The Inner Game of Tennis and the GROW model

The Inner Game of Tennis and the GROW model

The GROW model of Coaching was influenced by the Inner Game method developed by Timothy Gallwey. His famous book “The Inner Game of Tennis” is a great read for any manager interested in developing their team members and their skills in leadership. Gallwey was a tennis coach who noticed that he could often see what players were doing incorrectly but that simply telling them what they should be doing did not bring about lasting change.

The parallel between Gallwey’s Inner Game method and the GROW method can be illustrated by the example of players who do not keep their eyes on the ball. Some coaches might give instructions such as: ‘Keep your eye on the ball’ to try to correct this. The problem with this sort of instruction is that a player will be able to follow it for a short while but may be unable to keep it in mind in the long term. So one day, instead of giving an instruction, Gallwey asked players to say ‘bounce’ out loud when the ball bounced and ‘hit’ out loud when they hit the ball.

The result was that the players started to improve without a lot of effort because they were keeping their eyes on the ball. But because of the way the instruction was given they did not have a voice in their heads saying ‘I must keep my eye on the ball.’ Instead they were playing a simple game while they were playing tennis.

The inner game of tennis

Stop Giving Instructions, Start Asking Questions

Once Gallwey saw how play could be improved in this way, he stopped giving instructions and started asking questions that would help players discover for themselves what worked and what needed to change.

The GROW method is similar.

For example, the first stage in the learning process would be to set a target which a player wants to achieve. If a player wanted to improve their first serve Gallwey would ask how many first serves out of ten they would like to get in. This is the Goal.

The Reality would be defined by asking the player to serve 10 balls and seeing how many first serves went in.

Gallwey would then ask awareness-raising questions such as ‘What do you notice you are doing differently when the ball goes in or out?’ This question would enable players to discover for themselves what was changing about their mind and body when the serve went in or out. They had then defined their Obstacles and Options.

They therefore learned for themselves what had to change in order to meet their serving targets and they had a clear Way Forward.

The Inner Game and GROW at Work

The Inner Game that Gallwey discovered on the tennis court is about more than learning a better backhand; it is about learning how to learn, and learning how to think differently. Managers, in their role as coaches can help their team members, to gain better access to their own internal resources and help them with their ways of thinking.


GROW can help managers help their team where they have inner obstacles such as fear of failure, resistance to change, procrastination, stagnation, doubt, and boredom, to name a few. Managers can help  people to tap into their potential for learning, performance, and enjoyment.