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Inner Game

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

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The timeless guide to achieving the state of “relaxed concentration” that’s not only the key to peak performance in tennis but the secret to success in life itself—part of the bestselling Inner Game series, with more than one million copies sold!

“Groundbreaking . . . the best guide to getting out of your own way . . . Its profound advice applies to many other parts of life.”—Bill Gates, GatesNotes (“Five of My All-Time Favorite Books”)
This phenomenally successful guide to mastering the game from the inside out has become a touchstone for hundreds of thousands of people. Billie Jean King has called the book her tennis bible; Al Gore has used it to focus his campaign staff; and Itzhak Perlman has recommended it to young violinists. Based on W. Timothy Gallwey’s profound realization that the key to success doesn’t lie in holding the racket just right, or positioning the feet perfectly, but rather in keeping the mind uncluttered, this transformative book gives you the tools to unlock the potential that you’ve possessed all along.
“The Inner Game” is the one played within the mind of the player, against the hurdles of self-doubt, nervousness, and lapses in concentration. Gallwey shows us how to overcome these obstacles by trusting the intuitive wisdom of our bodies and achieving a state of “relaxed concentration.” With chapters devoted to trusting the self and changing habits, it is no surprise then, that Gallwey’s method has had an impact far beyond the confines of the tennis court.
Whether you want to play music, write a novel, get ahead at work, or simply unwind after a stressful day, Gallwey shows you how to tap into your utmost potential. No matter your goals, The Inner Game of Tennis gives you the definitive framework for long-term success.

134 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1974

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About the author

W. Timothy Gallwey

32 books143 followers
W. Timothy Gallwey (born 1938 in San Francisco, California) is an author who 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. Gallwey's seminal work is the The Inner Game of Tennis, with more than one million copies in print.[1] Besides sports, his training methods have been applied to the fields of business, health, and education.[1]

In 1960, Gallwey was captain of the Harvard University Tennis Team. In the 1970s he learned the meditation techniques of the Divine Light Mission's Guru Maharaj Ji, which Gallwey said enhanced his powers of concentration in a manner that improved his game.[2] In a 1973 New York Times article he described his discovery of Maharaj Ji and his decision to live in an ashram and practice celibacy.[3] In 1997, Gallwey dedicated his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, to him.[4]

The "inner game" is based upon certain principles in which an individual uses non-judgmental observations of critical variables, with the purpose of being accurate about these observations. If the observations are accurate, the person's body will adjust and correct automatically to achieve best performance.[5] Gallwey was one of the first to demonstrate a comprehensive method of coaching that could be applied to many situations, and found himself lecturing more often to business leaders in the U.S. than to sports people.[6]

Tim Gallwey's work went on to found the current movement in business coaching, life coaching and executive coaching. One of the most well known exponents of business coaching is Sir John Whitmore, who popularised Graham Alexander's and Alan Fine's "GROW" model of the coaching process.[6]

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 is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,527 reviews
4 reviews
August 1, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Urban Sedlar.
5 reviews8 followers
September 26, 2013
By reading the title you'd think it's about tennis, but it only touches it. It talks more about the inner game of *everything*. First, it breaks down the Self into Self 1, which is basically your thinking brain (always analyzing and judging), and Self 2, which is your "feeling and doing" brain. The book gives ample evidence (that's also quite easy to relate to) that Self 2 can master almost everything in a short amount of time, while being "in the flow", if only Self 1 doesn't interfere. Thus, the inner game mostly deals with quieting your thinking brain; there seems to be a bunch of strategies, the simplest one simply being "focusing your attention on something, so your thinking brain is occupied and can't interfere".
Author also gives an interesting perspective on winning, derived from surfers. Surfers want to ride the biggest wave not to beat it, but to prove to themselves they've done their absolute best. Same should be true of any game, and instead of hoping your opponent will make a mistake, you should be hoping they won't, so you'll be faced with the greatest challenge that will allow you to grow the most. If only this book were as easy to apply as it was to read :)
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
January 24, 2021
I don't play tennis or really any sport at all, but I picked up this book because it was recommended for everyone. I think I agree that this book is for everyone. There's probably 1/2 of the book that is specifically tennis-focused, but the rest is mindfulness and allowing your body and mind to learn without judgement or commentary. To shut the internal voice and just focus on the task at hand.
Profile Image for Emma Scott.
Author 34 books7,834 followers
January 21, 2018
ETA: My husband's Goodreads account is inexplicably linked to mine. So when he finishes a book, his review shows up here. I have not read this book but I trust the reviewer. He's pretty keen. ;)

