Anything untrue isn't there to be lived

Quotes from Inner Game of Tennis

These are all the best quotes I could pull from The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by Timothy Gallwey.

In this book, System 1 ~ Self 2 and System 2 ~ Self 1.

I was beginning to learn what all good pros and students of tennis must learn: that images are better than words, showing better than telling, too much instruction worse than none, and that trying often produces negative results.

Getting it together mentally in tennis involves the learning of several internal skills: 1) learning how to get the clearest possible picture of your desired outcomes; 2) learning how to trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures; and 3) learning to see “nonjudgmentally”— that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening. This overcomes “trying too hard.” All these skills are subsidiary to the master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved: the art of relaxed concentration.

On judgment/evaluation being "add-ons" to the event or experience:

What is important to see here is that neither the “goodness” nor “badness” ascribed to the event by the players is an attribute of the shot itself. Rather, they are evaluations added to the event in the minds of the players according to their individual reactions. [...] What I mean by judgment is the act of assigning a negative or positive value to an event. In effect it is saying that some events within your experience are good and you like them, and other events in your experience are bad and you don’t like them.

On the power of simply observing what is:

“Your backhand is all right,” I said reassuringly. “It’s just going through some changes. Why don’t you take a closer look at it.” We walked over to a large windowpane and there I asked him to swing again while watching his reflection. He did so, again taking his characteristic hitch at the back of his swing, but this time he was astounded. “Hey, I really do take my racket back high! It goes up above my shoulder!” There was no judgment in his voice; he was just reporting with amazement what his eyes had seen.

What surprised me was Jack’s surprise. Hadn’t he said that five pros had told him his racket was too high? I was certain that if I had told him the same thing after his first swing, he would have replied, “Yes, I know.” But what was now clear was that he didn’t really know, since no one is ever surprised at seeing something they already know. Despite all those lessons, he had never directly experienced his racket going back high. His mind had been so absorbed in the process of judgment and trying to change this “bad” stroke that he had never perceived the stroke itself.

Looking in the glass which mirrored his stroke as it was, Jack was able to keep his racket low quite effortlessly as he swung again. “That feels entirely different than any backhand I’ve ever swung,” he declared. By now he was swinging up and through the ball over and over again. Interestingly, he wasn’t congratulating himself for doing it right; he was simply absorbed in how different it felt.


“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’ve done for me. I’ve learned more in ten minutes from you than in twenty hours of lessons I’ve taken on my backhand.” I could feel something inside me begin to puff up as it absorbed these “good” words. At the same time, I didn’t know quite how to handle this lavish compliment, and found myself hemming and hawing, trying to come up with an appropriately modest reply. Then, for a moment, my mind turned off and I realized that I hadn’t given Jack a single instruction on his backhand! “But what did I teach you?” I asked. He was quiet for a full half-minute, trying to remember what I had told him. Finally he said, “I can’t remember your telling me anything! You were just there watching, and you got me watching myself closer than I ever had before. Instead of seeing what was wrong with my backhand, I just started observing, and improvement seemed to happen on its own. I’m not sure why, but I certainly learned a lot in a short period of time.” He had learned, but had he been “taught”? This question fascinated me.

I can’t describe how good I felt at that moment, or why. Tears even began to come to my eyes. I had learned and he had learned, but there was no one there to take credit. There was only the glimmer of a realization that we were both participating in a wonderful process of natural learning.

On visualizing the desired outcome more than how or what you're doing:

During a group lesson with five women, I asked each player what one change she would most like to make in her game. The first woman, Sally, wanted to work on her forehand, which she said “had really been terrible lately.” When I asked her what she didn’t like about her forehand, she replied, “Well, I take my racket back too late and too high, and I roll it over too much on the follow-through; also I take my eye off the ball a lot, and I don’t think I step into it very well.” It was clear that if I were to give her instruction on each element she mentioned, I would start and end the lesson with her.

So I asked Sally what she felt about the results of her forehand, and she replied, “It goes too shallow and doesn’t have much power.” Now we had something we could work with. I told her that I imagined her body (Self 2) already knew how to hit the ball deep and with more power, and that if it didn’t, it would learn very quickly. I suggested that she imagine the arc the ball would have to take to land deep in the court, noticing how high over the net it would pass, and hold that image in her mind for several seconds. Then, before hitting some balls, I said, “Don’t try to hit the ball deep. Just ask Self 2 to do it and let it happen. If the ball continues to fall shallow, don’t make any conscious effort to correct. Simply let go and see what happens.”

