The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

ISBN: 0679778314
ISBN 13: 9780679778318
By: W. Timothy Gallwey Zach Kleinman Pete Carroll

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About this book

The Inner Game of Tennis is a revolutionary program for overcoming the self-doubt, nervousness, and lapses of concentration that can keep a player from winning. Now available in a revised paperback edition, this classic bestseller can change the way the game of tennis is played.

Reader's Thoughts


Preface: I am not a tennis player. However, I am an ultimate Frisbee player/athlete and a lot of what Timothy talked about (perfecting your "Inner Game" via mental acuity & awareness) can be readily applied to any non-contact/competitive sport- especially ultimate Frisbee which is very much a thinking/mental game after you've mastered the basic skills. My friend, and some would say "coach," gave this to me to read- believing that it would help me get over a few things that I have been struggling with since he read it years ago when he was just getting into the sport himself. The topics of the 2 "self"s, focus, competition, and the pure "getting over yourself" aspect was extremely helpful. I wish I could say that it should be obvious, but he states it as a fact to be learned and not just a priori. There were sections that applied directly to tennis, which I glazed over. I wish he made this just a generic book about how to improve your game- in any sport. Written in the 70's, you can read this short guide in an hour or so and the topics covered in this book are perfect for someone to overcome self-doubt, nervousness & breaks in concentration that really mess up your mental game which is, really, your entire game.


It's a true three-star for me - I liked it. I'm no athlete - and this book may explain why. I see my own attitude towards physical activity described here, to my embarrassment. I don't participate in competitive sport because of the negative self-talk and frustration it inspires, yet I enjoy playing music because it employs the non-"thinking" side of my brain, which is referred to in the book as Self 2. I could definitely use more Self 2-oriented activities in my life.This book is about tennis, but not only about tennis. It is about learning.

Paul Darcy

by Timothy Gallwey, published in 1974.As the title of this book suggests it deals with, mainly but not entirely, with the game of tennis and what goes on inside your mind during the tennis game as opposed to the physical aspects of hitting the ball.That is not to say that Timothy Gallwey does not give practical advice on stroke production - one chapter deals specifically with that - but rather he outlines a philosophy taken from the yogi about how to deal with mind and body during the tennis game.He breaks the player into two distinct parts, and with this I must agree. He calls them Self 1 and Self 2 where Self 1 is the controller and Self 2 is the doer. By this Gallwey means that Self 1 tells the body what to do and Self 2 is the body itself - hit it down the line - stop serving like a jerk - lower the racket, etc says Self 1 to Self 2.What he goes on to explain is that, in almost all cases, Self 1 screws up the natural abilities of Self 2 by trying to control the body into making shots. When we try too hard, or let Self 1 tell Self 2 what to do, it usually ends in ruin. He goes to great length to describe why this should be and does a good job of it. One great example he gives is that we did not learn to walk from verbal explanations, being told how to do it - our bodies just learned how to do it. Such a simple idea but so true.And so it should be with tennis as well. I think he has a point, a very good point.Having been playing tennis myself for over thirty years now and once being rated a 6.0 (almost good enough for the pro circuit), I could totally relate to all the things he writes about and how we can sabotage ourselves by giving advice to ourselves about stroke production during a match.He did have one very interesting bit of information which bears repeating. The act of positive thinking is just as devastating as the inner critic doling out negative comments. Neat idea, and pretty accurate. You see, he says that if you tell yourself you are a great player, or that shot was damn amazing, he postulates then that there can be no “good” shots unless there must also be “bad” shots and therefore we are judging ourselves on the court.He also adds that all shots are neither “good” nor “bad” but that they just are and it would do our tennis game a world of good to observe how we hear, feel and see the tennis ball and that the body, our wonderful body, knows through observation and repetition what to do and does not need interference from Self 1.How very true. I know from experience what he writes about and he writes a lot about concentration in the later chapters. Once you are concentrating and not directing your shots, you will find that your body does indeed know what to do, how to hit the volley, or the backhand, or the serve. All Self 1 need do is be an observer and say things like - hit the serve to my opponents backhand - then let Self 2 do it. If you have reached a high enough level of tennis you will find (believe me it works) that this is all you need do and Self 2 then serves where you asked it to. Pretty neat and it really does work.So, what can ultimately be gained from reading this book? The message, and ask any yogi if you like, is just to “let” your body learn and do tennis without a lot of directions.One last interesting bit of information. If you can get hold of some tennis footage (you can buy matches now on DVD) of your favourite pro and just watch him/her hitting the ball, you will find this a great way to learn how to hit those strokes yourself. I kid you not. I spent a lot of time watching McEnroe hit the ball and believe me your body can reproduce, through lots of practice, what it sees.A good short book for tennis players and how to approach the game like a yogi, but you don’t need to only apply this philosophy to the courts for it can come in handy with pretty much any aspect of your life.