His review:

An enlightened view

Some simple and profound insights. Practical and theoretical guidance on the power of attention and focus, and the pivotal role these essential skills play in the game of tennis and the game of life. Highly recommend. A swift and engrossing read with lasting value.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
623 reviews28 followers
August 5, 2016


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 Observation
Step 2: Picture the Desired Outcome
Step 3: Trust Self 2
Step 4: Nonjudgmental Observation of Change and Results

To 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.
Profile Image for Anthony Mazzorana.
226 reviews6 followers
February 21, 2018
It’s Buddhism, secularized and westernized and applied to sports. Bloody brilliant if you ask me.
Profile Image for Yevgeniy Brikman.
Author 4 books611 followers
September 5, 2020
A fantastic read that's far less about tennis and far more about how to learn any skill or ability. It is remarkably well written; concise and straight to the point, without the filler material you find in most business books; and a useful read for just about everyone.

Here are some of the key insights I got:

Self1 and Self2

- When you're learning something, you typically have an inner voice: you might be telling yourself things like, "keep your eyes on the ball" or "you fool, how did you mess that up again?" Here's an important question: who is talking to whom? You might say, "I'm talking to myself." Well, in that case, you could look at it as a conversation between two people: in this book, the "I" telling you what to do is "self1" and the "myself" receiving instructions is "self2."

- Self1 is your talkative, conscious side; self2 is your more quiet, unconscious, automated side. The thesis of this book is that self2 is remarkably good at learning—so long as you can trust it and let it do its thing by stopping interference from self1. If you can quiet self1, then self2 will, almost magically, do the rest.

- Side note: there's a lot of overlap here with the "system 1" and "system 2" proposed by Daniel Kahneman (as summarized in Thinking, Fast and Slow), but The Inner Game of Tennis was written several decades earlier!

Stop judging, start observing

- One of the keys to quieting self1 is to get it to stop making judgments, such as "you fool, how did you mess that up again?" Note that not making judgments is not the same as ignoring the truth or deluding yourself. You absolutely want to see the truth, but the goal is to see events as they are without adding anything to them. "I hit 50% of my first serves into the net" is an observation. Saying "I hit 50% of my first serves into the net so I'm bad at tennis" is a judgment. Observing is essential; adding labels like "bad" to your observations isn't.

- Learning is a process of constant growth and change, and there's no good or bad about it. Not only do labels and judgments like "good" and "bad" not help, they actively interfere with self2's natural ability to learn, so learning how to observe without judging is essential.

- Side note: being able to observe and state facts without judgment or labels was also one of the key ingredients to successful communication in Nonviolent Communication.

- Side note: make sure to check out the rose analogy in the quotes section below. It's remarkably well written and does a far better job of explaining this concept.

- Note that not being judgmental is also NOT about "positive thinking." Positive labels (e.g., "good") interfere with self2 just as much as negative labels. That's because you can't hear a compliment (positive label) without being aware of it's opposite, so you get one compliment, start hoping for another, and if you don't get it, you assume the opposite is true, and you're back to the negative labels. So it's not about replacing bad judgments with good judgments, but about removing judgments altogether and solely observing.

Stop giving instructions, start visualizing

- Another key to quieting self1 is to get it to stop giving instructions to self2. It's very common for self1 to be constantly telling self2 how how to do something: e.g., "keep your wrist straight and follow through." However, these instructions are in language, which self2 doesn't really speak; and besides, much gets lost in translation from actions to words.

- It's more effective to visualize the result you want, and self2 will figure out the how all by itself.

- Therefore, the key to learning is to (a) visualize what you want, without giving instructions and (b) observing what you're actually doing, without judgments. Repeat this again and again, and self2 will figure things out remarkably quickly.

Habits and focus

- Stopping old habits is very hard. Starting new ones is easier.

- Most of us have a habit where self1 judges and gives instructions all the time. Instead of merely trying to stop this habit, you should try to replace it.

