In our courses we always open our program by teaching to our students about the origins of coaching, about the different coaching models and about how modern coaching has been shaped through the decades. One of the books that we suggest our students to read to get familiar with the coaching approach and with the transformation process that occurs within an individual when coached, there is surely ‘The Inner Book of Tennis’ by Timothy Gallwey.
“Grow potential and reduce self-interference. Don’t just be a doer in life; whatever you are doing, learn, evolve, and maximize your enjoyment of the limited time you are given.“
~ Tim Gallwey
Starting in the mid-1970s many corporate leaders and managers recognized the implications of Inner Game concepts and models for facilitating desired changes in the workplace. In 1960, Gallwey was captain of the Harvard University Tennis Team.
He has written a series of books in which he has set forth a new methodology for coaching and for the development of personal and professional excellence in a variety of fields that he calls “the Inner Game”. Since he began writing in the 1970s, his books include The Inner Game of Tennis, The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Music (with Barry Green), Inner Skiing and The Inner Game of Work.
The Inner Game has enhanced the personal and professional lives of many over the last four decades. Those seeking to improve performance and satisfaction in everything from sports to their relationships have experienced lasting breakthroughs.
Gallwey says that “There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure in the outer game.”
What is the Inner Game?
In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner.
The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.
The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The Inner Game is a proven method to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential.
This happens in life as well, not only in tennis.
And this simple but deep and broad considerations brought Gallwey to develop his approach to coaching.
I had the honor to invite Tim Gallwey at the annual ICF Conference in Rome in 2016, he accepted our invitation and we had the pleasure to have him with us for a few days.
I remember having dinner with him in Rome, and sitting close to him, while sharing a relaxing conversation and enjoying good food and good wine together with the ICF team. We were all so happy to have the opportunity to be with him and learn from him!
His workshop at the ICF annual conference brought a vibrant energy, lots of insights and also good fun. His presence embodies the experience he developed in many decades, which is based upon the fact that Gallwey recognized that physical ability was not the full picture in any sport. In tennis, success is very psychological because there are really two games going on: the Inner Game and the Outer Game. If a player doesn’t pay attention to how they play the Inner Game—against their insecurities, their wandering mind, their self-doubt and uncertainty—they will never be as good as they have the potential to be.
The truth and the paradox is that the Inner Game is fought against your own self-defeating tendencies, not against your actual opponent. Gallwey was not a psychologist. But his experience as both a tennis player and a coach for other players gave him a deep understanding of how human psychology influences playing. The tennis court was his laboratory. As is evident throughout The Inner Game of Tennis, he studied himself, his students, and opponents with care. He experimented and tested out theories until he uncovered the best teaching techniques.
When we’re learning something new, we often internally talk to ourselves. We give ourselves instructions. When Gallwey noticed this in his students, he wondered who was talking to who.
From his observations, he drew his key insight: the idea of Self 1 and Self 2.
Self 1 is the conscious self. Self 2 is the subconscious. The two are always in dialogue.
If both selves can communicate in harmony, the game will go well. More often, this isn’t what happens. Self 1 gets judgmental and critical, trying to instruct Self 2 in what to do. The trick is to quiet Self 1 and let Self 2 follow the natural learning process we are all born competent at; this is the process that enables us to learn as small children. This capacity is within us—we just need to avoid impeding it.
Gallwey writes that “great music and art are said to arise from the quiet depths of the unconscious, and true expressions of love are said to come from a source which lies beneath words and thoughts. So it is with the greatest efforts in sports; they come when the mind is as still as a glass lake.”
In order to let Self 2’s sense of the correct action take over, we need to learn to see our actions as they are. We must focus on what is happening, not what is right or wrong. Once we can see clearly, we can tap into our inbuilt learning process, as Gallwey explains. But to see things as they are, we must take off our judgmental glasses, whether they’re dark or rose-tinted. This action unlocks a process of natural development, which is as surprising as it is beautiful.
I still recall Tim Gallwey encouraging us to try – at his workshop in Rome – to catch a tennis ball by focusing on the color of the ball or the lines on the ball, instead of focusing on catching the ball itself and perform. When we focused on the present, on what is happening in the moment, all our worries and the inner dialogue fades and magic happens! We succeed and we do that wit ease, no effort, just ourselves in that unique moment.
That lesson is still clear in me and inspiring me while I do things and while I am busy achieving my goals. That is why Gallwey’s books and approach are used in our coach training programs.
I will always be grateful that I had the chance to meet him and spend time with him.