The third ball Sally hit landed a foot inside the baseline. Of the next twenty, fifteen landed in the back quarter of the court and did so with increasing force behind them. As she hit, the other four women and I could see all the elements she had mentioned changing appreciably and naturally; her backswing lowered, her follow-through flattened, and she began flowing into the ball with balance and confidence. When she was finished hitting, I asked her what changes she had made, and she replied, “I didn’t make any. I just imagined the ball passing two feet over the net and landing near the baseline, and it did!” She was both delighted and surprised.


The changes that Sally made in her forehand lay in the fact that she gave Self 2 a clear visual image of the results she desired. Then she told her body in effect, “Do whatever you have to do to go there.” All she had to do was let it happen.

On boggling as a method of learning:

Although it is obvious that we can learn a great deal by watching better players play tennis, we have to learn how to watch. The best method is to simply watch without assuming that how the pro swings is how you should be swinging. In many cases, for a beginner to try to swing like a pro would be like asking a baby to walk before it has crawled. 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.

On surrendering to the present moment:

The first step is to forget all the ideas you may have in your mind about what is wrong with it as it is. Erase all your previous ideas and begin serving without exercising any conscious control over your stroke. Observe your serve freshly, as it is now.

On why it's hard for System 2 to let go:

When you try hard to hit the ball correctly, and it goes well, you get a certain kind of ego satisfaction. You feel that you are in control, that you are master of the situation. But when you simply allow the serve to serve itself, it doesn’t seem as if you deserve the credit. It doesn’t feel as if it were you who hit the ball. You tend to feel good about the ability of your body, and possibly even amazed by the results, but the credit and sense of personal accomplishment are replaced by another kind of satisfaction. If a person is out on the court mainly to satisfy the desires and doubts of ego, it is likely that in spite of the lesser results, he will choose to let Self 1 play the major role.

Summary of Inner Game Steps

  1. Nonjudgmental observation
  2. Picture the desired outcome
  3. Trust System 1 (Self 2)
  4. Observation of change and results

There is no "trying" to let go. Just letting go.

There was a time at the beginning of my exploration of the Inner Game that I found myself able to let go of almost all conscious effort on my serve and as a result the serve just seemed to serve itself with rare consistency and power. For a period of about two weeks 90 percent of my first serves went in; I didn’t serve a single double fault. Then one day my roommate, another professional, challenged me to a match. I accepted, saying half jokingly, “But you better watch out, I’ve found the secret to the serve.” The next day we played and I served two double faults the first game! The moment I tried to apply some “secret,” Self 1 was back in the picture again, this time under the subtle guise of “trying to let go.” Self 1 wanted to show off to my roommate; it wanted the credit. Even though I soon realized what had happened, the magic of the spontaneous, effortless serving didn’t return in its same pure form for some time.

Giving System 2 something to pay attention to:

Watching the ball means to focus your attention on the sight of it. 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. The practice of watching the seams produces interesting results. After a short time the player discovers that he is seeing the ball much better than when he was just “watching” it. When looking for the pattern made by the seams one naturally watches the ball all the way to one’s racket and begins to focus his attention on it earlier than before. The ball should be watched from the time it leaves the opponent’s racket to the time it hits yours.

The instructions I gave students were very simple. “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.” Saying the words out loud gave both me and the student the chance to hear whether the words were simultaneous with the events of bounce and hit. As the student said “bounce … hit … bounce … hit … bounce … hit … bounce …,” not only would it keep his eyes focused on four very key positions of the ball during each exchange, but the hearing of the rhythm and cadence of the bouncing and hitting of the ball seemed to hold the attention for longer periods of time.

On letting your natural Reinforcement Learner take hold:

Through this experience I learned how effective the remembering of certain sounds can be as a cue for the built-in computer within our brains. While one listens to the sounds of his forehand, he can hold in his memory the sound that results from solid contact; as a result, the body will tend to repeat the elements of behavior which produced that sound.

On the importance of felt senses:

It would be useful for all tennis players to undergo some “sensitivity training” with their bodies. The easiest way to get such training is simply to focus your attention on your body during practice. Ideally, someone should throw balls to you, or hit them so that they bounce in approximately the same spot each time. Then, paying relatively little attention to the ball, you can experience what it feels like to hit balls the way you hit them. You

On the other senses:

As far as I know, taste and smell are not crucial to successful tennis. You can practice these if you like during your meal after your tennis match.

Other motivations or "games" you could be playing instead of the Inner Game:

1) Trying to prove oneself good enough and avoid feeling inadequate.
2) Trying to be perfect or compare oneself to a high standard.
3) Trying to be better than others.
4) Trying to look good, to be praised and have attention.
5) Wanting status and to associate with other high-status people.
6) Wanting togetherness, acceptance, and being with friends; avoiding ostracization.

Other motivations that are harmonious with the Inner Game:

7) Wanting fun, enjoyment.
8) Wanting to learn and grow.