- One of the best ways to replace self1's habits is through focus. For example, focus your attention on the seams of the ball as it spins. Focus on the sound the ball is making. Focus on how the racket feels in your hand. Focus on your breath (a big technique in yoga and meditation!). It's not about controlling your breathing; it's about taking self1 and giving it something to focus on—giving it a new habit—so it doesn't spend all its time judging or instructing.

The role of competition

- The value of winning is directly proportional to the difficulty of everything you had to overcome to win. The harder the goal, the more obstacles you have to overcome, the more skill you have to use, the more satisfying the victory.

- The point of competing is to give each competitor the biggest obstacles. It's not about ego or showing off. It's about the fact that the better the competition, the more it draws the best out of you.

- Side note: see the (long) quote I copied about this in the quotes section, as it's quite brilliantly written and explained.


I saved some of my favorite quotes from the book. It's very, very well written, so it was a challenge not to copy down half the book :)

“Perhaps this is why it is said that great poetry is born in silence. 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.”

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless”. We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”

“The surfer waits for the big wave because he values the challenge it presents. He values the obstacles the wave puts between him and his goal of riding the wave to the beach. Why? Because it is those very obstacles, the size and churning power of the wave, which draw from the surfer his greatest effort. It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities. At that point he often slips into a superconscious state and attains his peak. In other words, the more challenging the obstacle he faces, the greater the opportunity for the surfer to discover and extend his true potential. The potential may have always been within him, but until it is manifested in action, it remains a secret hidden from himself. The obstacles are a very necessary ingredient to this process of self-discovery. Note that the surfer in this example is not out to prove himself; he is not out to show himself or the world how great he is, but is simply involved in the exploration of his latent capacities. He directly and intimately experiences his own resources and thereby increases his self-knowledge.

From this example the basic meaning of winning became clear to me. 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. Once one recognizes the value of having difficult obstacles to overcome, it is a simple matter to see the true benefit that can be gained from competitive sports. 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? He is a friend to the extent that he does his best to make things difficult for you. Only by playing the role of your enemy does he become your true friend. Only by competing with you does he in fact cooperate! No one wants to stand around on the court waiting for the big wave. In this use of competition it is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you, just as it is yours to try to create obstacles for him. Only by doing this do you give each other the opportunity to find out to what heights each can rise.

So we arrive at the startling conclusion that true competition is identical with true cooperation. Each player tries his hardest to defeat the other, but in this use of competition 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. Like two bulls butting their heads against one another, both grow stronger and each participates in the development of the other.

This attitude can make a lot of changes in the way you approach a tennis match. In the first place, instead of hoping your opponent is going to double-fault, you actually wish that he'll get his first serve in. This desire for the ball to land inside the line helps you to achieve a better mental state for returning it. You tend to react faster and move better, and by doing so, you make it more challenging for your opponent. You tend to build confidence in your opponent as well as in yourself and this greatly aids your sense of anticipation. Then at the end you shake hands with your opponent, and regardless of who won you thank him for the fight he put up, and you mean it.”

“Thus, there are two games involved in tennis: one the outer game played against the obstacles presented by an external opponent and played for one or more external prizes; the other, the Inner Game, played against internal mental and emotional obstacles for the reward of increasing self-realization-that is, knowledge of one's true potential. It should be recognized that both the inner and outer games go on simultaneously, so the choice is not which one to play, but which deserves priority.”
Profile Image for Nicolay Hvidsten.
152 reviews41 followers
July 19, 2018
I bought this book twice, if that's not a testament to its quality I don't know what is.

Immediately after I finished listening to the audio book version I went over to amazon and once more gladly gave them my money in exchange for a physical copy. 'Why?' you ask? Because this is not a book you read once, then forget about. This is a book that needs to be absorbed over time, then put aside while you contemplate its messages and let them grow, before once more picking it back up and solidifying what you understood on the first pass, and finding other gems buried beneath your initial lack of understanding.

I followed this process, but the audio book format isn't really suited for this kind of reading, so I decided to order a physical copy as well. I gladly pay twice for something of this quality.

This book pretends to be about tennis, but is in reality about something else entirely. This book is about connecting with your unconscious (referred to as self two in this particular book,
Adam Two in the interesting, yet unsatisfactory The Road to Character by David Brooks, and by many other names in various texts throughout the ages) and it uses the medium of tennis to accomplish this.

