Book Summary: The Inner Game of Tennis

A powerful introduction to the science of Sport Psychology. In his book The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallwey reinvents the learning process that leads to peak performance; conveyed through the story of the  Inner Game of Tennis.

The following are passages I’ve enjoyed from the book. To organize the content, I have grouped them into the following themes:

  1. The Mental Side of Tennis
  2. The Learning Process
  3. Discovering Technique
  4. Mastering Concentration
  5. The Meaning of Winning
  6. Building Inner Stability

1. The Mental Side of Tennis

The Inner and Outer Game

  • “There are two games involved in tennis: one the Outer Game played against the obstacles presented by an external opponent and played for one or more external prizes; the other, the Inner Game, played against internal mental and emotional obstacles for the reward of knowledge and expression of one’s true potential. It should be recognized that both the inner and outer games go on simultaneously, so the choice is not which one to play, but which deserves priority.”

The Two Selves

  • “Self 1 was the name given to the conscious ego-mind which likes to tell Self 2, you and your potential, how to hit the tennis ball. The key to spontaneous, high-level tennis is in resolving the lack of harmony which usually exists between these two selves.”

Playing Out of Your Mind

  • “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 functions are working without interference from thoughts. The concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less of the how-to’s of the doing. When a player is in this state, there is little to interfere with the full expression of his potential to perform, learn and enjoy.”

2. The Learning Process

The Inner Game Way of Learning

Inner Game Way of Learning

Let go of Judgements

  • “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.”
  • “Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.”
  • “Simply observe without interfering.”

Visualize the Desired Outcome

  • “Don’t overanalyze; simply absorb what you see and try to feel what you want.”
  • “Get the clearest possible image of your desired outcomes… Show yourself exactly what you want Self 2 to do. Give it a clear visual image.”

Trust and Let It Happen

  • “Trust the body to learn and to play, as you would trust another person to do a job, and in a short time it will perform beyond your expectations.
  • “Watch the process without exercising control over it.”
  • “Don’t analyze; simply see how close Self 2 came to doing what you wanted it to.”

3. Discovering Technique

The Limitation of Technical Knowledge

  • “In the interest of being able to repeat that way of hitting the ball again or to pass it on to another, the person attempts to describe that stroke in language. But words can only represent actions, ideas and experiences. Language is not the action, and at best can only hint at the subtlety and complexity contained in the stroke. Although the instruction thus conceived can now be stored in the part of the mind that remembers language, it must be acknowledged that remembering the instruction is not the same as remembering the stroke itself.”

How to Make Use of Technical Instruction

  • “The best use of technical knowledge is to communicate a hint toward a desired destination. The hint can be delivered verbally or demonstrated in action, but it is best seen as an approximation of a desirable goal to be discovered by paying attention to each stroke, and feeling one’s way toward what works for that individual.”

Changing Habits

  • “We all develop characteristic patterns of acting and thinking, and each such pattern exists because it serves a function… When we stop trying to suppress or correct the habit, we can see the function it serves, and then an alternative pattern of behaviour, which serves the same function better, emerges quite effortlessly.”

4. Mastering Concentration

Concentration: Learning to Focus

  • “To still the mind one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused… As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here.”
  • “The focused mind only picks up on those aspects of a situation that are needed to accomplish the task at hand. It is not distracted by other thoughts or external events, it is totally engrossed in whatever is relevant in the here and now.”

Concentration: Sustaining Focus

  • “How to stay concentrated in the here and now between points? My own device, and one that has been effective for many of my students, is to focus attention on breathing. Some object or activity which is always present is needed. What is more here and now than one’s breathing? Putting attention on breathing simply means observing my breath going in, going out, going in, going out in its natural rhythm. It does not mean intentionally controlling my breath.”

Concentration: Lapses in Focus

  • “Our desire that things be different from what they are pulls our minds into an unreal world, and consequently we are less able to appreciate what the present has to offer. Our minds leave the reality of the present only when we prefer the unreality of the past or future.”

5. The Meaning of Winning

Overcoming Obstacles

  • “The surfer waits for the big wave because he values the challenge it presents. He values the obstacles the wave puts between him and his goal of riding the wave to the beach. Why? Because it is those very obstacles, the size and churning power of the wave, which draw from the surfer his greatest effort. It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities. At that point he often attains his peak. In other words, the more challenging the obstacle he faces, the greater the opportunity for the surfer to discover and extend his true potential. The potential may have always been within him, but until it is manifested in action, it remains a secret hidden from himself. The obstacles are a very necessary ingredient to this process of self-discovery.”

Competition and Cooperation

  • “True competition is identical with true cooperation. Each player tries his hardest to defeat the other, but in this use of competition it isn’t the other person we are defeating; it is simply a matter of overcoming the obstacles he presents. In true competition no person is defeated. Both players benefit by their efforts to overcome the obstacles presented by the other.”

Maximum Effort

  • “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 one is emotionally attached to results that he can’t control, he tends to become anxious and then try too hard. But one can control the effort he puts into winning. One can always do the best he can at any given moment.

6. Building Inner Stability

Attachment and Stress

  • “The cause of most stress can be summed up by the word attachment. Self 1 gets so dependent upon things, situations, people and concepts within its experience that when change occurs or seems about to occur, it feels threatened. Freedom from stress does not necessarily involve giving up anything, but rather being able to let go of anything, when necessary, and know that one will still be all right. It comes from being more independent—not necessarily more solitary, but more reliant on one’s own inner resources for stability.”

Acceptance and Control

  • “Inner stability is achieved not by burying one’s head in the sand at the sight of danger, but by acquiring the ability to see the true nature of what is happening and to respond appropriately… Stability grows as I learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.”

A Game Worth Playing

  • “I asked myself a final question: “Then what do you really want?” The answer was quite unexpected. What I really wanted, I realized, was to overcome the nervousness that was preventing me from playing my best and enjoying myself. I wanted to overcome the inner obstacle that had plagued me for so much of my life. I wanted to win the inner game.”

I greatly enjoyed this book. Tim Gallwey lays out the tools to access our natural learning process and unleash the potential within us to achieve peak performance; both on and off the court.

All content credit goes to the author. I’ve simply shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time!


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