For coaches on the ICF Coaching Credential Path, here is an easy-to-use guide to avoid common mistakes and declutter the complexity of all things ICF (International Coaching Federation).
Thank you for caring enough about coaching to be interested in working towards your ICF coaching credential.
The ICF’s website must be your go to place to research on how to get certified as an ICF Credentialed Coach.
Many of our qualified certified life coaches, business coaches and specialty coaches have walked the path of becoming ACC, PCC and then MCC credentialed including myself. I’m going to give you my advice, inspiration and guidance to help you on the path towards coach certification, so that this road is as smooth as possible.
As someone who holds an MCC ICF credential and as a teacher of MCC and PCC coaches, I can offer you insight into some of the most limiting obstacles you’re likely to face.
I want you to avoid the mistakes that many make, and hopefully accelerate your journey.
Aim for MCC levels of skill
To achieve a MCC ICF coaching credential is a wonderful goal to have.
It’s not easy to achieve but I believe it’s worth it, and even striving for it makes us better coaches. And after all, is that not what we are truly aiming for? To be the best coaches we are in service, changing lives and making a positive difference in the world.
At the time of writing this, the ICF requires the following for each level of certification.
ACC Associate Certified Coach:
- 60+ hours of coach training
- 100+ hours of coaching experience
PCC Professional Certified Coach:
- 125+ hours of coach training (plus 10 mentor hours and observed coaching with written feedback)
- 500+ hours of coaching experience
- A knowledge assessment (online multiple choice theory approx 2 hours covering the application of the ICF core competencies and code of ethics)
MCC Master Certified Coach:
- PCC Credential needs to be in place before applying for MCC
- 200+ hours of coach training (with 10 mentor hours and observed coaching plus written feedback from an MCC)
- 2500+ hours of coaching experience
- Submission of examples of coaching at MCC levels demonstrating evidence of MCC marker levels
Please check the ICF website for their latest credential criteria.
UPDATE SINCE 2022: After changes to the ICF Competencies and credential requirements, you no longer need to submit a log, but will need to attest to your hours.
And you will need proof of your coach training, the easiest of which is to complete an ACTP-accredited coach training course.
If you complete an ACTP course that has more than 200 hours of training time, then you can tick off that box and focus on accumulating your 2500 hours of coaching to reach MCC.
InnerLifeSkills offers a 127 and 207-hour Master Coach course (more than enough for PCC and MCC, with all the mentor hours and observed coaching with the feedback you need).
That’s the technical information that you need. I promised you more than what you could get from the website. So here is my suggested plan for you.
If you haven’t yet chosen a coach training course, click here to learn more about what you need to do to choose the right certification course for you. This includes our 8 Factor Coaching Course Checklist PDF — which is a must-read before you invest any time or money into your coach training.
Once you’ve chosen the correct coach training course, use the following plan to become a credentialed coach.
Understanding The International Coaching Federation (ICF) professional coach credential levels is a valuable guide to developing true coaching competencies.
The video above explains the 3 levels, ACC, PCC and MCC.
ACC, PCC and MCC don’t give advice, they coach and empower people to empower themselves.
An ACC Coach can demonstrate foundation skills in coaching goals and action plans and motivating their client to be accountable for their actions. This is most commonly found in at-work in-house coaching, where leaders and managers learn to coach to empower their teams to be proactive and solution-focused.
A PCC Coach can do all of what the ACC Coach can, but now they also coach the “whole” person. This means values, vision, thinking, creativity and the person’s deeper resources are brought into the coaching session. The coaching works at a more subtle level, helping the client, for example, to overcome obstacles and issues. The client chooses their topics and finds their solutions and breakthrough “AHA” insights.
The MCC coach takes all of the above to the next level. An MCC coach has such developed skills that make coaching look effortless and natural. There is nothing mechanical about MCC coaching; no scripts are used (although many methods and scripts have been mastered and are used organically).
The MCC coach really knows how to bring the best out of their client. The client and coach are in full partnership, co-creating the coaching experience. This creates the space to incubate powerful inner transformation, focus and successful action.
Why bother to become an ICF credentialed coach?
Becoming an ICF credentialed coach is not easy.
There is a price for everything. Becoming an ICF credentialed coach is not easy. It takes time and money, and there is a certain amount of red tape.
That’s why only the truly committed and dedicated travel this path. For many of us including myself, (I have an ICF MCC credential) the effort has been worth the time and money.