I find it entirely fascinating how confusing these topics can be to the intellectual mind before it finally clicks and everything seems so obvious you cannot fathom how concepts like "letting go" and "non-judgement" didn't really mean anything to you before. This transition unfailingly comes through experience rather than logical reasoning however, which I'm betting is the reason why it's so elusive.

I've read Tolle, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Frankl, Burkeman, Pressfield, and Lao Tzu - all talking about the same kind of concepts that Gallwey discusses in this fantastic piece of writing, and while it was Gallwey that pushed me over the edge I think it was all the other writers that pointed me in the direction of the edge in the first place.

Gallwey, much like Herrigel does in the magnificent Zen in the Art of Archery, discusses the familiar Buddhist concepts of letting go of judgement and negativity and observing thoughts and emotions, but through the lens of sport, which somehow finally made it make sense to me. If you've ever practiced a sport and truly felt 'in the zone' then this experience will be the anchor you need to absorb the potentially abstract topics covered by Gallwey.

I'll be forever grateful for finding this book, and I suspect it'll be on my nightstand for many years to come.
Profile Image for Mario Tomic.
159 reviews319 followers
November 21, 2014
Honestly this is one of the best book I've ever read, it really spoke to me on so many different levels. If you've played any sports or games you know what it feels like to be In The Zone, everything is flowing and you play the best you've ever played. This state is familiar to most of us but what is preventing us from being in the zone every game? Well, this book addresses that exact issue and I found it extremely valuable to help me reach a new level for my gym workouts. One other thing I really like about this book is that it speaks about the importance of natural effortless learning which is so much powerful than consciously trying to learn a new skill. Definitely check out this book, it's loaded with value.
80 reviews
November 3, 2018
This book could have been a short essay. While I believe in the idea presented there are better books on the same topic such as "Flow". This might have be a popular and original book when it first came out but it is no longer.
Profile Image for Valeriia Arnaud.
274 reviews34 followers
May 4, 2021
Я с большим скепсисом отношусь к американскому селф-хелпу, и честно приготовилась перечитывать одну и ту же фразу с разной расстановкой слов на каждой из 100+ страниц, но охрана отмена.

Если начать с начала, то эту книгу прочесть мне поручила ортофонистка, с которой я работаю над произношением. Казалось бы, при чем здесь теннис к моему акценту? На самом деле теннис здесь ничто иное как контекст, такая себе декорация, которую можно заменить чем угодно - любым видом спорта или же каким-либо процессом, включающим в себя обучение.

Во "Внутренней игре" без воды объясняется о ментальном настрое, с которым получится веселее и эффективнее освоить нужный навык, и описанные в ней тезисы очень перекликаются с техниками как самосострадания, так и медитации (?). Будь добрее к себе, помни о своей истинной цели, дай себе время, не ругай и не захваливай себя, обучайся играть в теннис (или нужное вставить) так же, как ребенок, который учится ходить - наблюдая и повторяя увиденное. Это максимально сжатые идеи изложенные во "Внутренней игре". Даже не верится, что книга с таким добрым посылом была написана в годы, когда достигаторство было единственной религией.

Словом, я приятно удивлена. Хотя, согласно поднимаемым в книге тезисам, мне и занятия по устранению акцента, оказывается, не нужны.
Profile Image for Cav.
703 reviews101 followers
October 21, 2022
"Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game. The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal.
Mastering this game is the subject of many books offering instructions on how to swing a racket, club or bat, and how to position arms, legs or torso to achieve the best results. But for some reason most of us find these instructions easier to remember than to execute..."

The Inner Game of Tennis was an interesting book, but unfortunately, I did not enjoy it nearly as much as some other books I've read about the performance mindset...

Author W. Timothy Gallwey 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 this one, The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Music (with Barry Green), Inner Skiing and The Inner Game of Work. Besides sports, his training methods have been applied to the fields of business, health, and education.

W. Timothy Gallwey:

Gallwey writes with a somewhat decent style here, and the book is not too long. The new edition of the book I have features a new foreword by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, which was a nice touch.

However, and despite the author telling the reader that the book won't be too focused on the mechanics of tennis - quite a lot of tennis mechanics are discussed...

The author lays out the book's thesis early on:
"It is the thesis of this book that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game. This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance."

