Summary of The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Chapter 5: Master Tips

Everything we need to know is already inside us. The learning process isn’t as much of a learning process as it is a process of inner discovery.

The best way to initiate this discovery is by receiving master tips.

Master tips are tips that, if practiced well, naturally help most movements to fall into place properly.

It’s the equivalent of killing fifty birds with one stone.

Master tips aren’t instructions per se. They’re nudges (clues) helping you orientate on your path to discovery.

Chapter 6: Changing Habits: Practical Applications of Inner-Game Learning

You can’t break a habit. You need to replace it.

Breaking a habit is simply a matter of learning how to do that thing better.

Here’s the best way to learn anything.

Why is it easy for a child to learn a language? Because the child’s Self 1 does not interfere in the learning process.

Learning here does not mean the collection of information: it means acquiring the capacity to do something that gets you a result.

If you do X to get Y and would like to break habit X, you’ll have to find a replacement for X that will also get you Y.

Eg: if eating ice cream makes you happy but you want to break the habit, you’ll have to find something else that makes you happy (like running). Learning happens when you realize that going for a run instead of eating ice cream gets you the same result – and it’s much healthier.

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If you eat ice cream to be happy, find something else that makes you happy that you can also do instead of eating ice cream.

Changing a habit isn’t easy. It will be much easier to do so if you understand why you practice this habit in the first place so you can find something else that gets the same result.

The Groove Theory of Habits

The groove theory of habits explains that the more you do something, the more likely you are to repeat it this exact same way.

The more the movement (called groove) is repeated, the more it is reinforced in the brain.

This is why old habits are hard to break.

In fact, the more we try to break them, the harder it is.

This is why the best way to break old habits isn’t to break them at all, but to start new ones. New grooves.

Eg: when a child goes from crawling to walking, he doesn’t need to break his crawling habit. He just walks.

Making a Change, Step-by-Step

Let’s take the example of changing your serve.

  1. Observe: observe your current serve. Feel it, repeat it several times, understand it.
  2. Program: decide what you want to change. Observe someone serving how you’d like to do it. Fully absorb the image of them serving. Then visualize yourself doing it. Feel how it feels. Then ask your body to execute it.
  3. Let It Happen: try to serve without thinking about it, trust your body, and let it do it without intervening. Give your body and Self 2 some time to practice and get better. Whatever you do, keep Self 1 out of it.
  4. Observation: when you serve, don’t try to serve consciously. Watch with faith yourself serving, and without judging. Trust your body and Self 2.

Repeat until it works.

The Usual Way of Learning

  1. Criticize or judge what you’ve done in the past.
  2. Tell yourself to change
  3. Try hard, force yourself to do it right
  4. Criticize yourself for failing and try harder

The Inner Game Way of Learning

  1. Observe existing behavior without judging.
  2. Self 1 asks Self 2 to change, program with visualization and feel.
  3. Let it happen.
  4. Observation of results without judgment and repetition until the behavior is acquired.

From the book: The more you let yourself perform free of control on the tennis court, the more confidence you tend to gain in the beautiful mechanism that is the human body. The more you trust it, the more capable it seems to become.

There is one caveat. When people reach results with this method, they are so amazed that the next day, they go back to the ancient method with Self 1 doing Self 2’s job.


Because the ego can’t derive any satisfaction when Self 2 is at work. People seem to prefer to play badly with Self 1 than to play well with Self 2.

Don’t be like that.

Chapter 7: Concentration

Restraining Self 1 to let Self 2 do the work isn’t easy.

And while letting go of Self 1 is an important step, it’s not enough to reach mastery.

We can’t just quiet the mind. We need to put it somewhere. The mind cannot only be “let go”. It needs to be parked.

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The mind, when unfocused, goes in all directions and cannot be quiet. The mind can be quiet when focused.

Parking the mind is achieved through concentration.

Concentration is focusing attention on one thing, and one thing only. It enables us to keep the mind in the now and here.

As a result, the mind becomes quiet.

From the book: Concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it, while with it, anything can be achieved.

All you need to start training for concentration is an object of focus.

In tennis, it’s the ball.

Watching the Ball

The best way to deepen concentration is to focus on something subtle. Don’t watch the tennis ball, watch the pattern of it.

You will find out soon enough that the mind cannot focus for a long time. So, how do we increase that period of focus?

With love.

