The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis

You’ve always wanted to play tennis. The best way to learn is to enroll in a beginners course. To make it optimum effective you hire a private instructor. He stands next to you when you play and gives relevant instructions: bend your knees, hit the ball on the side, follow with the shot, move to the starting position, etc. If you just listen carefully and always do what he says, then you’ll soon be able to play the perfect game. Or maybe not?

In 1974 Tim Gallwey published the book The Inner Game of Tennis. He describes an unconventional way to learn new skills. Instead of constantly listening to detailed instructions, we must mentally step back and experience. Those detailed instructions that you want to get rid of don’t always come from a tennis instructor. Surprisingly, they often come from you. And they prevent your full potential.

Imagine that two persons live inside your mind. The first person continuously gives out orders and rates the outcome. Let’s call him Command-and-Control-Self, or C & C Self. The second person listens constantly and uncritically to C & C Self and tries to complete the orders. Everything he does is rated in a Good-to-Bad scale by C & C Self. We call the second person Obedient Self.

C & C Self’s chatter goes on and on and it prevents your natural feedback loop. You can’t focus while you constantly try to just follow orders. The first step is to disconnect this monologue; to get C & C Self to be quiet. The main trick in the Inner Game of Tennis is to get the mind to focus on something relevant and interesting, such as how the ball rotates, or how it flies. We step back and listen to the situation. How does it feel? What do we see? How does that sound? Then when we do act, we will let it just happen.

Without thinking about it, you have closed the feedback loop. You see, hear and feel what is going on and you let your body react to it. You have got rid of the concepts Good and Bad. Instead, you have built a trust in your body’s ability to self learn and carry out; without simultaneous involvement of the mind. You are listening to what is essential. You can only learn when you are aware of and feel your situation.

Exercise:

  1. Copy the flower in box Original to box #1. Try to make it look alike as much as possible.
  2. In step 1, you drew four petals. Regardless of the outcome, here are some questions: Did you try harder when the first petal wasn’t perfect? Did you criticize yourself when you were drawing the flower? Did you instruct your body when you drew the second, third and fourth petal (easy on the hand, pen to left now, etc.)? Take a look at one of the petals in box Original for 10-20 seconds. Close your eyes and then try to see it in your mind. Choose a proper color for it. Imagine how the petal sounds if it’s blowing in the wind. Then open your eyes and draw a large petal in box #2. Let the hand take control without the involvement of C & C Self.
  3. Now, copy the flower from the original box to box #3. Does it look better than the flower in box #1? You became the Inner Game superior in this exercise because you did not judge. Non-judgment approach to learning gives the best progress.
Petal

Petal

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