What a great book. As I was reading some of the reviews here on GoodReads, somebody mentioned something like "you should move this one up on your priority to-read list," so I did.As a used-to-be avid tennis player who was constantly frustrated with a relatively weak forehand and somewhat inconsistent serve, this book hit my problems on the head. Furthermore, I suspect it'll help every tennis player diagnose and cure their "problems".In fact, the best part of this book is not its advice on tennis but the implications Gallwey's words have on life in general. I suspect that the other "inner game of ___" books have similar advice but within context of ____. Gallwey's many bottom lines summarize to something like "stop worrying about it, let your body hit the ball and make your self-conscious shut up. You play tennis to play tennis, not make friends, beat your chest, or anything else; get over your ego including past and future, and just swing...what's the worse that can happen?"


Don't be fooled, this book is not about tennis. Backup by science, this book tells fascinating stories about humans that excel in their field, and how that came to be. Almost a book you want to read to your kid before he goes to sleep, but thats just because you wish you knew this a few decennia ago.

George Roper

Through observations and personal experience the author concludes that to maximize our potential for learning and consequently performance we need to tame our ego-mind and place more trust in our other self... or our inner child. No scientific data is offered to support the author's conclusion; instead anecdotes and personal testimony are employed to make the case that our ego minds often interfere with our ability to have a clear focused concentration on any task before us (the here and now). Practical tips are provided on how to tame the ego-mind. Altogether a truly "goodread" which has application beyond the realm of tennis.

Alex Johansson

I was recommended this book by a former roommate who I highly value (amazing individual, Harvard student, current intern @ Bain Capital).Timothy Gallwey does a great job explaining the ambiguous and rarely touched space of cognitive development. For a sector of my personal and athletic life that I have divulged very little with, he makes clear incentives for why his tactics should be implemented outside of purely improving your tennis game (or any sport you choose).Moreover, he lays out explicit steps in order to reap the rewards of letting "Self 2" take the reins, as opposed to your conscious, or "Self 1".If you are looking for other books to improve your mental game, I would also recommend Mind Gym by Gary Mack and David Casstevens.


I don't play tennis. But now I don't have to because I have locked down the inner game.This book isn't really about tennis, it's about wu wei. Flow. The zone. Being "unconscious." It's about silencing the inner critic, detached observation, and naturalism. I read it from the perspective of a musician, although I am not much of one anymore, and felt like there was some great wisdom there.


Quotes:Images are better than words, showing better than telling, too much instruction worse than none, and… trying often produces negative results.The “hot streak” usually continues until he starts thinking about it and tries to maintain it; as soon as he attempts to exercise control, he loses it.The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad.Judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions and then to tightness, trying too hard, self-condemnation, etc. This process can be slowed by using descriptive but nonjudgmental words to describe the events you see.Slumps are part of the process. They are not “bad” events, but they seem to endure endlessly as long as we call them bad and identify with them.The first step is to see your strokes as they are. They must be perceived clearly. This can be done only when personal judgment is absent.Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are—undistorted. In this way, the mind becomes more calm.Acknowledgment of one’s own or another’s strengths, efforts, accomplishments, etc., can facilitate natural learning, whereas judgments interfere.Often when we are rallying we trust our bodies and let it happen because the ego-mind tells itself that it doesn’t really count.To Self 2, a picture is worth a thousand words. It learns by watching the actions of others, as well as by performing actions itself.Getting the clearest possible image of your desired outcomes is a most useful method for communicating with Self 2, especially when playing a match.Having provided yourself with an image and a feeling, you are ready to hit some balls. Now focus your eyes and mind on the seams of the ball and let it happen. Then observe what happened. Once again, don’t analyze; simply see how close Self 2 came to doing what you wanted it to.Letting go of judgments, the art of creating images and “letting it happen” are three of the basic skills involved in the Inner Game.Step 1: Nonjudgmental ObservationStep 2: Picture the Desired OutcomeStep 3: Trust Self 2Step 4: Nonjudgmental Observation of Change and ResultsTo still the mind one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused.To the extent that the mind is preoccupied with the seams, it tends not to interfere with the natural movements of the body.Say the word bounce out loud the instant you see the ball hit the court and the word hit the instant the ball makes contact with the racket—either racket.Focus is not achieved by staring hard at something. It is not trying to force focus, nor does it mean thinking hard about something. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. When this occurs, the mind is drawn irresistibly toward the object (or subject) of interest. It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled. When watching the tennis ball, allow yourself to fall into focus. If your eyes are squinting or straining, you are trying too hard. If you find yourself chastising yourself for losing focus, then you may be overcontrolling. Let the ball attract your mind, and both it and your muscles will stay appropriately relaxed.Some players find the sound of the ball more mind-absorbing than watching the seams because it is something they’ve never done before.Remember: it is almost impossible to feel or see anything well if you are thinking about how you should be moving. Forget should’s and experience is.So after a point has ended and I’m returning to position or going to pick up a ball, I place my mind on my breathing.Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past. Nonetheless, few people are ever satisfied with what is before them at the moment.What I really wanted, I realized, was to overcome the nervousness that was preventing me from playing my best and enjoying myself. I wanted to overcome the inner obstacle that had plagued me for so much of my life. I wanted to win the inner game.Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.In tennis who is it that provides a person with the obstacles he needs in order to experience his highest limits? His opponent, of course! Then is your opponent a friend or an enemy?It isn't the other person we are defeating; it is simply a matter of overcoming the obstacles he presents. In true competition no person is defeated. Both players benefit by their efforts to overcome the obstacles presented by the other.One can control the effort he puts into winning. One can always do the best he can at any given moment. Since it is impossible to feel anxiety about an event that one can control, the mere awareness that you are using maximum effort to win each point will carry you past the problem of anxiety.For the player of the Inner Game, it is the moment-by-moment effort to let go and to stay centered in the here-and-now action which offers the real winning and losing, and this game never ends.As tennis players we tend to think too much before and during our shots; we try too hard to control our movements; and we are too concerned about the results of our actions and how they might reflect on our self-image. In short, we worry too much and don’t concentrate very well.The longer I live, the greater my appreciation of the gift that life itself is. This gift is much greater than I could have imagined, and therefore time spent living it in a state of stress means I am missing a lot — on or off the court.Freedom from stress does not necessarily involve giving up anything, but rather being able to let go of anything, when necessary, and know that one will still be all right. It comes from being more independent—not necessarily more solitary, but more reliant on one’s own inner resources for stability.