Bhakti yoga (the yoga of love) explains that loving the object of concentration helps focus on it until you eventually become one with that object.

Whatever you need to focus on, learn to love it.

The Theory of Concentration

We experience the world thanks to our awareness (the consciousness within us).

It is consciousness that makes possible awareness of the sights, sounds, feelings, and thoughts that compose what we call “experience.”

You cannot experience anything out of your consciousness.

Consciousness is enabled by the five senses and the intellect.

Your consciousness picks up many things (smell, sounds, images, etc) but you are never aware of all of them because you naturally focus on a few.

Concentration is one step further.

The best way to improve your capacity to concentrate is to practice meditation.

Concentration During the Match

Find one thing to focus on during the match and keep your attention on that thing (the ball, for example).

If you find it difficult to keep focused on the ball when you’re not playing, focus on your breathing.

Chapter 8: Games People Play on the Court

People don’t just play tennis on the court. They play other, social games.

It’s important to understand these games so you can free yourself from them and better understand your opponent.

What’s a game? A game is an interaction between two people that involves an ulterior motive.

There are three games people play, with sub-games and sub-motives.

Most people play several games at the same time.

Game 1: Good-o

Goal: excellence

General motive: proving to yourself you’re good.

Subgame A: Perfect-o

Goal: reaching perfection.

Motive: proving to yourself you are worthy of respect.


  • External: The gap between what you think perfection is and the best you can play.
  • Internal: fear of failing, self-criticism, sense of inferiority.

Subgame B: Compete-o

Goal: to be better than the others

Motive: getting admiration and control


  • External: someone else can beat you
  • Internal: comparing yourself to others, feelings of inferiority, fear of defeat

Game 2: Friends-o

Goal: making friends.

Motive: friends

Subgame A: Status

Goal: to get social status

Motive: being friends with the person that has the highest status


  • External: becoming as good as everyone else
  • Internal: fear of losing your social position

Subgame B: Togetherness-o

Goal: to make friends (or keep them, so you cannot play too well)

Motive: friendship


  • External: finding time and making efforts
  • Internal: fear of ostracism

Subgame C: Husband-o or Wife-o

Goal: to hang out with your spouse

Motive: loneliness


  • External: being as good as your spouse
  • Internal: doubts that tennis really helps your relationship

Game 3: Health-o-Fun-o

Goal: making friends.

Motive: friends

Subgame A: Health-o

Goal: exercise

Motive: health


  • External: finding someone to play with
  • Internal: doubts that tennis really helps

Subgame B: Fun-o

Goal: to have fun

Motive: fun


  • External: finding someone to play with
  • Internal: appreciating the whole game

Subgame C: High-o

Goal: higher consciousness

Motive: transcendence


  • External: none
  • Internal: the ego

The Competitive Ethics and the Rise of Good-o

Almost everyone that starts playing tennis ends up playing it like a Good-o game.

Why? Because you’re as valuable in society as you’re good at doing things.

The problem with this is that anything you do becomes a metric for self-worth, love, and respect. As a result, there will be people lacking one of them (those that don’t play well).

However, this isn’t correct. Your value shouldn’t be derived from how well you play. You are who you are, inherently valuable because of what you are, not because of what you do.

The score merely indicates how you played, not who you are.

Chapter 9: The Meaning of Competition

Competition is controversial in the Western world. Some believe it divides people against each other, while others say that it unlocks performance which leads to progress and prosperity.

It’s true that many people compete to assert their power over others. However, such motives are based on insecurity and self-doubt.

It is in this context that the worst of a player can be seen. Players that understand that their self-worth does not depend on their performances don’t get angry or behave badly when they lose.

Unfortunately, many people believe that they’re as good as they play. When they fail in competition, their self-esteem is crushed.

So, they don’t play too well on purpose.

“If I had tried harder, I would have won”, they tell themselves. What this really means is “if I had tried and lost, it would have been terrible because my sense of self-worth comes from performing”.

All of this is the wrong way to compete.

The real meaning of competition goes way beyond that.

Most people, like the author, start in competition with an insatiable desire to win and play, to be the best. After a while, the author took another path. He learned yoga and abandoned the will to win to try to play beautifully instead.

But because he had lost his desire to win, he didn’t fight as much as before. He began to wonder if he could find the will to win without yearning for superiority.

