The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis summary

In tennis (and life), people equate performance with self-worth, will their body to perform, and get frustrated when it doesn’t. The Inner Game of Tennis is a methodology of learning and performing best by quieting the mind, letting go of mental self-instructions, and trusting the body's natural inner intelligence.

The Inner Game of Tennis notes & quotes

Here are my notes and quotes on The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. My notes are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas, and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.

1: Reflections on the Mental Side of Tennis

  • The Inner Game of Tennis is about developing the mental skills for high performance.
    “Images are better than words, showing better than telling, too much instruction worse than none, and that conscious trying often produces negative results.
  • When a person has a “hot streak,” they lose it once they try to maintain it.

2: The Discovery of Two Selves

  • “Every player has two selves: One, the “I,” seems to give instructions; the other, “myself,” seems to perform the action. Then “I” returns with an evaluation of the action. For clarity, let’s call the “teller” Self 1 and the “doer” Self 2.”
  • “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.”
  • Here’s the problem: “Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though the unconscious, automatic self is extremely competent.”
  • When Self 1 overthinks and tries too hard, tension and muscle conflict in the body.
  • Our goal is the Zen concept of “effortless effort.”

3: Getting it Together

  • The ego-mind's constant Self 1 thinking interferes with the natural doing process of Self 2. “Only when the mind is still is one’s peak performance reached.”
  • “Quieting the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering, or distracting. The mind is still when it is totally here and now in perfect oneness with the action and the actor.”
  • Quieting the mind tends to be a gradual process requiring letting go of mental habits acquired during childhood.
  • The first step is learning to let go of the human tendency to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad.
  • “When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, concentrated play.”
  • Judgment assigns a negative, such as “bad,” or positive, such as “good,” value to an event.
  • “Thus judgments are our personal, ego reactions to the sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts within our experience.”
  • Once Self 1 has judged several actions either negatively or positively, it is likely to begin generalizing.
  • “Instead of saying ‘You were nervous on that point,” it generalizes, “You’re the worst choke artist in the club.”
  • “First, the mind judges the event, then groups the events, then identifies with the combined event, and finally judges itself.”
  • “These self-judgments become self-fulfilling prophecies.”
  • A hypnotic trance occurs: “You become what you think.”
  • “Letting go of judgment does not mean ignoring errors.”
  • The first step is to see your actions as they are without judgment.
  • Only when the mind is still, and free of thought or judgment does it act like a perfect mirror. “Then and only then can we know things as they are.”
  • “There is a natural learning process which operates within everyone—if it is allowed to.”
  • The subtle ego mind is forever seeking approval while avoiding disapproval and sees a compliment as a potential criticism.
  • Judging one event as positive makes it impossible not to judge other events as negative.
  • Nonjudgmental awareness means seeing life as it is without adding mental commentary.

4: Getting It Together

  • The human body is a remarkable creation; within it is a staggering inner intelligence.
  • The trick to not getting upset is not to identify with your actions as a reflection of who you are. You are not your backhand any more than a parent is his child. In other words, you are not your body.
  • High performance is about holding in your mind what a high-performing action looks like and then allowing the body to do what is necessary to make it happen.
  • One of the problems of judgment is that it feeds on and extends itself until a strong negative self-image has formed.

5: Master Tips

  • “The perfect strokes are already within us waiting to be discovered. When I and my students think of strokes as being discovered rather than manufactured, they seem to learn the game much faster and without frustration.
  • “Simplicity is the key to consistency.”
When you eliminate ego involvement in your actions, you eliminate frustration.

6: Changing Habits

  • “It is the process of changing habits that most players experience the greatest difficulty. When one learns how to break a habit, it is a relatively simple matter to learn which ones to break. Once you learn how to learn, you have only to discover what is worth learning.”
  • “We never repeat any behavior which isn’t serving some function or purpose.
    If we think a bad habit controls us, we will feel we have to try to break it. Setting up a struggle like this makes it difficult to change old habits.
  • “Awareness of what I, without judgment, is relaxing and is the best precondition for change.”
  • “Both positive and negative thinking inhibit spontaneity.”
  • If you want to do something, it is essential to experience it. Don’t intellectualize it.
  • See how it feels to ask yourself to do something and let it happen without conscious trying.
  • The more confidence you have in the beautiful machinery of the human body, the more capable it seems to become.
  • As soon as you try to make yourself relax, true relaxation vanishes, “and in its place is a strange phenomenon called ‘trying to relax.’ Relaxation happens only when allowed, never as a result of “trying” or “making.”

