Timothy Gallwey and mental coaching origins


A tennis playing friend told me about this guy : Timothy Gallwey. Since then, I got interested in the importance of the mental dimension in Sport, but also in daily life. How to stay focused and never give up ? Easy to say… here are some keys.

The Inner Game

This article takes inspiration in Brian Johnson’s video summary of the famous book « The Inner Game », plus my personal touch.

The inner game is is one of the two games that take place in every action / sport / work. There is the inner game, and the outer game. The outer game is about every thing that can be seen : the score, the stature of the player. The inner game is about the mental dimension that is behind every move or action. Knowing that, Timothy encourages us to discover this too often forgotten inner game.

1 – Self one + self two : « me » conscious, « me » unconscious

According to Brian and Tim, we are made of two « selves » : the self conscious mind, and the unconscious mind.

The self-conscious mind is the one we are working on every time. When training, the coach tells you to watch the position of your hands, you correct this position using your self conscious mind. That said, it is difficult to watch for several points at the same time when making a move. The self-conscious mind could be compared in size with a post-it. The point to work on should then be simple, clear, and accurate.

The unconscious mind is quieter. It acts in many unconscious actions, e.g we know how to walk : no need to think about how to move each feet. While walking, we are even able to breath, and speak…

What a great « unconscious mind » ! It deals with everything, at the same time, without even having to think about it ! We could compare it to a NASA’s super computer. The problem is that we don’t trust him enough. In sport for example, we are always searching for a perfect control of every move, despite it is way more simple to let the body control these moves.

In summary, we learn the move step by step due to the self-conscious mind, exercise by exercise. Then, we can rely on the unconscious mind to do his business, in competition for example.

To rely on it will help the mind to relax.

To win this « inner game », one must trust its unconscious mind.

How to do so ? By relaxing its « self-conscious mind », that’s the next point.

2 – Quiet : Relaxing the mind

What makes our mind busy every time ? We never stop judging our self. « I failed this move, I’m not breathing properly ». This attitude is not the one to have in order to relax the mind and approach performance and the perfect move.

Timothy offers another method  :

At Tennis, I throw the ball in the net. That’s a neutral information. It is neither good or bad. Ok, the ball is in the net, I must hit higher. That’s it. No judgement about quality, no observation of any fail, or any other negative approach.

It’s necessary to set new rules, where one doesn’t judge but where one observe things in an objective way :

  • The move is perfect : congratulate yourself « what a move ! »
  • The move is good : ok, good work
  • The move failed : « I have to work » Think quickly about how the perfect move should have been like, and go on.

This is the reload principle. We do it again without judging the previous shot.

3 – Act the part : Luke, I’m your father !

Did you always want to be a jedi ? Then, go for it ! Ok, I’m going too far, but not that much.

Imagine that a film director comes to you so you act as a great swimmer in his next movie. One asks you to act as what it is. You are a high level swimmer, before an important race. You’re wearing your headset on, and the national team bathrobe, we are calling you, you greet the public, you head to the starting block. Don’t be afraid, we’re not going to capture the dive, and the swimming. We’re filming everything that comes before, when you are 100% confident.

Embody the values asked to the best, and you won’t be using the self-conscious mind anymore ! Act as you were the best and you will attract the best for you, and around you.

4 – Challenges : key of the motivation !

Let’s take a surfer. He’s choosing a wave. He’s excited by the challenge that it represents. That challenge is an opportunity for him to show his skills. Whether it’s for himself, or for others. All the intelligence of the surfer takes in the choice of the wave to take. He’s not going to ride a small wave. He’s not going to ride a huge wave. He will fulfill himself the more in a wave that matches to his skills. He will stick to what Americans call the « flow ».

Graph above shows exactly what we are talking about. In order to stay in the flow, you will have to find the challenge that fits to your skills. If it’s not challenging enough, you get bored. If it’s too challenging, you get anxious.

Challenges are great and essentials. They allow us to stay motivated. Competition allow us to give the best of our self at a precise time, it’s also a good way to stay in the flow.

5 – Don’t fight : bad habit ?

The last point is more discrete to Timothy. In summary, he exposes the fact that there are no bad habits, there are only new habits. He links his thinking with the eternal « it was better before ».

If we don’t create new habits, the sport, the gesture, the practice of the activity won’t evolve.

Time is the proof : everything tends to evolve. Don’t be afraid of adaptation of a gesture to your style, to your skills.

Conclusion : Test it now

We’ve seen five keys to move forward, in order to win that inner game, and I hope that this will help you. I will finish this article by sharing a personal experience, taken from Timothy. The video below is an ultimate example that shows that the unconscious mind is very powerful, and that we under estimate it every time.

During my first tennis class, given by my friend Benoit Groult, I was asked to focus on the bounce of the ball, and on hitting time. At these moments, I pronounce a word, which helps me to focus on these two moments, and nothing else. That being done, I don’t have any time to judge myself. I just keep watching the ball. This tennis class was a revelation for me in the awareness of my inner super calculator.

Here’s the video, and just try it !

Thank you Adrien Loisel for the translation in english 😉

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