The book outlines a "self 1" and "self 2" dichotomy, that's basically analogous to the conscious and subconscious mind. Basically; the conscious and critical "self 1" can often impede the innate performance of the subconscious "self 2." Gallwey summarizes:
"In short, if we let ourselves lose touch with our ability to feel our actions, by relying too heavily on instructions, we can seriously compromise our access to our natural learning processes and our potential to perform. Instead, if we hit the ball relying on the instincts of Self 2, we reinforce the simplest neural pathway to the optimal shot.
Though this discussion has been primarily theoretical up to this point, it has recently been confirmed by the United States Tennis Association Sports Science Department, as well as by almost everyone’s experience, that too many verbal instructions, given either from outside or inside, interfere with one’s shotmaking ability. It is also common experience that one verbal instruction given to ten different people will take on ten different meanings.
Trying too hard to perform even a single instruction not well understood can introduce awkwardness or rigidity into the swing that inhibits excellence..."

He closes the book with this quote:
"Regarding the Inner Game with capital letters, i.e., the development and applications of the methods and principles articulated in the Inner Game books, I believe they will become more and more important during the next century. I honestly believe that during the past few hundred years, mankind has been so absorbed with overcoming external challenges that the essential need to focus on inner challenges has been neglected...
...In short, I believe we are still just at the beginning of a profound and long-needed rebalancing process between outer and inner."


I did enjoy this short presentation, but as mentioned above; there are other, better books on the topic.
There was also quite a lot of esoteric tennis minutia presented here, despite the author saying there wouldn't be.
Thankfully this one was not too long...
3 stars.
Profile Image for Divya Shanmugam.
74 reviews13 followers
November 29, 2020
This book is about relaxed concentration and what it can do for your performance, in anything really. He makes the same distinction between ego & self that a lot of other books do (Power of Now, Second Mountain, How to Change Your Mind), but in contrast spends more time on how the two relate to learning, competing, and winning.

I really like how he talks about how competition fits into this framework. I've equated competition with comparison for a long time and the "Meaning of Competition" chapter changed my mind. Basically, he argues that the "egoless desire to win" exists and that competition creates meaningful wins. It's funny because in that case your opponent is both crucial and irrelevant to the outcome. You could find and replace tennis with research and it all makes sense lolol. This chapter by itself is what made me really like it!!

two quotes:
- "I would say that the natural learning process is so encoded, and that we would do well to acknowledge and respect it."
- “How can the quality of one’s tennis assume such importance that it causes anxiety, anger, depression and self-doubt?”
9 reviews2 followers
July 25, 2010
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!
Profile Image for Fiona.
37 reviews
July 28, 2023
1 star, the book is really boring, I gave it start during vacation, but wasn't able to finish it
Profile Image for Tigran Mamikonian.
70 reviews12 followers
May 25, 2015
The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Galloway is one of the best book I’ve ever read. Tim wrote this book in 70s and since then this book became classics, it even kicked off new profession - coaching…
The key idea of the book is that all of us are perfect from birth to death, so only limitation to achieve full potential are self-limitation we put on ourselves by being judgmental, unfocused and egocentric. Tim illustrates this by saying that in ourselves there are 2 selves: Self 1 - teller, thinker, criticizer, and Self 2 - doer.
So to achieve full potential Self 2 need to get freedom and some support from Self 1, otherwise it is stuck in its development. So Self 1 should just non-judgmentally observe, create image of success, be confident and let the Self 2 act!
The key is to enable such cooperation between Self 1 and Self 2 is to make Self 1 to focus on something so that it is not blocking Self 2. So for tennis one could: watch the ball closely, listen the ball, feel the shots and at last feel own breathing.
And in the end of the book Tim explains that he is not about “positive thinking” and “self-improvement”… the main idea of the book is that there is only now when we can truly live in, so to get most out of it one need to focus. So instead of learning to focus to improve tennis, author recommends to practice tennis to improve one’s focus.
Highly recommend this book to everyone, sure will be revisiting it to understand deeper the ideas presented in such a metaphoric way!
Here is my mind map for my reference, hope will be helpful for you too (see here)
Profile Image for Stacey.
122 reviews11 followers
May 18, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Ryan.
184 reviews26 followers
June 27, 2008
Definitely a worthwhile read for the athlete and non-athlete alike (but especially for the athlete). Some amazing insights given that this book preceded all of the empirical work within the field of psychology concerning the dual role of the conscious vs. unconscious mind in shaping behavior. The most difficult part is figuring out how to institute some of the suggestions in specific situations (especially in other sports). Most of the examples are of course heavily dependent on the tennis medium, but there is no reason they couldn’t be adapted for other sports. The focal point to always keep in mind is that the unconscious mind is especially well-suited for processing tremendous amounts of information at once, which is exactly what training muscles to coordinate into complex motions requires. Most of the techniques Gallwey describes are simply ways to get your conscious mind out of the way so you can let the correct motor learning system take over. Not a difficult book to understand, but nearly impossible for many athletes to actually enact. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled to experience the true joy that comes with playing sports.
Profile Image for Daiva Sindaravičiūtė.
14 reviews5 followers
July 24, 2019
I picked up this book since primarily I was interested to learn more about tennis. By reading the title you'd assume that it's purely about tennis, yet tennis is used as an example.

