Excerpts courtesy of The Inner Game of Tennis®)0¯
Every Game is composed of Two parts, the physical game and the mental game. The physical game is against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles and to reach an external goal. The game that takes place inside the mind of the player is against such obstacles as; lapses in concentration, nervousness, self doubt, and self-condemnation.
The Inner Game is played to overcome all habits of mind that inhibit excellence in performance. We often wonder why we play so well one day and so poorly the next, or why we choke during competition, or blow easy shots. Why does it take so long to break a bad habit and learn a new one? Victories in the mental game bring valuable rewards that are permanent which contribute significantly to one's success. The player of the mental game comes to master the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills. He discovers a true basis for self-confidence, and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too HARD. He aims at the spontaneous performance that occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at one with the body. The Player finds within this zone of confidence the surprising and easy ability to surpass his previous limits again and again. While overcoming the common hang-ups of competition the player of the mental game uncovers a will to win that unlocks all his energy and is never discouraged by losing.
There is a far more natural and effective process for learning and doing almost anything than most of us realize. It is similar to the process we all used but soon forgot as we learned to walk and talk. It uses the unconscious mind more than the deliberate self-conscious mind. This process doesn't have to be learned; we already know it. All that is required is to unlearn those habits that interfere (enter fear) with it and then to just let it happen. To explore the limitless potential with the human body is the quest to the mental game.
Imagine what goes on inside the mind of an eager student taking a lesson from an equally eager new pro. The mind is churning with sixteen thoughts about what he should be doing and sixteen thoughts about what he shouldn't be doing. Improvement seems dubious and very complex at best. The panacea, or cure all, that is recommended is that with practice you will eventually see a major improvement. Overteaching is something that is a problem. One day when I was in a relaxed mood, I began saying less and noticing more. Errors that I saw but didn't mention were correcting themselves without the student ever knowing he had made them. Why were the changes happening? Sometimes verbal instruction to a conscientious student sometimes decreases the probability of the desired correction occurring. All teaching pros are aware of this phenomena.
Images are better than words. Showing is better than telling. Too much instruction is worse than none. The conscious trying often produces negative results. One question perplexed me: What's wrong with trying? What does it mean to Try too Hard? Reflect on the state on mind of a player who is said to be hot or in the zone. Is he thinking about how he should hit each shot? Is he thinking at all? Listen to the phrases commonly used to describe a player at his best: He's out of his mind; He's playing over his head; He's unconscious; He doesn't know what he's doing. The common factor in each of these descriptions is what might be called mindlessness. There is an intuitive sense that the mind is transcended or at least in part rendered inoperative.
Peak performance never comes when they're thinking about it. In playing out of the mind the player is more aware of everything and is not giving himself much instruction. He is not thinking about how to hit the ball or correct past mistakes or how to repeat what he just did. He is not over trying. He doesn't have to try hard. The best way to describe how a player plays when he is unconscious is that his mind is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing and that it is working without interference of thoughts. This is where the potential starts to be reached.
The ability to approach this state is the goal of the mental game. The development of the mental skill is required. It is the skill of mastering the art of effortless concentration and it is invaluable. Listen to the way players talk to themselves on the court, "come on meet the ball in front of you, relax! Concentrate!" We are interested in what is happening inside the player's mind. Who is telling who what? Most players are talking to themselves on the court all the time saying things like, "Get up for the balls. Keep it to his backhand, Keep your eyes on the ball, Bend your knees." The commands continue endlessly. For some it's like hearing a tape recording of the last lesson playing inside their head. Then after the shot, another thought flashes through the mind and might be expressed as follows, "You clumsy ox your grandmother could play better."
One day I was wondering who was talking to whom. Who was scolding and who being scolded? I'm just talking to myself. Obviously! Then I and "myself" are separate entities or there would be no conversation. One could say that within each player there are two selves, One is the I that seems to give instruction and the other myself which seems to perform the actions. The I returns with an evaluation of the action. The teller is Self! The Doer is Self within each player, the kind of relationship that exist between self1 and self2 is the prime factor in determining one's ability to translate his knowledge of technique into effective action. The key to improving lies in the improving the relationship between the conscious teller self 1 and the unconscious, automatic doer, self 2. The difference between trying hard, the energy of Self1 and the effort the energy used by Self2 to the work necessary.
