The Inner Game of Tennis – W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis – W. Timothy Gallwey

Conventional wisdom is (slightly) wrong.

“You won’t be successful unless you try hard.”

Top performers actually try less hard when competing (in-the-zone).

When competing, we are playing two game: an outer game against our opponent, and an inner game against ourselves.

The inner game is played with Self 1, the teller, and Self 2, the do-er.

Performing at the highest level requires letting Self 2 operate unconsciously of Self 1.

The role of Self 1 is to learn and process, while Self 2 operates on these inputs.

Choking occurs when the mind allows Self 1 to perform actions. Think: when letting your golf stroke flow via muscle memory versus telling your arms and legs what to do.

Performing with emotions can be detrimental. Emotions are not bad, per se, but if they are the driver during the performance, you are likely to fail.

Emotions are evaluations added to the event in the mind, based off individual reactions – why some players in a game seem stoic or non-emotional.

Having Judgement is the act of assigning a positive or negative value to an event. For Self 2 to perform without assistance of Self 1, it must not be in relation to +/- event.

Letting go of judgement is acknowledging errors while also seeing events as a result and not adding to them. Judgement leads to emotion, which can lead to overreaction.

No one is ever surprised at seeing something they already know.

Even if you know what is wrong it is hard to fix because doing and knowing are performed by a different Self.

A child’s process in learning to walk is never hindered by the idea that she is uncoordinated. A child does not think she is uncoordinated, she simply tries to walk. She has no memory of not being able to walk.

The actions of Self 2 are based on information it has stored in its memory of past actions of itself or of the observed actions of others.

Professional sports are a winner’s game.

A winner is always competing against the best, trying to win at every moment. Once you become competent, it is easy to play a defensive style and win against an inferior opponent. To beat 99.9% of opponents, you must only need to be competent at the game.

As Gladwell noted in Outliers, the top 0.01% have amassed far over 10,000 hours and have a team (coaches, therapists, parents, peers) working in their favor.

Case: to be successful in any given field – recreational tennis – all one needs to do is become competent. A defensive player waits for his opponent to make an error, wearing him down by responding reactively.

A couch (acting as Self 1) gives permission to Self 2 to operate without heavy analysis.

The Inner Game Way of Learning:

  1. observe existing behavior nonjudgmentally (Self 1 input)
  2. picture desired outcome (Self 1 transferring to Self 2)
  3. let it happen (Self 2 performing)
  4. nonjudgmental, calm observation of the results leading to continuing observation and learning

To deepen concentration, focus on what is not easily perceived. In tennis, focus on the seams of the ball spinning rather than the ball-to-racket connection.

Focused concentration is focusing on what is happening in-the-now. During the moment, say a tennis match, the mind should be trained on the moment. The mind has great capabilities of wondering and projecting what will happen. Win the play is an example of focusing on the now. Projecting what will happen later is invaluable in the moment. Stopping the opponent right now is how high-performers win.

From Phil Jackson in Sacred Hoops, “Basketball is a complex dance that requires shifting from one object to another at lightning speed. To excel, you need to act with a clear mind and be totally focused on what everyone on the floor is doing. The secret is not thinking. That doesn’t mean being stupid; it means quieting the endless jabbering of thoughts so that your body can do instinctively what it’s been trained to do without the mind getting in the way. All of us have flashes of oneness… when we’re completely immersed in the moment, inseparable from what we’re doing.”

A loser is not concerned with proving himself. They are concerned with winning. Losers often imagine their “respect gained” for beating a superior opponent. This mindset seldom produces winners – the need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt.

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached.

The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself. Similarly, planning a vacation and the excitement and build-up to the trip is often more rewarding than the trip vacation.

Never discredit an opponent, for they are fighting the same internal and external battle you are.

Bill Belichick preaches for his players to “do their job” rather than focusing on the opponent. He never discredits an opponent. Doing so would be allowing the Self 1 to assign an ego to the work performed by Self 2. Over time the performance of Self 2 will atrophy if it believes Self 1, in that it is better than all others, and doesn’t have to try as hard.