One day, due to a girl canceling a date for the third time with him, the author went to play extremely angry – and played super well.

He realized that he had been playing “out of his mind” due to his anger. He had played for his own sake without caring about winning or losing, but still with a determination to win.

The Meaning of Winning

The author realized the meaning of winning while considering surfing.

Surfers don’t compete per se, they just ride waves – but not any waves. They ride the big ones.


For the challenge.

Only against the biggest challenge can the surfer realize the true limits of his capacities.

In the midst of the action, the surfer gets into a superconscious state and peaks.

The bigger the wave, the bigger the occasion the surfer has to discover his true potential. The wave is an obstacle that enables the surfer to realize and transcend himself.

Obstacles are a necessary ingredient to self-discovery.

The surfer isn’t there to prove himself or beat others.

He’s there to explore.

He wants to know how far he can go.

Winning, under this lens, takes a whole new meaning.

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached.

Reaching the goal itself often isn’t as valuable as the journey to reach it, which is much more satisfying.

So winning itself isn’t so satisfactory.

What is, is the journey to get there.

Once you see this, you stop focusing on the end goal and focus on the process.

In tennis, your opponent will be a friend if he maximizes the obstacles on your road to victory.

Playing against someone, in this case, becomes like cooperation. Your opponent is helping you by making the game (the obstacle) difficult.

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.

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Decreasing the role of Self 1 leads to a greater role of Self 2. That helps you overcome meaningful obstacles which leads to self-actualization and happiness.

Chapter 10: The Inner Game Off the Court

Only when the player frees himself from the need to win can he start playing better – only then can he go beyond the limits of the ego.

Competition does not become something to win, but an obstacle to overcome to maximize one’s abilities, potential, and self-awareness.

The player that understands the Inner Game can train himself to concentrate to play better, instead of training his serve. He can use tennis as a means of concentration instead of learning concentration to learn tennis.

Therefore, tennis is a game of two games: the Inner Game, and the outer game.

And so is any human activity.

Unfreakability: The Art of Quieting the Mind

Those who succeed are the ones that can remain calm in any situation.

People freak out due to three types of events:

1. Regrets about past events

These are the mistakes we get angry about and derive low-self esteem from despite that we can’t do anything about them.

2. Fear about the future

When such thoughts start, break them as soon as possible and bring back your mind to the here and now.

Focus on your breathing, or simply observe this train of thoughts without giving in. A problem is often in the mind, and not the external world.

3. Dislike of a present event

There are only two ways to deal with this. One is to change the event that causes pain; the second is to change the mind.

If you cannot change the event, then you can let it go, meaning releasing the desire to control it.

Letting it Happen

Letting it happen means having faith in the fundamental order and goodness of life, both human and natural.

It means allowing joy to flow in instead of forcing having a good time.

It means appreciating the love that already exists instead of trying to make it happen.

It means letting the subconscious solve problems.

And above all, it means letting yourself grow and develop instead of controlling it.

It’s not about improving yourself and doing more; it is about letting go and realizing how good and capable you already are.

Doing so, you manifest the love and goodness that exist inside you simply by letting them happen.

Look at yourself as the seed of a tree.

All of the potentials already exists within you.

All you need is rain and sunshine.

Don’t try to control how the seed grows – just let it grow.

Concentration and Higher Consciousness

You have to become aware of things as they are.

The past and future collapse when you seek to understand the present (one could go further and say they do not exist).

When you use your conscious mind to understand the present (aka when you concentrate), you get to a higher level of consciousness.

Concentration is the master art because without it, you can’t achieve anything.

Someone walking by a sunset can whether appreciates its beauty, or, preoccupied with something else, can not see it at all.

In the end, our state of consciousness determines our capacity to see what’s true, real, and beautiful.

The Goal of the Inner Game: The Discovery of Self 3

There are so many things to do in this world.

Out of everything you can do, which activity are you going to focus on?

What do you really want to do?

The answer is that which you can love and that gives you complete satisfaction.

It’s only when you find something that you love that you can truly concentrate.

When you embark on the journey to find what you truly love, you have embarked on the Inner Game path.

The most critical skills you’ll need to reach it will be your sincerity and determination.

Chances are that you will find what you seek within – things are too impermanent in the external world.

That thing in a way, may be called Self 3.

Finding it is the first goal of the Inner Game.

Once you have found it, you can finally quiet your mind.

You become free.

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