As a tennis lover and a life coach, I found Timothy Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis, extremely valuable to my coaching practice, as it is stating important principles, relvant to any coaching field.
Apparently focusing on tennis, this book, published half a century ago, is fundamentally about overcoming obstacles which keeps one from succeeding. The author was a coach and tennis player, which afforded him a deep understanding of how this mental game influences the external game, on the tennis court.
I was immediately intrigued by a particular quote in the first chapter:
“Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he is not calculating and thinking.”
This take on Blaise Pascal’s famous adage, at odds with it, is something that comes up often in coaching practice, where the most a-ha moments and the most valuable insights occur from the client’s uncontrolled, still mind. “The art of effortless concentration”, as the author describes the ability to “play out of your mind”.
The core idea of the book is that every game has two parts: an Inner Game, and an Outer Game.
The Outer Game is played against an external opponent, in order to reach an external goal (winning a match), while the Inner Game takes place in the player’s mind, and is played against nervousness, self doubt, lack of concentration, fear, anxiety, low self esteem.
You are at your best when you master your Inner Game.
This conflict is explained through the lens of tennis, but the theory is certainly applicable in all areas of life.
In order to deliver pick performance in any field, you have to win the Inner Game, the mental conflict between your two selves: Self 1 and Self 2.
Self 1 is your ego-mind, the conscious, critical, analytic mind, always looking for approval, the teller, the instructor. This mind is always trying to instruct Self 2 – the subconscious, intuitive mind, the actor, the executor, the natural learner that everyone is born with.
Trying too hard, forcing things, overthinking and interfering with our own natural learning capabilities are the major reasons why you lose the Inner Game.
Winning this game means trusting Self 2 and putting it in charge, while quieting Self 1 (your ego mind).
When Self 2 takes over, you’re being relaxed, one with your body, non judgemental, you trust your intuition, observe and let it flow, you are fully in the moment. This is exactly the state required for an effective coaching process, whether it is life coaching, business coaching or any other kind.
Quieting the ego mind is mastering the art of being non judgemental, by not assigning any positive or negative value to an event. You must focus on what is happening, not on what is right or wrong. If you’re being judgemental, you become what you think.
That being said, no more spoilers, just read the book if you find Gallwey’s ideas interesting, as I did, and you’ll get yourself a brand new perspective on how to improve your skills and perform better.