The Inner Game of Tennis Mindset

The inner game of tennis is a wonderful lesson in sports psychology for tennis players. Timothy Gallwey wrote the “Inner Game of Tennis” many years ago and it was a groundbreaking book at the time in tennis instruction and sports psychology. You should read the inner game of tennis if you have not.

Gallwey says that tennis players must achieve skill mastery, which means you must learn the fundamentals of tennis in order to master your inner game. When you play your best tennis, he would say your mind is quiet with no interference caused by your own self-coaching or over-analysis, such as “keep your eyes on the ball” or “bend your knees.”

The inner game of tennis theory states that two opposing mindsets battle for supremacy. A quite tennis mind allows your performance to flow from creativity. However, when your tennis mind is overactive, you force your game.

Gallwey sums up his theory about the inner game of tennis:

  • Self One: The “teller” tennis mind filled with self-judgments and criticism. This mindset wants to over-control your performance.
  • Self Two: The “doer” mindset is the best mindset for peak performance in tennis and happens when you are free and react with your game. This mindset allows you to let it happen.

Gallwey’s goal was to help students stop the attack of self one so self two can be free to hit shots intuitively. He used an example in “The Inner Game of Tennis.” He would have his students repeat cue words, such as “back-hit” to suspend the trying/analytical mind (self 1) so the creative mind (self 2) could do the job without restrictions.

“The key to better tennis–or better anything–lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the unconscious, automatic doer, Self 2.”
~Tim Gallwey

Most tennis players will perform their very best when the mind is quiet (not overactive) and focused. You’ll both excel in this mindset and have the most fun. I apply the Inner Game of Tennis principles with my students. I teach my students about two important mindsets: a learning mindset and a performance mindset.

When in a learning or practice mindset, you are trying to improve your strokes, which is necessary to improve your game. Here is one big problem with this mindset: perfectionistic tennis players get “stuck” in the practice mindset and fall in love with perfecting their technique.

When you are playing with a trusting or performance mindset, you allow your skills to “happen” instinctively based on what you’ve learned in practice. The performance mindset is the quiet mind that Gallwey talks about as self 2, which allows you to perform instinctively. When playing in the trusting mode, your performance is on automatic pilot.

With your inner game of tennis during tournaments, the take away lesson is you have to play in the performance mindset. Don’t get trapped by the practice mindset during tennis matches. You’ll spend more time coaching yourself and analyzing your strokes, which will slow you down on the court. You want to have a good balance between the performance and practice mindsets to set the foundation for a good inner game of tennis!