My own attitude toward competition went through quite an evolution before I arrived at my present point of view. As described in the last chapter I was raised to believe in competition, and both playing well and winning meant a great deal to me. But as I began exploring Self 2’ s learning process in both the teaching and playing of tennis, I became noncompetitive. Instead of trying to win, I decided to attempt only to play beautifully and excellently; in other words, I began to play a rather pure form of Perfect-o. My theory was that I would be unconcerned with how well I was doing in relation to my opponent and absorbed solely in achieving excellence for its own sake. Very beautiful; I would waltz around the court being very fluid, accurate and “wise.”

But something was missing. I didn’t experience a desire to win, and as a result I often lacked the necessary determination. I had thought that it was in the desire to win that one’s ego entered the picture, but at one point I began to ask myself if there wasn’t such a motivation as an egoless desire to win. Was there a determination to win that wasn’t an ego trip and didn’t involve all the fears and frustrations that accompany ego trips? Does the will to win always have to mean “See, I’m better than you”?

On the value of competition:

“Yes, but the real point for the surfer is to get into the flow of the wave and perhaps to achieve oneness with it.” But then it hit me. Dad was right; the surfer does want to ride the wave to the beach, yet he waits in the ocean for the biggest wave to come along that he thinks he can handle. If he just wanted to be “in the flow,” he could do that on a medium-size wave. Why does the surfer wait for the big wave? The answer was simple, and it unraveled the confusion that surrounds the true nature of competition. 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 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.

On the role of the opponent:

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.


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.

If I assume that I am making myself more worthy of respect by winning, then I must believe, consciously or unconsciously, that by defeating someone, I am making him less worthy of respect. I can’t go up without pushing someone else down. This belief involves us in a needless sense of guilt. You don’t have to become a killer to be a winner; you merely have to realize that killing is not the name of the game. 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.

On the acceptance of life and death:

I was faced with an interesting choice. I would freeze if I remained in the car, so I had to decide whether to walk forward into the unknown in the hope that a town might be around the very next corner, or to walk back in the direction from which I had come, knowing that there was certain help at least fifteen miles back. After deliberating for a moment, I decided to take my chances with the unknown. After all, isn’t that what they do in the movies? I walked forward for about ten steps and then, without thinking, pivoted decisively and walked back the other way.

After three minutes, my ears were freezing and felt as if they were about to chip off, so I started to run. But the cold drained my energy quickly, and soon I had to slow again to a walk. This time I walked for only two minutes before becoming too cold. Again I ran, but again grew fatigued quickly. The periods of running began to grow shorter, as did the periods of walking, and I soon realized what the outcome of these decreasing cycles would be. I could see myself by the side of the road covered with snow and frozen stiff. At that moment, what had first appeared to be merely a difficult situation began to look as if it was going to be my final situation. Awareness of the very possibility of death slowed me to a stop.

After a minute of reflection, I found myself saying aloud, “Okay, if now is the time, so be it. I’m ready.” I really meant it. With that I stopped thinking about it and began walking calmly down the road, suddenly aware of the beauty of the night. I became absorbed in the silence of the stars and in the loveliness of the dimly lit forms around me; everything was beautiful. Then without thinking, I started running. To my surprise I didn’t stop for a full forty minutes, and then only because I spotted a light burning in the window of a distant house.

Where had this energy come from that allowed me to run so far without stopping? I hadn’t felt frightened; I simply didn’t get tired or cold. As I relate this story now, it seems that saying “I accepted death” is ambiguous. I didn’t give up in the sense of quitting. In one sense I gave up one kind of caring and was imbued with another. Apparently, letting go of my grip on life released an energy that paradoxically made it possible for me to run with utter abandon toward life.

“Abandon” is a good word to describe what happens to a tennis player who feels he has nothing to lose. He stops caring about the outcome and plays all out. It is a letting go of the concerns of Self 1 and letting in of the natural concerns of a deeper and truer self. It is caring, yet not caring; it is effort, but effortless at the same time.

We have talked about gaining more access to Self 2 and about getting out of our own way so that we could perform and learn better in whatever outer games we choose to play. Focus, trust, choice, nonjudgmental awareness were all recommended as tools for this end. But one question has not been raised. What does it mean to win the Inner Game?

A few years ago, I might have tried to answer this question. Now I choose not to— even though I think it is the most important question. Any attempt to define an answer to this question is an invitation to Self 1 to form a misconception. Self 1, in fact, has come a long way if it has gotten to the point where it can admit, and mean it, that it doesn’t know and never will. Then the individual has more of a chance to feel the need of his own being, to follow the inner thirst and to discover what is truly satisfying. That my Self 2 will be the only one who knows— that there will be no external credit or praise— is something I greet with relief.

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