Shall we talk about how you win your inner game?

CSM inside ping pong.jpg

This week I thought I’d tell you about the book I’m reading which I would say is in the top 10 of coaching books to read. Not only if you’re thinking about becoming a coach, but if you have a mind and occasionally wonder what it gets up to and how it works.

The Inner Game of Tennis

Not just for tennis fans (though it’s indispensable if you want to up your game), also super for anyone who teaches. Parents, that’s you included, and if you manage anyone at work, that’s also you. My narrowing down process is working a treat as you can see…
The author, Timothy Gallwey played for Harvard's tennis team back in the 80s and turned into a tennis coach. He’s a true pedagogue because he paid close attention to how his coaching was being received. And from there, he formulated a great technique which caused his tennis students to improve more rapidly than usually. He has relayed this method into this book in a way that's also general so it can be applied to life not just tennis.

How not to coach

Timothy’s tennis clients were CEOs, business execs- wealthy, successful people who were more than capable of high-level problem-solving, taking action and learning from mistakes. Yet they were asking him to help them improve their back-hand, as if “they had no control over their own right arm”. A lot of the time they knew what the problem was. They had been told by their peers and other coaches. So obviously telling someone what to do and what not to do, doesn’t always work. Timothy knew that he had to find another way of getting through to them.
Good managers know how to lead. It’s with an “ask, don’t tell” approach. But how do you apply it in tennis?

What good coaches should be doing

Awareness is the key. And it doesn’t come from the coach telling you to lower your racket. It comes from the coach saying “Notice where you racket is in relation to the ball”. You see?
No? Here's another example - if the technical instruction should be something like “take your racket back early”, try instead to increase the player’s awareness of what the racket is doing in the first place by saying “observe where your racket is when the ball bounces”.

Now do you see? I know what you’re thinking...

Is awareness enough?

Yes it is. I’m not talking about complete beginners here who have never played or watched tennis. But for the people who have had some basic lessons, then after that, yes, awareness is enough because what it does is it lets natural learning take place. You will observe and auto-correct according to what feels right for you. And you will surprise yourself about how easy and natural it will feel.

Why does awareness work?

Because it brings you into the observer mindset, and away from the critic or the try-hard.  And this is what the book is centred on. It’s the understanding that every game is composed of two parts, an outer game (that which you physically play in the court), and an inner game (the mental battle of overcoming self-doubt, criticism and anxiety). It’s been said about 90% of our performance is driven by our mind, so it’s probably a good idea to explore this part further.
Timothy goes on to explain that the mind is composed of two parts – Self 1 (the teller) and Self 2 (the listener and doer). Also known as the conscious ‘thinking’ mind, and the sub-conscious ‘doing’ mind. You can see how this is more than just tennis right?
The way to win the inner game is to learn to learn to hush Self 1, the constant judgmental critic saying “you should do better/ why didn’t you get that shot” and to learn to trust self 2.

Trust my subconscious?!

Yes, it keeps your heart beating, eyelids blinking and food digesting without you having to concentrate, so I think it’s done more than enough to prove itself as a worthy leader. Self 1 is the micro-managing manager who tries to exert control and annoys everyone.

Take-away message

I always go back to a kid walking as an example, because it’s a good one, we can all relate. A kid does a few steps, falls over and pauses. It doesn’t judge the fall as bad. Language hasn’t formed yet, but Self 2 is there. And Self 2 is simply observing and learning what worked and what didn’t.
So in your court or in your world, quit judging everything as good or bad.  Start seeing events for what they are – information for us to use. How do you do this? Just observe what you do and don’t let emotions get in the way.
Have a good volley people.

Dina Grishin