The Inner Game of Tennis

As soon as he tries to exercise control he loses it.”–Tim Gallwey

Back when I coached at Northwestern one of my students recommended a book to me, Zen in the Art of Archery

Man, what a hard book.  Here let me give you an example,

“This exquisite state of unconcerned immersion in oneself is not, unfortunately, of long duration. It is liable to be disturbed from inside. As though sprung from nowhere, moods, feelings, desires, worries and even thoughts incontinently rise up, in a meaningless jumble…. The only successful way of rendering this disturbance inoperative is to keep on breathing quietly and unconcernedly, to enter into friendly relations with whatever appears on the scene, to accustom oneself to it, to look at it equably and at last grow weary of looking.”

At least it was very hard for me at the time. I was not ready. As a result I stayed away from other books that I thought might be similar, like The Inner Game of Tennis.

Then I read a great interview with Steve Kerr in which extolled the virtues of The Inner Game of Tennis.  Kerr, along with Greg Poppovich, is my favorite NBA coach. Turns out it is also an important book to Pete Carroll another of my favorites.

So I paid attention and immediately got the book.

I absolutely loved it.

Here are a few of the ideas that resonate for me:

  • It’s about learning, not teaching, which means it is athlete centered, not coach centered.
  • There are two selves in each athlete. Self 1 is the thinker, narrator and judge. Self 2 intuitively knows what to do. Performance is in part about learning to trust self 2 and therefore limit interference.
  • It made me think much more about how to provide feedback and the various means of feedback available to us as coaches.
  • “Potential = Performance – Interference”  And what is interference? The athletes thinking and self judgment or the coaches feedback or other noise that gets in the way of performance.

game of tennisSteve Kerr mentioned in the SI article that he reads the book each off-season. Both he and Carroll give copies away.

I have read it twice, but also listened to a podcast recap of it, and watched a youtube video of Gallwey discussing the book.

All are, and will be, valuable resources for my team and athletes.


Podcast: Education Bookcast
Interview:  An Association for Coaching Interview with Tim Gallwey
SI article: The book the shaped Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll 

I’ve written about the book elsewhere Get Out of Your Own Way