Inner game of tennis

After rereading Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Work I picked up its predecessor The Inner Game of Tennis. It’s a delightfully slim book and so far it might be even better.

He tells a lovely story about coaching a businessman who struggles with his backhand. He tells Gallway that he keeps raising his arm too high on the backswing. He knows he does. Five previous coaches have told him. In a practice, session, Gallwey sees this for himself.

So Gallwey, on a whim, invites the guy to try again this time looking at his reflection in a pane of glass. “Oh,” he says, “I really do raise my backswing high!” Soon after this experience, with no further instructions, his backhands begin to get a lot better.

Gallwey is really onto the shadow games that go on in teaching or coaching relationships. Pupil has to play the role of ignorant learner while teacher plays knowledgeable and often condescending expert. The pupil overtly honours the set up by dutifully repeating the lessons as truth – in this case saying “I know my backswing is too high”. Turns out that he doesn’t really know that at all! My guess is that he’s really just trying to conform to the pupil-teacher game by playing obediently.

Only when he get to see it for himself, does something shift.

The guy goes on to thank Gallwey effusively. Gallwey asks him what he taught him. The guy replies that he doesn’t know. I felt quite touched by Gallwey’s conclusion:

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 had both participated in a wonderful process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.