Gwen Skrzat

This book is a classic -- if you play tennis it's a must read. The author is a renowned sports and life coach who became famous with this book, in a large part because Harry Reasoner thought the principles in it couldn't possible work and challenged to author to prove them. He did, and it changed the reporters mind, and the way many of us look at how we play sports and also how we live.It's primary thrust is to help the reader learn to apply some basic principle of non-judgment and focus to their tennis game, and watch the rest just fall in line. It works!

Edgar Mora-Reyes

En el presente siglo hemos dedicado gran tiempo y recursos a experimentar y explorar nuevos conceptos solo para darnos cuenta que lo nuevo es lo viejo pero con otro nombre.El autor utiliza simple sentido común y conceptos ya explorados y definidos por la pedagogía y la filosofía, en particular por la epistemología, pero comete el gran error, el autor, de creerse "creador" de una nueva teoría que utiliza definiciones de la psicología positiva, aportando sinceramente poco a la realidad de la persona que después es deportista. No me parece una lectura dañina, pero que puede generar ciertas expectativas en deportistas con poco carácter o falto de aptitud para el deporte de alto rendimiento.En todo caso recomiendo libros con mayor fondo "educativo" como "Desde la adversidad" de Santiago Álvarez de Mon.


I am a musician, and this was recommended to me by another musician friend. As it turns out, many of my colleagues have read this book, so it seems as though I am the last! 'The Inner Game' has, without a doubt, been one of the most beneficial books I have ever read. Before I had even finished, some of the insights of the book had already begun to change the way that I practice, audition, and perform! I wont say that the author has come up with any ideas or concepts so revolutionary that they haven't been written in a dozen other books .... but I will say that the way that he has exposed and explained things here have really worked for me. This is a must-read for, well, basically anybody who wants to improve at whatever they do and take pride in!

Jake Taylor

This was one of those books that I will never regret reading. The Inner Game of Tennis is well written, engaging, and probably the most practical and applicable book to my own life that I have ever read. I don't even play tennis and this book has helped my mental and physical approach to and performance in sports, namely basketball. I have always hindered my own performance by doing all the wrong things: trying too hard, criticizing myself, always trying to correct things but never actually performing any better. After reading this enlightening and empowering book, I have definitively changed my state of mind.Gallwey's theory of the two selves and how to master them has taught me both why I judged myself so heavily, and also how to replace this self-destructing behavior with the natural process of learning used by self 2. Gallwey also teaches how to break bad habits. I am looking forward to trying this out on my bad habit of chewing my nails! Not the same as a weak forehand, but it's worth a shot.Tim Gallwey's non-judgmental view of sport errors and mistakes in general is refreshing, especially to me, a scrutinizing perfectionist. My mom recommended this book to me, and boy has it helped me out! I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially fellow athletes. Even if you don't play tennis or even sports in general, this book and its principles of letting go of mistakes and moving forward with knowledge and experience but not self-judgment are wonderfully helpful in this grand game we call life. I hope you read this book too, because it's a game-changer.


It's hard to explain exactly why I love this book - it resonated very strongly with me.It makes a rather simple case for the idea that our conscious thought messes with our subconscious learning regularly and that we should step out of the way. It talks somewhat about tennis, but really it talks about methods for trusting your subconscious and improving both your learning speed and your performance.Maybe the key is that it lines up fantastically well with my experience, and provides a framework to talk about it with others. Some of the tips are nice too, especially regarding non-judgemental observation.

Ben Nesvig

I wish I read this back in high school when I played tennis, but it's still an interesting read for athletes and non-athletes. Much of the self 1/self 2 talk reminded me of Thinking Fast and Slow, which came out decades later. Also noticed some overlap with the book The Art of Learning in regard to being so focused on the present that you can slow down time in your mind. In The Inner Game of Tennis he does this by shutting off the part of the mind that dwells on the past and future. In The Art of Learning, he applies this to Tai Chi by knowing the moves so well that he can perform without thinking, allowing him to hyper focus on the present, thus appearing to slow down time due to full attention on the present.

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