"Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game."
-Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis
By Kim Shanley
To The TennisONE Community
A month ago I wrote "Joy of Hitting," about my struggle to "get out of my own way." Many of you empathized with that struggle. Thanks. Some of you even felt a little sorry for me, and in your letters, seemed to throw your arm around my shoulder, consoling, "Don't worry, it will get better." I wasn't after sympathy (at least not consciously), but for the gracious solicitations, thanks. Just a few of you became a little exasperated, telling me in no uncertain terms, "Go get the Inner Game of Tennis, and (in effect), stop whining."
Okay, at first I didn't want to thank those people. But guess what, today I am. I had read The Inner Game twenty years ago. I remember it as a cool and wise book, but as a chronic over-achiever and over-tryer, I obviously hadn't been able to put its principles into practice. I just finished re-reading Gallwey's little masterpiece again, and now I am thanking all my tough-love correspondents. What a great book!
First published in 1974, The Inner Game of Tennis is one of the most popular books on tennis ever written. And for good reason. There is a treasure trove of insight and wisdom in the book. Today, I'll just focus on one story Gallwey recounts about a Zen master who asked a group of Westerners what they thought was the most important word in the language. Some said, "love," others tried out "truth" or "faith." No, said the Zen master, it's the word "let." (For those of extreme religious edginess, please read on: I'm not advocating all major religions be replaced by Zen Buddhism.)
Gallwey goes on to explain that "let" means let it happen, trust your self and trust the universe. The opposite of this is trying to too hard and getting in your own way. On the tennis court, it means playing with a lot of "oughts" in your head, afraid of missing a shot or losing a match. From there, Self #1 as Gallwey describes the ego, starts thinking, "Gee, wait till the guys at the club learn I lost to so-and-so. And from there, the ego says, "Yeah, and I've not been performing at work very well either." And from there, "Maybe I'll be fired, my wife will divorce me, I'll be out on the street and become one of the homeless."
The irony is if Self #1 (ego) puts so much pressure on Self #2 (your unconscious self and body) that when Self #2 chokes that serve in the tie-breaker, Self #1 has the audacity to berate Self #2: "You stupid idiot! Loser!" Wow, there's justice. Who put the pressure on whom?
The remedy to this tragic-comedic dialogue between the selves is for the ego to get off the body's back. To let go of the ego's attachment to results, winning, status, and self-esteem. To trust the body isn't the idiot loser the ego thinks it is. How true, I was thinking, as I was reading this again. But then I thought, "So how come I haven't been able to implement this principle very well in all these years?"
And there's the rub, isn't it. Most of us have a gut feeling we're trying too hard, and instinctively, we know it's losing us matches (as well as affecting us off the court). So we tell ourselves not to try so hard. But unless you've truly dropped your attachment to winning and the esteem you think it brings, this becomes a circular argument. Because if you win the argument with your ego--and now you've vowed through sheer will-power you won't try so hard, well, what is that but the ego sneaking through the back door of your mind, saying, "Hey, look at me now!-I'm going to be non-attached and therefore win more matches. Maybe my rating will even go up!"
After reading The Inner Game again after all this time, I still find Gallwey's practical methodology for "letting go" elusive. In the middle chapters, Gallwey has some interesting tips on concentration, visualization, and non-judgmental analysis. All good stuff, which deserves more attention at a later date. But after closing the book, I had that same feeling of being a bit lost on how to achieve all the ideals of non-attachment that lead to the joy of hitting (and the joy of being). Ah, but before I elicit more letters of sympathy, let me say I have been making some progress on the Inner Game (more on how later).
Is tennis 90 percent mental, as many claim? I realize, not everyone agrees--including some on the TennisONE staff. They don't care how much joy of being someone has inside their heart and soul if they don't know how to hit a forehand correctly, these people are going to lose a lot of matches and quickly run low on joy. So what's your view, 90-10 mental to physical? 50-50? Okay, I won't cop out: I say about 60-40, mental to physical. Unless it's set-point, and then it's 99.9 percent mental.
To be honest, I thought Gallwey had gone the way of Elvis, a legend but dead. But lo and behold, Gallwey lives. He has written five "Inner" books, with the latest being The Inner Game of Work, published in 2000 (which I'm reading next). We have such a large population of avid tennis players out there, I wonder if anyone has seen Gallwey lecture in the past few years? I would love to hear about your experience and your thoughts on Gallwey 29 years after The Inner Game was first published. By the way, The Inner Game is out of print, but if you want to pick up a dirt-cheap copy (mine cost about $2.00), go to the greatest used book store online: www.powells.com.
Thanks very much for all the emails responding to my first idea for building a new, powerful brand for tennis, "Restore the Green World." I'll circle back to discuss this subject again and respond to some of the suggestions from that dialogue. But as always, I would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
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