The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

Book Summary

Focus on mastering your mind. That’s the key lesson I learned from The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. When we try too hard to do anything, we often fail to achieve our intended outcomes. But if instead, we relax and trust our training, the results we seek often take care of themselves. 

Notes and Quotes

The Inner Game of Tennis Summary
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Tennis coach Zach Kleiman wrote the preface for the book. Gallwey shared this nugget of wisdom with him: “It’s not about the tennis. It’s not about the win or the loss; if we’re here to experience, then we are free.”

There are two components of tennis (or any sport), according to Gallwey.

  • An Outer Game. This is “against the external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal.”
  • An Inner Game. This is what “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.”

“Moreover, while overcoming the common hang-ups of competition, the player of the inner game uncovers a will to win which unlocks all his energy and which is never discouraged by losing.”

Gallwey says that we are already masters of the inner game. It’s only a matter of unlearning the bad habits that block us from letting it happen.

What all good pros and students of tennis must learn.

  • Images are better than words.
  • Showing is better than telling.
  • Too much instruction is worse than none.
  • Trying often produces negative results.

“Perhaps a better way to describe the player who is ‘unconscious’ is by saying that his mind is so concentrated, so focused, that it is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing, and the unconscious or automatic concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less of how-to’s of the doing. When a player is in this state, there is little to interfere with full expression of his potential to perform, learn and enjoy.”

In each of us exists two different selves: self 1 and self 2. Think of self 1 as our conscious minds and self 2 as our subconscious. The key to improving tennis, or anything, rests in improving the relationship between these two selves. 

  • “Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though it embodies all the potential you have developed up to that moment and is far more competent to control the muscle system than Self 1.”

What does the phrase “getting it together” really mean?

  • Slowing the mind. You achieve quiet by training yourself to be less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering, or distracting.

We must learn how to see our experiences without judgment (a very zen concept). We must see what’s happening instead.

  • “What I mean by judgment is the act of assigning a negative or positive value to an event. In effect it is saying that some events within your experience are good and you like them, and other events in your experience are bad and you don’t like them.”
  • “Be clear about this: letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.”

Learning how to trust self 2.

  • Don’t take for granted the automatic processes at work within your body. Be aware and acknowledge the miracle that these functions exist.
  • “You are not your body. Trust the body to learn and to play, as you would trust another person to do a job…”
  • Have the end in mind when you communicate with self 2. If you know what your goals are, self 2 can learn what’s necessary to help you reach them.
  • Asking for Qualities: role playing the positive characteristics you wish to emulate.

Experience precedes technical knowledge.

  • “We read many books or articles that present technical instructions before we have ever lifted a racket, but where did these instructions come from? At some point did they not originate in someone’s experience? Either by accident or by intention someone hit a ball in a certain way and it felt good and it worked. Through experimentation, refinements were made and finally settled into a repeatable stroke.”

How to watch and learn from the pros.

  • “The best method is to simply watch without assuming that how the pro swings is how you should be swinging.”
  • “Use outside models in your learning, but don’t let them use you. Natural learning is and always will be from the inside out, not vice versa. You are the learner and it is your individual, internal learning process that ultimately governs your learning.”

Grooves are patterns built through repetition. To change your habits, you don’t need to climb out of old grooves. Focus on digging new ones instead. Gallwey uses the example of babies, who don’t break the habit of crawling. They start new ones I.E. walking instead.

The usual way of learning goes like this.

  • Step 1: Criticize or judge past behavior
  • Step 2: Tell yourself to change, instructing with word commands repeatedly
  • Step 3: Try hard; make yourself do it right
  • Step 4: Critical judgment about results leading to a self 1 vicious cycle.

Meanwhile, the inner game way of learning is as follows.

  • Step 1: Observe existing behavior without judgment.
  • Step 2: Imagine your desired outcome.
  • Step 3: Let it happen by trusting self 2.
  • Step 4: Nonjudgmental, calm observation of the results leading to continuing observation and learning.

Focus is effortless and relaxed. It is the act of “keeping the mind now and here”. Pick one thing to focus on – like your breath – stick with it. The only way to improve focus is through practice. “Every time your mind starts to leak away, simply bring it gently back.”

“We live in an achievement-oriented society where people tend to be measured by their competence in various endeavors. Even before we received praise or blame for our first report card, we were loved or ignored for how well we performed our very first actions. From this pattern, one basic message came across loud, clear and often – you are a good person and worthy of respect only if you do things successfully.”

Gallwey defines winning as “overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. He emphasizes the process can be more rewarding than the result itself.

“When I’m concerned only about winning, I’m caring about something that I can’t wholly control. Whether I win or lose the external game is a result of my opponent’s skill and effort as well as my own.”

“When it comes to overcoming obstacles, there are three kinds of people. The first kind sees most obstacles as insurmountable and walks way. The second kind sees an obstacle and says, I can overcome it, and starts to dig under, climb over, or blast through it. The third type of person, before deciding to overcome the obstacle, tries to find a viewpoint where what is on the other side of the obstacle can be seen. Then, only if the reward is worth the effort, does he attempt to overcome the obstacle.”

“Stability grows as I learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.”


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