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

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 cover by W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

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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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