Book Cover
The Inner Game of Tennis

★ ★ ★

TL;DR: Every game has an outer game and an inner game. The inner game is played in the mind of the player, and the opponents are nerves, self-doubt, lack of concentration. The optimal mental state is one of relaxed concentration. To achieve this, the player must quiet self 1 (the mind) and trust self 2 (the body) to do what it does best without inhibition.


  • Finally a mental game book that’s the appropriate length.
  • I really enjoyed this book. The distinction between Self 1 and Self 2 is simple yet incredibly powerful. I look forward to applying these concepts to my life.
    • Self 1: “the mind”, thinks it knows best, always trying to be in control
    • Self 2: “the body”, incredibly good at learning and internalizing complex actions, but only able to perform them if Self 1 gets out of the way
  • 3 steps to master the inner game:
    • Learn how to get the clearest possible picture of your desired outcomes
    • Learn how to trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures
      • The more important the moment, the more Self 1 wants to be in control, and the results are almost always disappointing
    • Learn how to see nonjudgmentally, how to see what is happening without assigning a label of “good” or “bad” to it
      • Judgment -> tightness -> interference
      • Relaxation -> smoothness -> acceptance and improvement
  • The Inner Game Way of Learning (79) (later than the previous stuff)
    • Observe existing behavior nonjudgmentally
    • Picture desired outcome
    • Let it happen! Trust Self 2
    • Nonjudgmental, calm observation of results leading to continuing observation and learning
  • Self 1 will try to return, so stay vigilant. Give Self 2 the credit it deserves when things go well (hint: Self 2 is often the cause)
  • Concentration: distract Self 1
    • Watch the ball: see the rotations and the seams
    • Listen to the ball: give subconscious hints as to where it’s going
    • Feel: know what it feels like for your body to be in position and to do the correct thing
    • Breathe: breathe, breathe, breathe!
  • Compete with abandon: nothing to lose, not caring about the outcome, and going all out. Letting in the natural concerns of a deeper and truer self.


[...] great pleasure, great ecstasy. During such experiences, the mind does not act like a separate entity telling you what you should do or criticizing how you do it. It is quiet; you are "together", and the action flows as free as a river. (15)

Quieting the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering, or distracting. (16)

Self 1 easily gets enamored of formulas that tell it where the racket should be and when. It likes the feeling of control it gets from doing it by the book. But Self 2 likes the feeling of flow -- of the whole stroke as one thing. (67)

Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or others. (116)

The surfer waits for the big wave because he values the challenge it presents. He values the obstacles the wave puts between him and his goal of riding the wave to the beach. Why? Because it is those very obstacles, the size and churning power of the wave, which draw from the surfer his greatest effort. (120)

When it comes to overcoming obstacles, there are three kinds of people. The first kind sees most obstacles as insurmountable and walks away. The second kind sees an obstacle and says, I can overcome it, and starts to dig under, climb over, or blast through it. The third type of person, before deciding to overcome to the obstacle, tries to find a viewpoint where what is on the other side of the obstacle can be seen. Then, only if the reward is worth the effort, does he attempt to overcome the obstacle. (123)

The problem with "managing stress" is that you tend to believe it is inevitable. There has to be the stress for you to manage. I've noticed that Self 1 tends to thrive when it is fought. (127)