Coaching and teaching: Different and similar at the same time.

instructor coaching students

I was talking to someone the other day about the high school we both attended, and the conversation turned to teachers, and favorite and least favorite teachers, specifically. 

“Oh yeah, Mr. Smith! Terrible teacher, awesome basketball coach.”

I nodded, and we carried on. We eventually parted ways and said we should get together soon but we both knew it wouldn’t happen. But that’s not the point. 

In reexamining the entire conversation on my way home, though, as I so often do, their statement became more and more interesting. 

So let me get this straight...The guy who wasn’t great at leading a group of young students inside of a classroom was really good at leading a group of young athletes on the basketball court? 

It got me thinking about this whole coaching vs. teaching dynamic. 

Are the two so different that someone could be a great coach but a terrible teacher, as stated? 

Are coaching and teaching really that different? 

The answer is yes, actually, but it’s also no, and wait, there’s more to it as well. 

The difference between coaching and teaching

The main difference between coaching and teaching is that coaching is a multi-dimensional, cyclical activity that aims to bring out a particular aspect from the subject who is being coached, where teaching is more of a straight line, step-by-step approach comprised mostly of one-way communication, with the goal of presenting brand new, never-before-learned information. 

That’s a mouthful, so I’ll break it down.

A coach imparts knowledge and introduces learnings, but also makes adjustments and provides feedback based on real-time information. Those being coached generally have some underlying knowledge, and an idea of how to go about the particular activity. The coach helps players “unlock” that knowledge or use that knowledge in different ways. 

A teacher, on the other hand, introduces new ideas and topics, and is doing so with students who generally don’t have much, if any, previous understanding of what is being taught. The teacher is dealing with more of a blank slate in this regard, where a coach is re-sculpting something that already exists. 

Bullets might help:


  • Expertise: Working with subjects to increase their abilities.
  • Atmosphere: Less formal, wide-ranging. Reactionary and spontaneous. 
  • Subject: Usually has foundational knowledge and skill.
  • Primary Activity: Molding and adjusting.
  • Style: Hands-on; personalized.
  • Advancement: Based on real-time proficiency. 
  • Testing: Real-world applications.

More on what makes a good coach here


  • Expertise: Talking to subjects to establish a baseline understanding. 
  • Atmosphere: More formal; in school, by appointment, etc. Planned. 
  • Subject: Usually no prior knowledge of what is being taught. 
  • Primary Activity: Disseminating information. 
  • Style: General, by the book. 
  • Advancement: Triggered by time or other benchmarks. 
  • Testing: Recall of facts. Formal “leveling up” process.  

Which is better, coaching or teaching?

Hate to say it, but a mix of both! And, it depends on the situation!

I’d say everyone has to be taught in order to understand what it is they know and don’t know, and to have a good idea of where they need further coaching. 

For example, think of a tutor as the coach that takes over after the teacher has had their time with a student. The teacher introduces the subject and lays the groundwork. The tutor, then, comes in and helps a student “unlock” that knowledge, giving them feedback on their current understanding, and making adjustments to help fine tune. 

Another example, going back to sports. I’d say an athlete is their own teacher, or perhaps the parent is the teacher when their child is at a young age. They show them how to shoot a basketball, dribble, etc. From there, they move on to working with a basketball coach, who adjusts their form, and teaches new and different aspects of the game.

Thus, both coaches and teachers fill different roles, and complement each other in certain ways. 

What does this have to do with summer camp?

Well, our summer STEM programs are learning-based. 

Sure, there is a ton of fun to be had, from outdoor activities and campus exploration, to gaming tournaments and raffles, but students primarily attend iD Tech to build in-demand skills for our tech-driven world. 

To guide them, our expert educators act as teachers and coaches.

Given the fact that many of our classes range from beginner to advanced, you could say that our instructors function more like teachers at certain times, like at the beginning of a summer session where they’re laying out the course plan and guidelines, how-tos etc. 

But as the week progresses, they really do transform more into coaches, where they’re helping students through the different issues they’re encountering with their projects, tech subject matter, and more. 

Not to mention that because students are given the freedom to work on a project of their choice, the target or goal for each of them will be constantly shifting as they encounter new challenges. Camp staff are well-versed enough to roll with such challenges, or, to “coach” students to their next milestones. 

And because we have small classes, the personalized experience allows for the two-way back and forth communication and feedback process you typically see in a coaching atmosphere. 

In the end, it’s all about balance

When it comes to our programs, we often preach balance—from balancing screen time and life, to balancing indoor tech learning experiences with outdoor activities and fresh air.

So, this is just another example—for students to get the most out of their learning experiences, teaching needs to be balanced with coaching, and vice versa. Every student can learn; it’s just that everyone learns differently. Some may need more teaching, others more coaching, etc. 

Learn more about iD Tech and our elite staff, or our Virtual Tech Camps.

A photo of Ryan

Ryan has been in EdTech and with iD Tech for 13 years—building experience, expertise, and knowledge in all things coding, game development, college prep, STEM, and more. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn

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