Zen and Tennis

This article reviews The Inner Game of Tennis and outlines actionable insights from the book.

In The Inner Game of Tennis, Gallwey shows the methods to overcome self-doubt, nervousness and lapses of concentration that can keep a player from winning. These challenges are called the ‘inner game’. The inner game is the game that takes place in the mind of the player and is played against inner obstacles. In contrast, the outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal.

A player wins the inner game when he can cultivate a spontaneous performance. The player then performs with a true self-confidence – calm and not trying too hard. The player’s mind is one with the body and he can surpass his limits.

There are three steps to develop one’s inner game: (1) learning to let go of judgements, (2) learning to trust yourself and (3) learning to program yourself with images rather than instructing with words.

Let Go of Judgements

The first step is to let go of judgements. Judgement is the self-imposed sense of “goodness” or “badness” that the player ascribes to the events that happen. A judgemental person is one who assigns a negative or a positive value to an event. The person is saying that some events are good, and he likes them, or they are bad, and he hates them.

Self-judgements become self-fulfilling prophecies. When a person judges himself, his inner self will act accordingly. He will begin to live according to these expectations. These expectations will perpetuate in his life until his mind establish a self-identity according to these.

In tennis, self-judgements also lead to emotional reactions and physical tightness, trying too hard and self-condemnation.

A person overcomes his judgement by seeing, feeling and being aware of what is. In tennis, the player does not have to think where the ball is, he simply sees it. He feels where the ball is and is aware of its movement. The player acknowledges his strengths, weaknesses, efforts and accomplishments.

Trusting Yourself

The second step is trusting yourself. What does it mean to trust yourself? Trusting yourself is not positive-thinking or overconfidence, convincing yourself to hit an ace in every serve. In the inner game, trusting yourself means to let your body hits the ball. The keyword is ‘let’. The player trusts in the competence of his body and mind, allowing himself to swing the racket.

Similar to self-judgement, not trusting yourself causes both mental and physical interference. These interferences result in physical tightness, mental distraction and lack of concentration.

A player who already knows how to swing the racket should trust his body to do it. A player who does not, should learn it. As he practices, his mind stores, refines and extends this movement in his memory. The mind remembers every action and the results of every action. The player should allow the natural learning process to take place and forget about the stroke-by-stroke instruction, similar to a baby learning how to walk.

Using Imagery

The last step is to program your mind using imagery, rather than words. Imagery is the mind’s native language. Using sensory images, you can hold the desired outcome that you want to achieve and let your body does the work.

To use the imagery technique, hold your desired results or form in your mind and allow the body to do what is necessary. The player must trust his body, refraining from giving itself instruction and from exerting controlled effort. The author stresses that it is important not to make any conscious effort when performing the action.

The Inner Game of Tennis demonstrates than winning in sports and life have both inner and outer game aspects. Overcoming the inner obstacles will allow a player to improve his skills continuously. However, this does not mean that the player should not practice his outer game. The book also dedicates a section to practice and perfect a player’s tennis technique.

Nonetheless, knowing these techniques is only the first step in winning any game. Only constant practise and hard work will help us to overcome any obstacle that life throws at us.

Click here to visit the Amazon book page (affiliate link), where it is available in multiple formats.

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