Probably 80% of the people are unwilling to give up their ego and a sense of control, so they wouldn’t try Inner Game coaching.

Tim Gallwey wrote about a student whose serve he improved dramatically in one lesson. The next week, the guy (a lawyer) came back hitting the old serve. When asked why he went back to a serve so clearly inferior to what he had learned, and the guy replied that he didn’t like the feeling of not being in control.

The people who came to me over the years were through word of mouth and they we usually people who were desperate to improve and had tried everything else first.

But being desperate to learn and willing to give up ego doesn’t mean people can read the Inner Game and experience illumination. It’s the old story of when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I read the Inner Game in 1977 as a player struggling with the mental game, and couldn’t absorb the wisdom in the book. I didn’t try the exercises, but without a guide who can see the student’s thought patterns, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it.

7 years later, after I had quit the circuit and started teaching, I grew bored with quickly by repeating the same instructions to my students. I still don’t know how it happened, but I spoke about this frustration to a casual friend who also taught tennis. He took me on the court and guided me through my first Inner Game exercise. It completely blew my mind, and I could finally understand everything that was written in the book.

Trying to explain the Inner Game almost feels like trying to talk a person through an LSD trip, or imparting the wisdom you’ve had as a parent to someone who hasn’t had a child yet.

There are these levels of experience and awareness that can’t be communicated unless you can do a Vulcan mind meld.

What makes Inner Game learning unique is the way the exercises ask the student to give verbal feedback while they hit balls. The feedback is usually in the form of a number from 1 to 5 than represents how much they feel a specific part of their body is moving. By hearing the student’s body awareness feedback, the teacher can get inside the student’s head and continue asking the student different questions which eventually helps the student make comparisons between different movements

Even writing it here sounds complicated and unnatural. Perhaps it doesn’t even make sense.

The essence of these exercises can be categorized as guided body awareness, but the guidance is completely hidden from the student. The whole goal is to get the student to feel their body in a way they’ve never done before. As the body collects more and more of these feelings, patterns begin to emerge and the students connects various feelings with how well the ball is hit and where it goes.

When we remove all the noise the mind produces, we allow the body to become a learning machine, it’s amazing how fast the body will consistently do the movements that feel the best, which corresponds with hitting the best shot. Our bodies do what feels good naturally, and it’s amazing how quickly a student can progress using this approach.

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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