Book Review – W. Timothy Gallwey (1986). The Inner Game of Tennis, Pan Macmillan Ltd. London
“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.”
W. Timothy Gallwey. The Inner Game of Tennis
This passage is why I chose to review this book as part. With a clear, concise metaphor it describes what it is to be a person, growing and changing over time, developing further through each stage of our lives, always moving towards our full potential and yet at each stage we are always a whole person. The author uses tennis to look at how your ‘Inner Game’, your thoughts, emotions, self judgements, beliefs, attitudes, mindset, confidence levels and all round self awareness informs your ‘Outer Game’, your behaviour, your actions, techniques and strategies. However it is quickly apparent how this applies to every aspect of your life. It touches on all of the self awareness that comes from coaching. The tools and techniques we use in coaching to create awareness around ourselves and our clients. It reflects what the Iceberg Model shows; the impact of all that goes on below the surface on what is displayed above the surface.
It also echoes the concept of ‘flow’ in coaching. How, as coaches, when we are in the ‘flow’ with our client, when they are in the deepest part of their exploration, getting to the core and experiencing great learning both client and coach are almost unconscious, they have no awareness of what is going on around them, they are completely absorbed in the coaching flow. The author describes this in term of when a player is ‘playing in the zone’; ‘Is he thinking at all’; ‘He’s out of his mind’; ‘He’s playing over his head’; ‘He’s unconscious’. It describes how when you are in then flow and not thinking about your next move you reach another level. This is true to being in the flow in coaching.
The author talks about ‘Quieting the Mind’ which looks specifically at the effect of self limiting beliefs and self judgements. How in breaking the cycle and turning them into empowering beliefs we can reach our potential and stop sabotaging ourselves. Similarly in the chapter on ‘Changing Habits’ he discusses how we form habits that keep us from improving and changing. He uses the analogy of how the tennis player swings his racket. With each swing it becomes more engrained in the muscles and the cells of the player so this becomes the automatic way to swing. We form ‘grooves’. In order to reach our potential we need to break the habit and form new grooves. We need to find a new way to swing, explore and look for new options and try them out. See if they work better, if they will take us to where we want to go. Coaching does this in enabling our clients to identify habits or behaviours that don’t serve them, in enabling them to find new awareness around this, come up with options and move through change to get a better result.
The most powerful way this book echoes what coaching brings to our clients is when the author discusses learning techniques. He believes learning isn’t having more information but rather the creation of a pattern of though. When you form a new belief, have a new realisation or understanding of yourself, it causes a shift and this creates the most powerful and sustained learning. This is the core of what coaching brings.
I found reading this book reaffirming. It reaffirmed what I have learned through coaching and about coaching. It confounded how being aware of your ‘Inner Game’ is crucial to your success no matter what aspect of your life you apply it to.
Books that change lives – The Inner Game of Tennis – review by Jennifer Matthews – graduate of the Diploma in Executive and Life Coaching
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