Getting together mentally in tennis involves the learning of several internal skills; 1. Learning to program your computer Self2 with images rather than instructing yourself with words. 2. Learning to trust "thyself" self2 to do what you self1 ask of it. This means letting self2 hit the ball, 3. Learning to see non-judgementally, that is to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening. This overcomes trying too hard. All these skills are subsidiary to the master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved; ®)9¯THE ART OF CONCENTRATION®):¯.
We have arrived at a key point; it is the constant thinking activity of self1, the ego mind, which cause interference with the natural doing processes of self2. Harmony between the two selves exists when the mind itself is quiet Only when the mind is still is one's peak performance reached. When a tennis player is on his game he's not thinking about how when or even where to hit the ball. He's not trying to hit the ball. After the shot he doesn't think about how badly or how well he made contact. The ball seems to get hit through an automatic process that doesn't require thought. There may be an awareness of the sight sound and feel of the ball and even the tactical situation. The player just seems to know without thinking what to do. When we reflect deliberate and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and thought interferes... the arrow is off the string but does not fly straight to the target nor does the target stand where it is, Calculation, which is miscalculation, sets in ... Man is a thinking being but his great works are accomplished when he is not calculating and thinking. Childlikeness, has to be restored with long years of training in self forgetfulness. The image comes of a cat stalking a bird, Effortlessly alert, no thinking about when to jump, or how to push off, the cat's mind is still and concentrated on his prey. Getting it together requires slowing the mind, less thinking, calculating, 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. It is the purpose of the mental game to increase the frequency and the duration of these moments, Quieting the mind by degrees and realizing thereby a continual expansion of our capacity to learn and perform. The question how can I do it is to just stop. See how long you can remain in a thoughtless state.
Quieting the mind is a gradual process. It involves the learning of mental skills that are reducing habitual patterns of thought. The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad. Letting go of the judging process is a basic key to the mental game. Its meaning will emerge as you read on. When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, concentrated play.
The judgmental mind extends itself, it may begin complaining then extend to generalize the situation then to make the statement personal and degrading in an absolute manner. The results of self judgments become self-fulfilling prophecies, that is, they are communication from self1 about self2 which, after being repeated often enough are believed by self2. Then Self2 acting like the computer it is begins to live up to these expectations. If you tell yourself often enough that you're a poor server a kind of hypnotic process takes place. It is as if Self2 is given a role to play, the role of a bad server. He plays it to the hilt suppressing for the time being his true capabilities. Once the judgmental mind establishes a self identity based on its negative judgments, the role playing continues to hide the true potential of self2 until the hypnotic spell is broken. Most players would do well to heed the wisdom of Ancient Yoga Philosophy: You become what you think. After a number of bad backhands are hit and the player tells himself that he has a bad backhand, or at least his backhand is off and he often goes to a pro to get it repaired. It is my experience that players come to tennis pros in the same frame of mind that patients go to doctors if they are sick and want to be cured. Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them. Non-judgmental awareness might observe that during a certain match you hit 50% of your first serves into the net. It doesn't ignore the fact, It may accurately describe your serve on that day as erratic and seek to discover the causes. Judgment begins when the serve is label bad and causes interference with one's playing when a reaction of anger frustration or discouragement follows. If the judgment process could be stopped with the naming of the event as bad and there were no further ego reactions, then the interference would be minimal. The judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions and then to tightness, trying too hard, self-condemnation, etc.. this process can be slowed by using descriptive but non-judgmental words to describe the events you see.
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 if as a seed providing 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 constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is. In the same way the errors we make can be seen as important part of the developing process. In its process of developing, our tennis game learns a great deal from errors. Even slumps are part of the process.
The first step is to see your strokes as they are. They must be perceived clearly. This can be done only when personal judgment is absent. As soon as a stroke is seen clearly and accepted as it is, a natural and speedy process of change begins.