This book explains more about the inner game of “everything”.The book breaks down the Self into Self 1, which is basically your thinking brain (judging), and Self 2, which is your "feeling" brain.

Author also gives an interesting perspective on winning, derived from surfers. Surfers want to ride the biggest wave not to beat it, but to prove to themselves they've done their absolute best. Same should be true of any game, and instead of hoping your opponent will make a mistake, you should be hoping they won't, so you'll be faced with the greatest challenge that will allow you to grow the most.

This book spoke to me on so many different levels.
Profile Image for Claire Lee.
202 reviews18 followers
June 14, 2021
What a fantastic book. Broadly applicable to life. Some key learnings:
- Self 1 is your ego and judgmental self, Self 2 is your innate, child like, unconscious self. Get Self 1 out of the way, and let Self 2 take over
- Rather than judging yourself and telling yourself to just do something, instead: 1) observe behavior nonjudgmentally, 2) picture desired outcome, 3) let it happen and trust self 2, 4) nonjudgmentally observe results
- There's a variety of games that are played on the court, outside of actual tennis - desire for perfection, to be better than others, attention, friendship, health, enjoyment, or learning - which games are you playing?
- Focus is the key to getting out of your ego and instead living in the present, enjoying the moment, being aware of what's going on and your body
Profile Image for Lucas.
81 reviews2 followers
August 16, 2021
It was okay. It’s good that this book was short. Some good concepts that I will remember, but I mostly do these things already. Being objective when things go wrong in a match is important. Avoid these things:

Judgement - Bad backhand shot
Grouping - My backhands are bad
Generalising - I am a lousy tennis player

Do not judge shots. Be a subjective observer. “I hit that shot out because I wanted to hit it too close to the line. Next time I should aim more inside the court.”

“You don’t criticise a small seed for not being a beautiful rose. You give it water and watch it grow.”
Profile Image for John.
252 reviews2 followers
June 16, 2018
Wow, thanks Made You Think podcast. I was so short sight in avoiding this and thinking I needed to focus instead on technique and the physical.

This book is life changing, I will be reading and re-audiobooking it soon.
Profile Image for Henry.
121 reviews25 followers
September 9, 2022
I’m stunned that this was written in 1974 because the ideas are entirely relevant to today. This book should be required reading for everyone, and I hope to revisit it.

My biggest question when reading is how the insights applies to knowledge work — since it’s all about using the mind, which feels like Self 1. The clearest analogy is doing a presentation or a leadership review, but I’m certain the lessons apply to daily work and meetings too. It’ll just require continued reflection.

I hesitate to summarize because there’s so much wisdom and nuance, but hopefully writing these bullets can me synthesize and put the lessons into action:

1. There’s an outer game (points, opponent, competition, the serve) and an inner game (mental) in tennis and everything in life.

2. The inner game has extraordinary impact on the outer game, and we need to calm and manage Self 1 (the conscious ego) and develop trust in Self 2 (you and your potential).

3. Manage Self 1 by abandoning judgment, good or bad. Bad judgement and negative self talk causes anxiousness and hurts performance, but good judgement is also counter productive.