7: Concentration

  • “The quiet mind cannot be achieved by means of intellectual understanding. Only by the experience of peace in a moment when the mind is relatively still is one sufficiently encouraged to let go more completely the next time.”
  • “Concentration is the act of focusing one’s attention. As the mind is allowed to focus on a single object, it stills. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm.”
  • The mind tends to wander but is attracted to objects in motion, such as the breath.
  • “Concentration is fascination of mind.” When love is present, the mind is drawn toward the objects of love. “It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and purposeful.”
  • Thinking about how you should move makes it almost impossible to see or feel anything well. “Forget should’s and experience is.”
  • “Consciousness is that which makes all things and events knowable. Without consciousness, eyes could not see, ears could not hear, and mind could not think.”
  • “Attention is focused consciousness, and consciousness is that power of knowing.”
  • “Nothing can be enjoyed or appreciated if it cannot be known. Beauty cannot be enjoyed unless one can know it.”
  • Meditation is the most effective way I know of developing concentration.
  • Anxiety can be relieved by consciously paying attention to breathing.

8: Games People Play on the Court

  • We live in a culture of achievement where we are only good and worthy of respect when we do things successfully.
  • “We are what we are; we are not how well we happen to perform at any given moment.”
  • If I win a match, I’m not more than I was before. And if I lose a match, I’m no less than I was before.

9: The Meaning of Competition

  • “The need to prove that you are better than someone else is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.”
  • The worst in a person comes out when competition is used to create a self-image relative to others. It is then that ordinary fears and frustrations are exaggerated.
  • Competition would not be problematic if self-image were not at stake.
  • Many believe their self-worth depends on their performance, so playing well and winning become life-or-death.
  • The tragedy is that they will not realize the love and self-respect they were led to believe would come with success.
  • The more challenging the obstacle, the greater the opportunity for discovering our true potential. “Obstacles are a necessary ingredient to this process of self-discovery.”
  • “Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached.”
  • “True competition is identical with true cooperation. In true competition, no person is defeated.”
  • “I don’t worry about winning or losing the match, but whether I am making the maximum effort during every point because I realize that that is where the true value lies.”
  • Maximum effort means “concentration, determination, and trusting your body to ‘let it happen.’”
  • “The Inner Game frees the player from concern about the fruits of victory; he becomes devoted only to the goal of self-knowledge, to the exploration of his true nature as it reveals itself on level after level.”

10: The Inner Game Off the Court

  • “Thus, there are two games involved in tennis: one, the outer game played against the obstacles presented by an external opponent and played for one or more external prizes; the other, the Inner Game, played against internal mental and emotional obstacles for the reward of increasing self-realization—that is, knowledge of one’s true potential.”
  • “Whereas our external goals are many and various and require the learning of many skills to achieve them, the inner obstacles come from only one source and the skills needed to overcome them remain constant.”
  • “Perhaps the most indispensable tool for man in modern times is the ability to remain calm in the midst of rapid and unsettling changes.”
  • “Calmness does not mean lack of concern; it means the ability to separate the real from the unreal and thereby to take sensible action.”
  • We become freer to the degree that we can turn annoyances and apparent obstacles to our advantage in the inner game.
  • Instead of improving ourselves and living up to some ideal, our effort should be to become more aware of the beauty of what we already are.
  • Paradoxically, we perform best when we release attachment to the results of our actions.
  • Use each moment to increase your understanding of yourself and life.
  • What we ultimately seek is that which we can love and that which offers complete satisfaction.
  • Sincerity and determination are your most valuable assets.
  • The goal of the Inner Game is to be found within, to be free.

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts, and concepts mentioned in The Inner Game of Tennis, which might be helpful for further learning.


  • D. T. Suzuki
  • Eric Berne
  • Robert S. De Ropp

Books and Publications

  • Zen in the Art of Archery by D. T. Suzuki
  • Games People Play by Eric Berne
  • The Master Game by Robert S. De Ropp