The Inner Game

One of the tasks to obtain my international coaching certification was to review a list of books that, within the pensum, were proposed. I chose the book “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallway because I don’t practice tennis, I don’t know anything about Tennis and I wanted to learn how a coach, without being an athlete or knowing a sport perfectly, can be a good coach regardless if The stage is sporty, business or individual. I share here the review I wrote this year and of course, there is a recommendation to read it, not only to those who practice or like tennis, but also to coaches and people interested in their personal development:

The Inner Game of Tennis written by W. Timothy Gallwey in 1974 is presented as one of the pioneering works of sports psychology based primarily on Tennis. However, its principles can be applied to any activity in life and with them achieve success.

Among the aspects to highlight are the ease with which the author narrates his ideas by complementing them with examples and experiences of his own life and his students. Naturally, these experiences are based on the game and practice of tennis, but it is precisely where the author comes to conclude how, not only in tennis but also in any stage of life, his ideas are applied and work. The author develops each of his postulates, deepens them, gives practice techniques and, at the end, captives with his own conclusions about life and the future he imagines for his proposals and the consequences of their application. I can say that it is not far from reality, because to be a book published in its first edition in 1974, its ideas are still valid today and as predicted in the book, processes and methodologies that have been adjusted, have been established as that runs the time, which are very useful and indispensable in the game of Tennis, other sports and the development of the human being in general.

The central theme of the Inner Game is that many times it is not an external adversary that defeats us, but our own doubts, our own fear and our lack of concentration. This opponent is called Player N.1 who is the one who wants to have absolute control, is the rational and the critical. By overcoming these obstacles, it is what in the world of sports is known as being in the «zone». However, we often believe that achieving this state is the result of much physical effort. Quite the opposite. Of course a physical training is necessary, if we continue talking about sport. But beyond that physical training, the author states with certainty that the ideal is «to achieve a spontaneous performance that only occurs when the mind is calm and seems to form a unity with the body.» This state is called the Player. N.2, who acts spontaneously, is natural, wise and instinctive. I can conclude from my own experience that the times I have achieved that state, it is when things simply happen as I expected, apparently without having done much.

Then the book dedicates a large number of pages where it teaches us how to unlearn the habits that interfere with that state and thus allow it to operate on its own. Habits such as lack of concentration (thinking about the past or future instead of focusing on the here and now), nervousness, self-doubt and excessive self-criticism are the obstacles that are learned to overcome through constant practice and thus achieve a state of mind of «being so concentrated that we are calm, without interference of thoughts.» Well, as the author says and I have verified it myself, repeated judgments lead to generalization and it becomes a snowball that leads to a hypercritical mind and we end up becoming what we think.

An example wrote by the author is about a rose seed that is sown. It is not judged when it is seed, when it sprouts it is not judged and so on throughout the process until it blooms. We are simply amazed at each stage of the process and during this stage the seed and subsequent planting is provided with the care according to its development. Each stage is perfect as it is and by itself it develops. I have noted this example because it is a wonderful reminder to start transforming my own self-criticism and bring it to that state of wonder.

By allowing Player N.2 to play, we discover what the natural learning process is. This natural learning is codified in our genetic structure. So the teacher’s role is to discern the limit of how much to show and how far to teach. It is to let the student develop after having given the first push because «no Teacher is greater than one’s own experience».

This natural learning, as it develops, allows fun to enter. This fun is not achieved if the ego goes into constant struggle. By achieving that state of fun, we allow not only spontaneity to be present, but also the quality of our performance. Therefore, an important aspect that the author also emphasizes in the book is to get out of the culture of success of our western society: “[…] We live in a society oriented towards success in which people tend to be evaluated or measured by its capacity in different areas […] Do we really believe that the value of a human being is something measurable? It makes no sense to evaluate us compared to other beings that are not evaluable either. ” Therefore, our true value, what we really want is the real key to winning the Inner Game.

And here comes one of the parts that most caught my attention in the book and particularly in the author’s philosophy, considering that tennis is a competitive game. The theme of fun, of redefinition of success and how all this is related to the competition was developing. The same author describes in his book how his own opinion about the competition was changing as he developed internally. And incidentally, it clarifies to me also my own concept about competition and self-competence. Then, when competition is used as a way to evaluate ourselves in relation to others, it is when the worst of human nature comes out. But when we see the obstacle as a necessary ingredient to discover ourselves and develop our potential, then the competition becomes cooperation and nobody gets defeated.

The author quotes something that someone wise once told him, and that he would also like to quote here because I think it is essential to achieve a change in our vision of life:
“When it comes to overcoming obstacles, there are three types of people: The first type sees most insurmountable obstacles and avoids them. The second type says «I can overcome it» and begins to dig below it, to climb it above or to cross it in the middle. The third type, before deciding to overcome the obstacle, tries to find an observation point that allows him to see what is on the other side of him. Then, only if the reward is worth it, will you try to overcome it. ”

In conclusion, the true Inner Game, is the continuous abandonment of control, is to stay focused on the here and now and let things happen by themselves having a very clear picture of what you want to achieve. The fundamental thing is to know what kind of priority we are giving to the needs of Player N. 2 with respect to all external pressures, since player N. 2 does not need any improvement. It is freeing ourselves from stress and allowing ourselves to act from our true selves in order to enjoy the process, recognizing that our true being, the essence of the human being, has nothing wrong.

For me it is amazing to see how a book written more than 40 years ago continues and will remain in force for many more. I think that as humanity we are on the right path. More and more we are those who, through our own experience, have realized that overcoming only external challenges creates a fatal imbalance in our long-term health, well-being, relationships and achievements. More and more people and companies are redirecting their paths and also paying attention to the internal challenges of being. And I think it is fantastic that this type of information is not necessarily acquired in personal growth or self-help books. It’s great that this information is in a book for tennis players, a competitive and high performance game.