by Vivek
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Review: The Inner Game of Tennis

Learn new skills by playing the inner game.

In the book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’, author Timothy Gallway talks about different aspects of learning (or acquiring) a new skill. He argues that key to acquiring any new skill requires contribution from two distinct entities in your brain, which he calls Self-1 and Self-2. Tennis is simply an example author uses to put forward his ideas and provide demonstration. More so, because he had been a tennis coach and a good player himself. The two selves can loosely be equated to System 1 and System 2 discussed by Daniel Kahneman in his famous book Thinking Fast and Slow. I strongly recommend the latter if you haven’t read it yet.

TL;DR; Watch this video.

I liked the writing and found the author quite agreeable most of the times. Perhaps because he did not attempt to make his descriptions appear scientific and novel by supporting with hasty references. Instead, he chose to start with a fundamental premise that continues through the ten chapters of the book, and supports his ideas based on his personal experience as a learner and coach.

Timothy says that a player when learning a skill or playing a game are actually playing two games. First, she is quite visibly trying to learn or do good in the game by following instructions given by the coach. Second, she is playing an ‘inner game’ which exists in her mind between the two ‘selves’. The ‘Self 1’ which is the calculative, judgemental part which is actively trying to execute the instructions, judge performance, and ‘trying hard’ to make it better. The other ‘Self 2’ which is a detached observer of the game and is making the most natural moves to accomplish the task hand, i.e., reach out to the ball and hit it. It is the tussle or the nature of relationship between the two that determines one’s ability to translate knowledge into effective action.

The author then devotes further chapters to describe the relationship between the two and how it can be refined for better learning. The suggested strategies are handful, and I have tried to list a few of them below.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It does feel repetitive at times but given that it’s a short book (~130 pages), I strongly recommend it.