“If the shot is evaluated as good, Self 1 starts wondering how he hit such a good shot; then it tries to get his body to repeat the process by giving self-instructions, trying hard and so on. Both mental processes end in further evaluation, which perpetuates the process of thinking and self-conscious performance. As a consequence, the player’s muscles tighten when they need to be loose.” (p. 19)

“Positive and negative evaluations are relative to each other. It is impossible to judge one event as positive without seeing other events as not positive or as negative.” (p. 29)

4. Instead of judging, focus on interested but detached observation:

“Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.” (p. 20)

“To formulate technique while watching the pro or by trying to imitate too closely can be detrimental to your natural learning process. Instead allow yourself to focus on whatever most interests you about the movements of the pro you are watching. Self 2 will automatically pick up elements of the stroke that are useful to it and discard what is not useful.” (p. 67)

5. It’s tempting to use Self 1 to exert control on Self 2, but it can be counter productive. Instead, aim for relaxed concentration.

“The more you let yourself perform free of control on the tennis court, the more confidence you tend to gain in the beautiful mechanism that is the human body. The more you trust it, the more capable it seems to become.” (p. 80)

“Relaxation happens only when allowed, not as a result of “trying” or “making.” Self 1 should not be expected to give up its control all at once; it begins to find its proper role only as one progresses in the art of relaxed concentration.” (p. 81)

“I have found that the most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle, not easily perceived. It’s easy to see the ball, but not so easy to notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins.” (p. 84)

“The best way is to allow yourself to get interested in the ball. How do you do this? By not thinking you already know all about it, no matter how many thousands of balls you have seen in your life. Not assuming you already know is a powerful principle of focus.” (p. 85)

6. Analogies to parenting and management

“But you are not your backhand any more than a parent is his child. If a mother identifies with every fall of her child and takes personal pride in its every success, her self-image will be as unstable as her child��s balance. She finds stability when she realizes that she is not her child, and watches it with love and interest—but as a separate being. This same kind of detached interest is what is necessary to let your tennis game develop naturally. ” (p. 38)

7. On confidence and self worth:

“We live in an achievement-oriented society where people tend to be measured by their competence in various endeavors...the underlying equation between self-worth and performance has been nearly universal…What is required to disengage oneself from this trap is a clear knowledge that the value of a human being cannot be measured by performance—or by any other arbitrary measurement.” (p. 107-8)

8. Not being judgmental doesn’t mean not being competitive.

a. Competition is the opportunity for one to be “involved in the exploration of his latent capacities. He directly and intimately experiences his own resources and thereby increases his self-knowledge.” (p. 120)

b. Competitors are your biggest allies, you want them to do well because it gives you the opportunity to experience your potential: “So I arrived at the startling conclusion that true competition is identical with true cooperation. Each player tries his hardest to defeat the other, but in this use of competition 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.” (p. 121)

c. Competition is about exerting maximum effort: “Today I play every point to win. It’s simple and it’s good. I don’t worry about winning or losing the match, but whether or not I am making the maximum effort during every point because I realize that that is where the true value lies.” (p. 122)
Profile Image for Daniel.
7 reviews
September 25, 2020
Eu não leio muitos livros, mas este acabou de se tornar num dos meus favoritos.
O que começa como uma reflexão sobre (maus) hábitos na prática e aprendizagem do ténis, desenvolve-se numa exploração dos diálogos internos do ser humano, seja sobre o desporto, ou sobre o que pensamos e esperamos de nós mesmos.
Razoavelmente curto e muito bem escrito, honestamente não estou a ver alguém a não retirar nada deste livro. No meu caso, retirei imenso, e será certamente um que irei revisitar mais tarde (e eu nem sou de reler livros).
Profile Image for Matt Casale.
7 reviews
July 20, 2020
“Matt you f****ing suck” is a statement I have made constantly in almost every single endeavor I have ever undertaken. I have always been self-critical to arguably an unhealthy degree for reasons I never really understood. I used to think it was merely imitation of my role models (my dad who I am shockingly similar too makes the same statement a lot, especially while competing). However, after reading Gallwey’s book I realize that it is a much deeper struggle between my ego and my natural abilities.

While it may use tennis as a conduit, Inner Game truly focuses on the struggle between Self 1 (that voice in your head that puts you down) and Self 2 (the primal natural learner that we are born as). Over time we develop our Self 1 and allow it to attack Self 2 constantly. We hold ourselves to pointless standards for reasons that we can’t truly explain. But why do we do this? At its core we find working for Self 1 satisfying to our ego, while working for Self 2 can sometimes be unrewarding even if we perform at a higher level. Quieting the mind and performing at a higher level can feel empty without preconceived notions of success or external praise. Therefore, we create games within games to try and praise or critique ourselves. Regardless of the outcome, we almost always come away feeing worse because the praise is often fleeting.

