Inner Game

The GROW principle and the Inner Game

The principle behind the GROW process is rooted in the Inner Game theory developed by Timothy Gallwey, a tennis coach who was frustrated by the limitations of conventional sports coaching methods. He noticed that he could often see the faults in a player’s game, but that simply telling him what to do to improve did not bring about lasting change.

For instance, if a player were not keeping his eye on the ball, most coaches would give advice such as: “Keep your eye on the ball”. When a player received this sort of instruction he would try to do what the coach was asking him and watch the ball more closely. Unfortunately, no one can keep instructions in the front of their minds for long, so players usually slipped back into their old habits and both coaches and players grew increasingly frustrated.

So one day, instead of giving an instruction, Gallwey asked: ‘Can you say “bounce” out loud when the ball bounces and “hit” out loud when you hit the ball?’

In order to do this, players had to keep their eyes on the ball but no longer had a voice in their heads repeating the words ‘I must keep my eye on the ball.’ At this, their play started to improve markedly and the Inner Game method of coaching was born.

From then on, whenever Gallwey wanted a player to change, he no longer gave instructions but would, instead, ask questions that would help the player discover for himself what worked and what needed to change.

The first stage in this process would be to set a target for the player. For instance, in a situation where a player was serving out a lot of the time, Gallwey would ask him how many first serves out of ten he would like to get in. In this way, together, they created a clear Goal.

Then he would ask the player to serve ten balls and see how many he got in. In this way he helped the player define his Reality.

The next stage might be to ask him to observe what he was doing differently when the serve went in from when it went out, thereby helping the player to get in touch with his Obstacles and Options. By really looking at what was happening, players learnt for themselves what they needed to change in order to meet their serving targets. This gave players a clear Way Forward.

Other applications of the Inner Game

A number of principles have been developed out of Gallwey’s experience with tennis players. While they originate from sport, the same principles can be applied to many learning situations. For example:

  1. It is more effective to focus your attention on a relevant aspect of what is actually happening while you are learning, instead of what you ‘should’ be doing or trying to get it ‘right’ according to someone else’s perspective. This may seem blindingly obvious; however, in practice it rarely happens. In our tennis example the player would probably be focusing on trying to remember what the last coach said about serving and would then become more and more frustrated if his attempts at improvement did not work.
  2. The best learning happens when we are focusing on the present. This means we are not struggling to prove or remember something but rather making discoveries as we go along.
  3. We can easily interfere with the learning process by, for instance, trying to look good or using a lot of unfocused effort. The less we interfere with our learning, the faster we progress.

While the Inner Game was developed in sport, the coaches using it realised they could apply the principles in other learning situations. GROW was developed to provide a structured framework to use the principles of the Inner Game to achieve Goals. The originators saw that, just as in sport, many individuals were struggling to achieve their Goals because they were not learning from experience and were not aware of the knowledge within themselves that would help them.

Just as an Inner Game coach guides you by asking questions in order to learn a sport, the exercises and questions on this website will guide you through the stages of GROW in order to reach your Goal. Each of the stages of the process has been designed to focus your awareness on an important aspect of Goal achievement. I would go as far as saying that if you follow GROW carefully and honestly, get good support and put energy and enthusiasm into your efforts, it is hard not to achieve your Goal. You too can have a successful and exciting experience with the process. I wish you the very best.