But it’s not for everyone, and because coaches can legally work without needing to credential (at least in most parts of the world that I am aware of, please do check in your state or country to be sure) many successful and brilliant coaches are not ICF credentialed.
If you choose to go this route here are some things to consider.
Here are some of the reasons why investing time and money to become an ICF credentialed coach could be worth it:
Attract higher caliber clients.
If you want to attract your ideal client, and become fussy about whom you’d want to serve, there is something about reaching PCC and MCC levels that awards us that type of authority and confidence.
When I was a young coach, I was desperate for experience and income, so I coached anyone who wanted coaching.
This had its advantages, but it wasn’t always ideal.
As I’ve matured as a coach, my MCC credential, along with my unique custom coaching multi-niche toolbox has given me the opportunity to choose who I want as my clientele.
I am now able to attract a higher caliber of clients. This could be an excellent reason for you to work towards becoming a credentialed coach.
Command higher fees.
If you want to put in the effort and money that is required to become a credentialed coach, you will most likely gain confidence and credibility, so that you can command higher fees.
Certainly, an MCC coach can ask for a higher rate per hour than an ACC or PCC coach could.
Have confidence in your services.
So many good coaches suffer from self-doubt.
This is in fact what makes a good coach truly great. Only the ignorant or charlatans don’t doubt themselves and start coaching without skills or qualifications.
By achieving ACC, PCC and MCC certification, you can claim your confidence and lessen any crippling self-doubt.
These credential levels are not paper-thin; they are real. To be awarded ACC, PCC or MCC, your skills are tested, and your competencies have to be evident to be awarded these door-opening credentials.
Once you get confirmation that you have been awarded certification, this can give you a huge boost in confidence. You can confidently stand anywhere in the world as a credible and capable coach.
Belonging to a respected community.
Many of us are fighting the good fight of building our solo careers.
It feels good to belong to a community of respected professionals and to have the backing of an international organization with the kind of standing that the ICF does.
Some of us don’t do much more than occasionally reading ICF surveys and valuable articles. Others attend chapter meetings and become actively involved in the ICF community, which offers regular training and supportive professional development events.
It’s up to you just how much you interact with the community, but connecting with other dedicated professionals does feel good and can offer natural networking (referral) opportunities.
Have clear milestones to aim for.
Perhaps one of the most important reasons to aim for your coaching credential is to have clearly defined milestones.
When you understand the difference between ACC, PCC and MCC coaching, you can clearly tell where you are in terms of your skills and competencies.
You can find your gaps and systematically work towards improving your coaching skills.
To know that you have achieved PCC and then MCC levels of competencies is a great boost. And to have them on your radar as you continue to develop is inspiring and motivating.
Please avoid some of these mistakes on your journey toward becoming credentialed as a coach.
1. Choosing a course that limits you to ACC to-do-list coaching levels.
Entry-level coaching can be very surface, all action plans and goal setting (which is not wrong, and is a part of all coaching but can feel limiting and surface).
If you’ve already made this mistake, as some of my coach students realized when they signed up with InnerLifeSkills (and compared the quality of coaching training), not to worry.
Make sure you actively seek more training hours from good quality training providers with flexible toolboxes. The ICF want to hear evidence of coaching the WHO not only the WHAT for PCC and MCC – this means coaching more than practical solutions.
The “WHO” means coaching the person as a creative, intuitive being, with values, context, and beliefs who seek growth and change.
2. Choosing a coaching course that denies you the flexibility needed for MCC coaching.
Make sure that you learn flexibility. One of the keys to master in MCC coaching, the highest level of coaching certification and competency, is flexibility.
A master coach is so flexible in their coaching that they can adapt and spontaneously customize, creating questions and exercises for their clients moment to moment during the coaching session. They can coach anyone, anyway on any topic.
So make sure that you’re not pushed into a coaching mould when you’re studying.
3. Not starting a coaching client log from day one.
Even if you’re not sure whether you want to go to the effort of applying to the ICF for credentialing, please start a coaching log from day one.
It took me a few years to decide whether I wanted to be credentialed with the ICF. By the time I decided yes, I had missed out on many years of being able to log coaching hours!!
I would have been able to certify as an MCC coach, which needed 2500+ hours of coaching years ago, had I started my coaching log earlier.
Please start your coaching log now, so that you don’t regret it later.
Every half hour of coaching counts. Even a certain percentage of pro bono coaching can be added and still counts towards the hours you need.
Since 2022, you no longer need to SUBMIT your log; the ICF relies on your honesty, but it’s still important to keep one. Keep in mind the confidentiality laws of your country and the countries of your clients when keeping client records.
