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I have a question about the verb "coach" here:

Healthcare and infection control experts said that hospital staff need to be coached through the stages of treating an Ebola patient, making sure they have the right safety equipment and know how to use it properly to prevent infection.

Shouldn't it be "coached on the stages of...", not "coached through the stages of...", because usually a "teacher coaches students on some subject"?

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“Coached through” is a fairly specialized form, indicating that coaching covered progressively related topics (in this case the stages of a disease). Similarly, one might say “coach me through it” to ask someone to provide periodic advice while the speaker worked through (“worked through” is very similar) multiple stages, levels, or whathaveyou.

Even coaching someone on something suggests something a bit different from teaching. There’s more of an indication of consultancy, rather than instruction. A bit more give and take, that requires the learner to take action while the coach provides feedback and guidance.

Due to the more interactive nature of coaching, when you coach someone through something, there’s an understanding that there will be a progression that the coach doesn’t necessarily supply or control. This progression might come from the learner’s improvement or from a disease going through multiple forms, but the coach is simply there as a guide and the learner is being actively tested in the process.

Teaching is a broader concept, so there are styles and instances of teaching that could be described as coaching. Consider the following plausible statement:

He didn’t just teach us algebra, he actually coached us through every type of operation multiple times until we could do it on our own.

  • I'd use "took" instead. He took us through every type of operation multiple times. "To take" is one of the most useful verbs in English. Someone learning English could spend a month on it alone. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 13 '14 at 21:01
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    @TRomano I think that “took” implies more active guidance, so it would depend on the picture one was trying to paint. To keep with that metaphor: a broad brush might be useful on a lot of projects, but it will never provide the detail of a more specialized implement (such as the term OP is seeking to understand here). – Tyler James Young Oct 13 '14 at 21:12
  • Took us through implies more active guidance than coached us through? I would think that "active guidance" is implied by "making sure". The underlying concept here is so-called "hands-on training". In this case, rubber-gloved hand. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 13 '14 at 21:14
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    @TRomano Yes. c.f.: New students had to be taken through each operation, whereas the veterans among us only had to be coached through the process. In any case, it’s a fine point (if it’s even generalizable at all—I’m just reporting on my impression of connotations) that OP did not ask about. – Tyler James Young Oct 13 '14 at 21:21
  • If I were the lexicographer on this entry for phrasal verbs with through, I'd distinguish between those meanings that have to do with *directing* another person who must take a series of (literal or figurative) steps (take, lead, walk, guide...s.o. through...) and meanings that have to do with assisting another person with difficult or challenging circumstances (I'll get|see|coach you through it). So I agree with the distinction you're making, only I'd just say that the author has chosen the wrong phrasal verb for the circumstances. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 14 '14 at 12:54
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If the hospital staff were being coached on treating an Ebola patients, they would have been coached on only one thing, but because they are being couched though the stages of treating an Ebola patient, they are being coached on multiple things. Let me put that into another example: you can take a course on mathematics, or you can take a course through the principals of mathematics.

  • Could I write "they were taught through the stages of the disease"? – meatie Oct 13 '14 at 18:01
  • @meatie no, not without qualifying 'taught.' Something like "they were taught the proper techniques to treat patients as they progressed through the stages of the disease" is better. – mkennedy Oct 13 '14 at 22:52
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You are correct, meatie.

The phrasal verbs are "walk|take {someone} through {something}" and "coach {someone} on {something}".

Allow me to me walk|take you through the stages of the process.    

Allow me to coach you on the stages of the process.

The author has substituted "coached" for "walked|taken". This kind of substitution happens fairly frequently with phrasal verbs when the meaning doesn't become opaque because of the substitution.

P.S. The passage is not very well written. The clause beginning "making sure" is tacked onto the first clause. Passive voice strikes again. Someone who knows how to treat Ebola patients safely needs to coach staff on how to do it, and needs to make sure they have the proper equipment. Had the statement been phrased in that way, the reader might ask, "Who is that someone?"

P.P.S. Lest I be accused of being an active-voice bigot, let's look at an analogue of that poor sentence.

I need to teach him a lesson, making sure he remembers it.

He needs to be taught a lesson, making sure he remembers it.    :-(  

The clause in the original passage that begins "making sure" is written as if the preceding independent clause had been cast in the active voice. But it was not. The original sentence makes no better sense than the second sentence immediately above, about teaching him a lesson.

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