• Toby Sinclair

The Inner Game of Tennis Summary by Timothy Gallwey

Updated: Jul 8


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⭐ Toby's Rating: 7/10 - Recommended For: Leaders


3 Big Ideas 💡


The three big ideas from this Inner Game of Tennis Summary

  1. The simple idea underpinning the book is that human beings do not actually have a single mind, they have two. They have a conscious mind and an unconscious mind, with both systems underpinned by different neural circuitry, and the interaction between these two different systems might hold the key not just to success in sport but too much else in life besides.

  2. It is the thesis of this book that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game.

  3. A less directive approach to teaching can lead to better outcomes. Tap into the natural learning processes within people. You can do this by observing and noticing what's happening.


2 Best Quotes from The Inner Game of Tennis 💬


I too admit to overteaching as a new pro, but one day when I was in a relaxed mood, I began saying less and noticing more. To my surprise, errors that I saw but didn’t mention were correcting themselves without the student ever knowing he had made them.
Peak performance is a function of a still mind.

Tobys Top Takeaway


It's easy to assume that the best way for people to learn is from experts. Timothy Gallwey shares first-hand experience how giving people advice is not always the best way to learn. Instead observing, noticing and creating the space for natural learning is a better approach. Fans of sport and leaders looking to improve will enjoy this book. For any sceptics about a coaching style of leadership, this book will help provide real-life examples.


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Big Ideas Expanded 💡


The big ideas from the Inner Game of Tennis summary expanded.



It is easy to assume that experts must tell novices what to do. Timothy Gallwey highlights how by saying less and observing more the natural learning process occurs:

I too admit to overteaching as a new pro, but one day when I was in a relaxed mood, I began saying less and noticing more. To my surprise, errors that I saw but didn’t mention were correcting themselves without the student ever knowing he had made them.

In fact, a more directive approach to teaching often led to worse outcomes:

It was an even greater blow when I realized that sometimes my verbal instructions seemed to decrease the probability of the desired correction occurring.

The key skill for coaches is to build the skills of observation:


“I can’t remember your telling me anything! You were just there watching, and you got me watching myself closer than I ever had before. Instead of seeing what was wrong with my backhand, I just started observing, and improvement seemed to happen on its own.

In short, if we let ourselves lose touch with our ability to feel our actions, by relying too heavily on instructions, we can seriously compromise our access to our natural learning processes and our potential to perform.


For the teacher or coach, the question has to be how to give instructions in such a way as to help the natural learning process of the student and not interfere with it.

The Discovery of the Two Selves


The Inner Game of Tennis is based on the idea that humans have two selves. An emotional and rational self. The techniques shared throughout the book focus on how to engage less with self 1 and more with self 2.

Now we are ready for the first major postulate of the Inner Game: within each player the kind of relationship that exists between Self 1 and Self 2 is the prime factor in determining one’s ability to translate his knowledge of technique into effective action. In other words, the key to better tennis—or better anything—lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the natural capabilities of Self 2.

Inner Game 2 Selves

Source: https://www.fyooturecoaching.com/en/senza-categoria-it/are-you-aware-of-your-inner-game/

Timothy Gallwey shares three habits that top performers adopt:

  1. Create the clearest possible picture of your desired outcomes

  2. Trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures;

  3. See “nonjudgmentally”—that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening.

All these skills are subsidiary to the master habit: the art of relaxed concentration.


The act of being nonjudgmental is explored throughout The Inner Game of Tennis. When we “unlearn” judgment we discover, usually with some surprise, that we don’t need the motivation of a reformer to change our “bad” habits. We may simply need to be more aware.


The author share this great metaphor:

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.

Traditional Learning vs Inner Game of Tennis Arppaoch

  1. Criticize or Judge Past Behavior vs Observe Existing Behavior Nonjudgmentally

  2. Tell Yourself to Change, Instructing with Word Commands Repeatedly vs Picture Desired Outcome

  3. Try Hard; Make Yourself Do It Right vs Let It Happen! Trust Self 2

  4. Critical Judgment About Results Leading to a Self 1 Vicious Cycle vs Nonjudgmental, Calm Observation of the Results Leading to Continuing Observation and Learning

The Importance of Focus

Peak performance is a function of a still mind.


As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here.


Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past.

Perhaps the most indispensable tool for human beings in modern times is the ability to remain calm in the midst of rapid and unsettling changes.