Book Notes: Inner Game of Tennis

Quick summary

To succeed in the outer game, one has to excel in the inner game of the mind. The key to mastering the inner game is to practice the art of relaxed concentration. This involves visualizing the desired outcome, silencing the judgments from Self 1, and enabling Self 2 to let it happen.


  • The inner game is the one that takes place in the mind. It is the source of excellence and performance. I believe excellence in the outer game will remain elusive unless the inner game is mastered.  However, mastery of this skill is not easy. It requires us to address various challenges such as lapses in concentration, self doubt, self judgment, and nervousness. 
  • To excel at the inner game, one has to be master the art of relaxed concentration and avoid the trap of trying too hard. A calm mind that is one with the body, releases the kind of spontaneous performance that can surpass one’s own limits. It becomes the true basis for self-confidence.
  • Everyone appears to have two selfs within them. One that is telling them what to do, and the other does what needs to be done. Let’s call them Self 1, the teller and Self 2 the doer. Self 1 is the one that initiates effort, but it is Self 2 that that actually does the work when it’s called upon.
  • Self 2 is the embodiment of who we are. It includes the muscles, the nervous system, the unconscious mind. As Timothy put it, Self 2 “hears everything, never forgets anything, and is anything but stupid.” Despite this, Self 1 doesn’t trust Self 2. Why this is so, I am not entirely sure. The book doesn’t attempt to elaborate on the reason. 
  • Self 1 is the ego mind, always looking for approval and wanting avoid disapproval. 
  •  An individuals performance depends on the relationship between Self 1 and Self 2. When Self 2 is allowed to flourish, we find ourselves “in the zone” and in a state of relaxed flow. This is the state where the most growth and success can be unlocked.
  • Self 2 is all about doing. Doing is training. Doing is learning. It’s training the muscles, the neurons and the unconscious that participated in bringing about that performance. 
  • The energy of Self 1 is to try hard whereas the energy of Self 2 is effort. Effort is not same as trying hard. Effort is about engaging Self 2 to act and do without trying hard.
  • To enable Self 2 to flourish, we need to practice the art of relaxed concentration. This achieved by mastering 3 specific skills: 1- developing a clear picture of the desired outcome, 2 – trusting Self 2 to perform its best by “letting it happen”, 3 – seeing things as they are by quieting the judgmental mind.
  • In essence this requires us the slow down and quiet the mind. Quieting the mind mean we think less and become completely present in the actions of the now.
  • Judgment is the act of assigning negative or positive value to an event. Judgment requires thinking and therefore involves Self 1. This clouds us from being able to see things as they are. Negative judgments are especially unhelpful. Constant self-judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Over time it starts to influence our self-identity and we begin to become what we think.
  • Removing judgment allows us to see things and more importantly feel things as they are.
  • Knowing is not feeling. Rather its the reverse, feeling is knowing.
  • To calm the mind is to complete eliminate the judgmental mind. 
  • When doing, silence the judgmental mind and let it happen. Letting it happen is not making it happen. It’s simply letting the body do what it has to do.
  • Silencing the judgmental mind allows Self 1 to truly appreciate Self 2. It creates a sense of harmony and trust in Self. This becomes the basis for true self-confidence.
  • Learning by doing. But as you do, visualize how it’s done. Let Self 2 learn by observing. Perhaps for knowledge work, this is where seeing the example of the work, example of the execution is the most meaningful.
  • Change your attitude to have Self 1 look up to Self 2 instead of looking down on it. Self 1 should have a feeling of admiration and humility towards Self 2.
  • Words train the Self 1, but not Self 2. In fact, verbal and written instruction can only help Self 1 learn to be more judgmental. Visualization is the key to accessing Self 2.
  • Paint the vision and desired destination the student’s mind and let them feel their way to it.
  • The Inner Way of Learning
    • STEP 1   Observe existing behavior non-judgmentally
    • STEP 2   Picture desired outcome
    • STEP 3   Let it happen! Trust self 2
    • STEP 4   Nonjudgmental, calm observation of the results leading to continuing observation and learning”

Favorite Quotes

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”

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