Book Review: ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ by Timothy Gallwey

By 23rd January 2020 Coaching Skills Tips

The Inner Game of Tennis: About the Book

I’m an avid user of LinkedIn. Every now and then someone will post asking for recommendations for business books that those in Learning and Development ought to read. Without hesitation, I duly recommend Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis. Invariably I’ll get a response wondering how a book about tennis can help people learn about business or people development.

Overcoming Mental Obstacles

Well, as the author himself asserts, this is not really a book about tennis. Rather, The Inner Game of Tennis is about overcoming mental obstacles to performance. Whether that performance is in sport, at work or in some other area of life.

I came to it as a business coach exploring the origins of modern coaching. Much of our current approach can be traced back to Tim Gallwey and this inconspicuous little book first published in 1974. The Inner Game of Tennis started an ‘Inner Game’ series which now includes The Inner Game of Golf and The Inner Game of Work.

The Inner Game of Tennis, Book Cover

The Inner Game – From Tennis to Business

Over the course of ten chapters, the book challenges many assumptions around the virtue of trying and the importance of winning.

I found nugget after nugget, including the line:

‘I discovered that the opponent in my own head is far more formidable than the one the other side of the net’.

The parallels with business are obvious. How many worn-out salespeople or nervous presenters are defeated by the opponent in their own head?

Gallwey says that when we have a conversation in our own heads, it follows that one person is talking and one person is listening. He calls them Self 1 and Self 2. Playing The Inner Game of Tennis is about the quietening the doubts and judgements of Self 1. This allows Self 2 to get on with the instinctive business of learning and improvement. It struck me that I was, therefore, asking coaching questions to two people. Consequently, my coaching changed as a result of reading it. My questions changed to appeal to Self 2. They became about getting my clients to learn from their own experience, not to judge, describe or evaluate.

Final Thoughts

I found The Inner Game of Tennis a very thought-provoking book. A book which I needed to read more than once for all of the subtle information to sink in. However, it was well worth doing so.


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Matt Somers

About Matt Somers

Matt Somers – Coaching Skills Training Ltd is a specialist training consultancy focused on the idea of the manager as coach. We operate throughout the UK and beyond and are determined to work in partnership with our clients to ensure that what is intended is achieved. We have a wide and varied client list including the likes of HSBC and Citigroup. We try to leave a footprint and as advocates of the coaching approach work hard to make sure clients are able to continue developing the skills learned long after any initial project has finished. Matt Somers is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD. His LI profile is at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattsomers/ and his website is at www.mattsomers.com

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