should be to deliver the best results for your clients, and to do this you will need training from a program that has a well-rounded curriculum. You want to go with a training program that is in line with your vision and end goals for your life coaching career. There are many things to consider, but for starters, the curriculum should an in-depth look at the ICF core competencies and Code of Ethics. The program should also teach you what coaching is and isn’t, the dos and don’ts of coaching, and include lessons on how to work with your clients. This could include positive psychology, how to ask questions, listening actively, strength-based approaches, appreciative inquiry, various assessments, and more.

The duration of the course can tell you a lot about the strength of a curriculum. Some training programs promise to equip you with the requisite skills in life coaching in one afternoon while others take several months. If you are looking to get your ICF credential, you must take a program that has a minimum training of 60 hours. This is why you should only take your training from ICF accredited institutions and programs.

You may also want to check on the faculty. To begin with, go for programs that have several trainers. Even though it is possible to get all your training from one person, there is always the unique advantage of multiple trainers. Next, you want to be trained by coaches who are ICF credentialed. This is the best way to ensure you are getting the finest training as per the ICF standards.

  • Personal growth

Personal growth and life coachingGetting coach-specific training is great but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will attain personal growth. A professional training program should take you through a system-based training that transforms you as an individual. When you experience personal transformation, it will be easier to help your clients transform themselves. Sure, you can be a good teacher by learning the content but for you to be a great teacher, you must experience the content. You can’t get this kind of transformation in your college undergrad or post grad studies. This is why ICF-accredited training programs are so unique; they are designed inform and transform.

Be sure to start your training with an open mind. There is bound to be some mental shifts—especially around what coaching is and isn’t, and what you are currently doing might not be true coaching—and you need to be ready for it. Most people who get into life coaching already have some level of knowledge and experience that they consider to be good enough, but you must be ready to “unlearn” whatever you knew and start from a clean slate. If you do that, you might be pleasantly surprised at the fallacies you believed about life coaching. For instance, there too many people who mistake life coaching for therapy or mentorship. Such fallacies will be corrected in the training.

Personal development also points to the principle of continuous improvement, or as the Japanese call it, kaizen. Kaizen is loosely translated to mean “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” You want to sign up for a program that will give you the foundation for continuous improvement. The ICF has incorporated this principle in its credentialing process. This is another reason why you must continue to get relevant training for you to renew your credentials or get high credentials.

  • Accessibility

Accessibility is an often-overlooked factor, but it’s one of the most important considerations to make when selecting a certified training program. Depending on the institution, the training can be completed in-person or via online (Note that Aim Higher offers both of these). Whichever the case might be, make sure the mode of training is convenient for you. But in your endeavor for convenience, don’t forget to find a program that gives you maximum exposure to the faculty. Even if the life coach training is hosted online, the trainers should be accessible for one-on-one interaction, whenever you need some further clarification on a particular topic.

Yes, there are training programs that are low-cost and therefore tempting. One disadvantage with such programs is they attract too many students and the instructors don’t time for direct in-person contact with each student. You want to do your homework to make sure you sign up for a program that will not only give you value for your money but also meet the minimum in-person training hours as recommended by the ICF.


There are many training institutions and programs that offer life coach training courses and certifications. Like any other service, there are some good and some poor ones. We have discussed some of the things to look out for when looking for a good program but by and large, make sure you go for a program that is ICF accredited. The ICF is the gold standard in life coaching and if they have given a program its approval, you can rest easy knowing you will get the best training. The rest are details such your niche, the mode of delivery, accessibility, and many other factors that you should consider when choosing a professional coach certification program that is right for you.