4. Not understanding the key differences between ACC, PCC and MCC coaching.
It’s not enough just to have a basic understanding of the core competencies, it’s not enough to aim to master the core competencies, it’s important to quickly get a sense of the difference between ACC, PCC and MCC coaching.
The sooner you have this clarity, the better. I believe that you will fast-track the process to be able to coach at a master level if you clearly understand these differences upfront.
5. Believing that it takes years to become MCC competent.
Getting to 2500+ coaching hours for your coaching log will take years, even if you are coaching every day.
But just because it takes years to accumulate that number of coaching hours, doesn’t mean it will take you years to gain MCC competencies.
I’ve seen coaches take less than a year, and for some dedicated students, even 8 months to display master levels of competency!
So please believe in yourself, use the tips that I’m offering you here and work towards achieving this rewarding level of competency as soon as possible.
I would suggest that you don’t settle for ACC and PCC competencies, there is nothing wrong with these levels they still provide value, but life-changing coaching happens at high PCC+ levels. And I want to get you there as soon as possible because I believe the world needs master coaches out there changing lives one conversation at a time.
6. Failing to learn from examples of MCC example assessments.
Imagine trying to learn master cooking skills without ever eating or tasting the food? Imagine trying to learn master guitar skills without ever listening to expert musicians?
Hearing examples of MCC coaching, PCC coaching and even ACC coaching is critical.
- Listening to master coaching will train your ear.
- You’ll hear what it takes.
- This accelerates your learning path dramatically.
InnerLifeSkills coaching students gain access to audio examples of recorded coaching sessions.
Please avoid these mistakes and use the following plan to help you.
Summary of your fast track to MCC coaching credentialing
So here is my summary advice to fast-track you to MCC!
1. Understand the difference between ACC, PCC and MCC coaching as soon as possible.
Understand this before you start studying. It can help you to choose the right course for you. Make sure that you study with a training provider that teaches MCC levels and an ACTP (accredited coach training program which will fast track an ICF credential instead of needing to apply for their portfolio or ACSTH path).
2. Start your coaching log from day one.
Don’t regret that you didn’t start logging your hours from the moment you started coaching. Even pro bono coaching (20% of your total) and group coaching (per hour not per client) can be logged.
3. Aim to achieve MCC competencies within a year.
Don’t settle for “since it’s going to take so long to reach MCC I might as well relax and settle for coaching at ACC and PCC levels” – get to the life-changing master coaching levels within one year, this is not difficult to do if you have the right training.
To help you achieve MCC in less than a year I strongly recommend listening to audios of coaching sessions + adding unique deep-level processes.
Learn MCC master coaching by listening to examples of MCC coaching sessions. Find a MCC coach and listen to them coach or listen to audio examples of MCC sessions. Also add coaching tools that have depth like Intuition Coaching, Systemic Coaching and Purpose Coaching.
4. Practice coaching daily in small doses.
Our lives are so busy that it can be hard to find chunks of one or two hours to practice coaching.
Because coaching is a skill it needs application.
You can’t learn to play the guitar by reading about it you need to pick up the guitar. Instead of waiting for the one hour that you need to find every few days, practice the coaching skills in small doses.
Choose one technique or method, put it in your diary as a reminder and practice that one technique or method in every conversation that you have for the next day or two.
When you feel that you’ve improved on that one technique or method, then move onto the next one. If you do this you will find yourself improving and mastering your skills very quickly.
Then when you do have your one hour to practice coaching as a complete session, make sure to practice with someone that is low risk.
It’s not always ideal to practice with family and close friends, unless this is all you have.
5. Learn to authentically market coaching as soon as possible.
If you don’t learn how to market coaching, you won’t even be able to get free clients to practice on. Knowing how to authentically and ethically ask people to say yes to your coaching, is how you get more practice.
And since practice is the only path to mastery, the more practice you can get the better.
Once you have your training in place it’s time to do, do do. To do a lot of coaching you need to get a lot of people to coach. This is good because it’s going to teach you how to get paying clients later.
Read my guide to getting your first 100 clients to learn how to ethically and authentically market yourself as a coach.
Summary of your guide to ICF coach credentialing
• Avoid my top mistakes.
• Start your coaching log today.
• Make sure your training is MCC level.
• Make sure your training enables you to be flexible as a coach.
• Aim for MCC competency within one year.
• Practice daily in small doses rather than waiting only for big chunks of time.
• Learn to market yourself as a coach even when you’re practicing with free coaching.