The coaching model library: An introduction

TJ and Unlimited Potential have joined forces to bring you the definitive coaching model library. Steve Thomson gives us an introduction to the initiative and a couple of simple models too.

When I was starting out as a coach I was given a couple of coaching models and told that I should always seek to structure my coaching interventions to fit in with one or other of these models.

One was GROW – the near ubiquitous model attributed to Sir John Whitmore, and in popular use since the 80s. The other was ARROW – which my mentor chose for me, as I was (and indeed still am) a very keen archer, and it seemed appropriate.

Since those early days I have used many models, and developed one or two of my own, and I’ve also come to a couple of conclusions regarding the use of models within coaching, and it is these conclusions, along with the thinking of some highly respected people within the coaching world, that I will be drawing on with this series of articles.

I will be expanding and commenting on many of the models currently in use, looking at a few that have perhaps fallen out of favour and exploring whether the use of models is the best way to coach or to be coached.

Throughout the series I will be trying to see things from both the coach’s and the client’s perspective, and will also try to follow the thinking of a coach on the journey from newbie to highly experienced and will also be looking at how clients at different levels of their career, different ages and different levels of seniority might respond to coaching models.

Silence is golden and drives the client to pause and to actually look inside themselves, which is – of course – where all the answers lie waiting to be found.

One of the initial ideas I had when thinking about this series was to categorise the more popular models into some form that would allow the reader to choose from a smaller selection of possible models rather than testing out dozens in the hope of finding the one that might feel right and be the most appropriate.

To this end, I’m going to split the list I have drawn up into those that can be followed closely and would therefore be suited to the less experienced or less confident coach – perhaps someone coaching as part of their wider role within an organisation  – and those that are more of a loose framework around which the coach can work

I will ensure that nothing is missed and conversations can be drawn back to a positive direction. These ‘free flow’ models will probably be better suited to experienced coaches and those for whom coaching come naturally.

To get the ball rolling, and because it’s never a good idea to make assumptions, I’ll start by defining GROW and ARROW.

GROW is generally considered to be an acronym for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • What action is to be taken?

Therefore, the first action of the coaching intervention is to have the client define clear objectives for their future progress. In other words; where do they want to be in ‘X’ amount of time?

The second element; reality, refers to what the current situation looks or feels like to the client. If the goal is a destination, the reality is the starting point for the journey.

Next come options. What can the client do to move themselves in the direction of their objectives?

Finally, what action is to be taken, or what needs to happen to start the journey.

This is a simple and elegant model, and one that might sometimes be overlooked purely because it’s been around for so long and is so familiar to many of us. Familiarity – as the saying goes – breeds contempt, but I’d say that it may be time for some of us to revisit GROW. Meantime it remains a great tool for those for whom coaching isn’t second nature.

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ARROW is in many ways a version or a refinement of the GROW model. The elements stand for:

  • Aims
  • Reality
  • Reflection
  • Options
  • Way forward   

As you can see, the difference here is the addition of a stage for ‘reflection’. This gives the client space to think about where they are and to measure it against where they want to be, as defined by their aims (or goals).

In my opinion, this is a very positive step, as I love the fact that this encourages an amount of silence within the coaching session; something that some coaches seem to underestimate. Silence is golden and drives the client to pause and to actually look inside themselves, which is – of course – where all the answers lie waiting to be found.

I’d put both these models in the list for use by the less experienced coach, but that doesn’t by any means suggest that the more experienced coach should ignore or bypass them. They are simple and true distillations of what coaching is – or perhaps should be – about.

Next time I will be focussing on a couple of the more abstract models that lend themselves to a looser or more freestyle kind of coaching.


About the author 

Steve Thomson coaches for Unlimited Potential.


TJ and Unlimited Potential are looking to create the most comprehensive list of acronym-based coaching models out there – with your help, we can do this. 

If there’s a coaching model you use, have heard of or simply don’t agree with, list it in the comments below and we’ll take it from there. Thanks for your help.


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