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Book Review: Inner Game of Tennis

I just finished the book the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It’s a classic – expressing the key to developing mental fortitude using tennis as the vehicle.
The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

I was intrigued about the book after Tom Brady cited it as a key reading for him in developing mental strength. This was cited in an interview after Brady orchestrated the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, coming back from 28-3 to defeat my Atlanta Falcons 34-28.

Being a competitive athlete (less so on a team these days and more in “self” settings) and an entrepreneur, developing mental strength is an ongoing practice. The pressure athletes like Tom Brady and great entrepreneurs face on the brink of failure (listen to any number of episodes of NPR’s “How I Built This”) is astonishing. Being able to keep going and overcome obstacles and have ­grit is hugely interesting to me.

Without further ado, here are my main take-aways from Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis:
  • Self 1 vs. Self 2. Gallwey points out the inner battle between the mental (Self 1; read: mind) and the “human” side (Self 2). A good illustration of this is when striking a ball with the racket, the human body and brain are smart moving in a way to strike the ball. However, when the ball is not struck well, a player can be frustrated – yelling at himself to strike it better. From here, the player’s mind (Self 1) is now in control with much focus on how to strike the ball which only motivates the player to keep thinking too much about how to strike the ball. This prohibits the natural learning process of the body & mind (Self 2) to make the right adjustments.
  • The “natural self” (Self 2). Gallwey points out how each person is the perfect version of himself or herself. However, the mind gets in the way trying to be “better”. The natural self, however, knows how to improve. Gallwey points out how young children learn how to crawl, walk, talk by themselves. Children’s minds do not interfere and try to teach the body how to walk. Instead, the body moves, learns, adapts, and tries again.
  • Reviewing the self. As a tennis instructor, Gallwey used to instruct his clients how to swing. Most of the time, however, players would already know what they would need to do. They still did not do it. Then, Gallwey instructed players to watch their reflections in how they strike the ball. The players watched and realized how they should swing their rackets – it was not any different from what instructors had said. However, this gave clients the ability to self-assess and visualize the proper way of swinging. No other coaching was needed. Their movements would improve on their own.
I appreciated Gallwey’s book identifying Self 1 and Self 2. Unsure if there were many more take-aways that others would get out of the book. However, my focus points were about the need to bifurcate the mind from what the player (the true self) knows what to do. Overthinking is all too common which can paralyze the player.

In everyday practice in the business world, this appears when I, especially, can get caught up in how to perform sales calls. I know what I need to do, but developing and sticking to specific scripts makes me overthink. This, then, prohibits a natural conversation with prospects.

Check out the book, and see what you pick up. I’m sure you will also focus on Self 1 and Self 2. However, there may be other lessons from the book that resonate deeper than the concept of the bifurcated Self.

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