The Inner Game of Tennis Revisited (Notes)

I have written about The Inner Game of Tennis before many times. It keeps coming up in articles I’m reading and in conversations with athletes. I am repeatedly surprised by who has not read it, as well as who has and who reads it on repeat.

The Inner Game of Tennis Revisited

I’m revisiting it for myself, but am including some of the notes and quotes here as well.

Introduction (Written by Pete Carroll)

It is the thesis of this book that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game. This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self doubt and self condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard..

Chapter One: Reflections on the Mental Side of Tennis

At first as a coach Gallwey focused on telling players how to do a skill, which he found made players self conscious and had the effect of randomizing their performance. Not randomizing training which you might use as a tool to ensure transfer, but rather inconsistent performances.

He changed his technique and started showing players how to perform a skill and asking them to trust the body’s innate ability to copy the model.

I was beginning to learn what all good pros and students of tennis must learn: images are better than words, showing better than telling, too much instruction worse than none, and that trying often produces negative results. One question perplexed me: what’s wrong with trying?

At this point the conversation reflects what many of us have learned from reading or learning about Flow and Peak. Your best performances often feel as though they are unconscious and effortless, with a “still” mind.

The purpose of the book is to help approach this state of mind, which will be far more useful for each of us than any one skill.

Chapter Two: The Discovery of Two Selves

Players talk to themselves all the time in sport, but Gallwey comes to an important insight: Who is talking to whom?

One, the I, seems to give instructions; the other “myself” seems to perform the action. Then I returns with evaluation of the action. For clarity let’s call the “teller” Self 1 and the “doer” Self 2.

First Major Postulate of the Inner Game: “Within each player the kind of relationship that exists between Self 1 and Self 2 is the prime factor in determining one’s ability to translate his knowledge of technique into effective action.

So, if you want to perform, or to help somebody perform then the key is to improve the relationship between the “conscious teller” (self 1) and the “natural capabilities” (self 2)

The work of Gabrielle Wulf indicates an external focus is better than an internal one. This seems to bear out in his writing because by focusing on the ball, the goal, the seams, whatever–you occupy Self 1 (the teller)–and allow Self 2 (the doer) to do what it does naturally.

This breaks down to 3 Skills:

  1. get a clear picture of the outcomes you want
  2. trust Self 2 to do its best; learn from success and failure
  3. bring nonjudgmental awareness

Chapter 3:  Quieting Self 1

Trying to get to a quiet integrated place of doing, not thinking or judging. A state of grace during play.

A quiet mind.

But how to get there?

Letting go of judgments: You can perform an action and fail in which case one person says “bad” and another (the opponent) says “good”  demonstrating there is no inherent good or bad.

Each judgement is layered on to the performance.

This judgment then causes us to think which leads to trying too hard and then back to judgment and on and on.

Once the judgmental mind establishes a self-identity based on its negative judgments the role-playing continues to hide the true potential of Self 2 until the hypnotic spell is broken. In short, you start to become what you think.

This does not mean that one ignores errors, but it does mean you don’t judge them. They just are.

Discover natural learning: Drop judgment and just see what’s real. Gives an example of a tennis player seeing his backhand in a reflection and understanding for the first time. As he addressed his backhand there was no judgment just awareness and doing.

Awareness of what is: Encourage an athlete to see and feel where she is, again without judgment. Don’t provide answers. Allow her to simply note what is happening.

Try and drop right and wrong so that attention can shift from judgment to what is happening.

What I have tried to illustrate is that there is a natural learning process which operates within everyone–if it is allowed to. This process is  waiting to be discovered by all those who do not know of its existence. There is no need ot take my word for it; it can be discovered for yorself if it hasn’t been already. If it has been experienced, trust it.

Neither negative nor positive:  Makes the point that replacing negative with positive is still judgment. The athlete waits for a compliment to turn to criticism. This is both a subtle tendency and inherent within judgment.

I began to see how Self 1 operated. Always looking for approval and wanting to avoid disapproval, this subtle ego-mind sees a compliment as a potential criticism. …The standard of good and bad had been established, and the inevitable result was divided concentration and ego-interference.

So, skill number one then: Nonjudgmental Awareness

“There is a more natural process of learning and performing waiting to be discovered.”