What then should we do? Gallwey suggests that we take pride in the fact that Self 2 is born great. Allowing it to learn new skills through natural learning and not allowing over-critiquing from an outside entity or ourselves leads to a fulfillment. It’s not that winning the advertised goal of the game doesn’t matter, the goal matters because it allows us to find our natural abilities and our potential.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who is struggling to find meaning in a world that feels like we’re separated from those things that provide it to us. The Inner Game provides the framework for us to find the joy in Self 2 and all of its natural beauty without the self-destructive nature of Self 1.

Last note, I took extra joy in finding out from my dad that this was my late grandfathers favorite book. He discovered it when it was first published in 1974 and was a proponent of its way of thinking for the remainder of his life. To have discovered his favorite book on my own gave it even more meaning to me.
75 reviews
May 16, 2019
I generally dislike self-help books, but the Inner Game of Tennis is different. It is concerned as much with philosophy and meditation as it is with tennis, or as it states:

All these skills are subsidiary to the master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved: the art of relaxed concentration. The Inner Game of Tennis will next explore a way to learn these skills, using tennis as a medium.

The book does this quite well, astoundingly so given that it was published about 40 years before corresponding research-based books like Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and Thinking, Fast and Slow were published. Without any scientific guide, the author regales the reader with stories from his own experience, some choice sayings, and his musings on tennis instruction with a corresponding life philosophy. The goal of the book, stated in the quote above, is to postulate that the secret to living successfully is to get out of one's own head, and to convey how to do that (as best as it can).

The Inner Game of Tennis is a short read, unlike many modern books of its ilk, which often take what could be an essay and balloon it to hundreds of pages by way of excessive examples and testimonials. It communicates exactly what it intends and leaves out the fluff. Highly recommended for tennis players, and recommended anyway for non-tennis players who have any desire to obtain an advanced skill.
Profile Image for Shubham  Goel.
118 reviews12 followers
January 27, 2022
This book is a gem for a sports enthusiast like me.

How often do you admonish yourself while playing?
Every mishit or poor judgment is accompanied by a taunt.
“I am not good enough” or “I should probably never play again” are thoughts we experience during games.

The author talks about how to deal with this negative self chatter. According to him, there are two minds, Self 1 and Self 2.

Self 1 was the name given to the conscious ego-mind which likes to tell Self 2, you and your potential, how to play. Self 1 loves to bully Self 2

It’s funny how well we do in warm-up matches instead of actual ones.
This is because Self 1 doesn’t care about these futile matches and Self 2 is allowed to play freely.

The book is more about mindfulness. Creating peace between Self 1 and Self 2 can yield the best results.

Profile Image for Eva.
477 reviews47 followers
October 22, 2012
I am an emotional tennisplayer, which I hate! So when I heard about this book I ordered it immediately. I didn't read it all the way through, but when I felt I needed some support I read some chapters. It really helped! Not that I am as cool on the court as I should be, but it did help me set my mind in the right direction... coping with the other me that always gets mad or dissapointed when I don't hit a ball right. Still have ups and downs, but now that I am more selfaware I can control the emotional bursts, as I like to call them, a lot better!
Profile Image for Margaret Ashton.
74 reviews
September 12, 2017
This book is one of the most important books out there for overcoming our own mental barriers to any activity. It was actually recommended to me by my oboe teacher, but has also been brought up by shooting coaches and, yes, tennis coaches. Definitely worth a read to get great ideas on how to trust your subconscious and overcome your own tendencies to over-think performance - and thereby not perform as well as you can. Highly recommend - for everyone, not just tennis players!
Profile Image for Sergio Reyes Armas.
9 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2019
Woow. Incredible book. It breaks down our selves into two. Self 1 - your analytic side, always judging and caring about what other people think and Self 2, your feeling and doing side. So basically, Self 2 can master everything if Self 1 doesn't interfere. In order to achieve it, you have to learn how to quite your Self 1. The book gives some strategies about how to focus in important moments and also a great perspective about winning and losing.
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