Tennis is a sport with opponents but no teammates. The interaction is constant, it is always you who has to participate by hitting the ball and constantly adapting to everything the opponent proposes. In addition, it requires precision because the ball must enter within some limitations. All these conditions make it a sport where the mental aspect is oversized; Properly managing (or not) everything that is happening at all times will make a difference to one side or the other, because any mismatch by one of the two athletes can be key to the final result.
Chapter 1. Thoughts about the mental aspect of tennis
External Game: It is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles and reach an external goal.
Internal Game: It takes place in the mind of the athlete, andi is played against obstacles such as lack of concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and excessive self-criticism.
The most common complaint of athletes since time immemorial is: “The problem is not that I do not know what to do, the problem is that I do not do what I know!”
Chapter 2. The discovery of the two Is
I No. 1: The self that gives orders, the self that speaks, the inner voice inside my head.
I No. 2: The self that acts and executes orders.
The key to be better lies in improving the relationship between the self that speaks (No. 1) and the natural capacities of the self that acts (No. 2)
The I No. 1 does not really trust the I No.2, in spite of the fact that they face all the potential that has been developed up to that moment and is much more qualified to control the muscular system than the I No. 1.
The union of these two selves implies the learning of several inner skills:
1. Learn to create the clearest possible image of the desired result.
2. Learn to trust that I No. 2 will perform at its best and to learn from both successes and failures.
3. Learn to see the game without judging, that is, to see what is happening without saying if it is right or wrong.
Chapter 3. Silence the I No. 1
When a tennis player is fully concentrated, he is not thinking how, when or even where to hit the ball. After hitting, he does not think about how good or bad he did. The racket connects with the ball through a process that does not seem to require thought intervention. There is awareness of seeing, hearing and feeling the ball, and even the tactical situation of it, but the player seems to know what to do without thinking.
Perhaps, this is why it is said that the most beautiful poetry is born in silence. Great works of art also arise from the silent depths of the unconscious, and it is also said that true expressions of love aries from a source that is beyond words and thoughts. The same happens with the great sports achievements; they arise when the mind is as quiet and calm as a crystal lake.
The cat that is on the prowl of a bird
Alert without the least effort, he is crouched, with his relaxed muscles ready for the jump. Without thinking of when to jump, or how to propel himself with his hind legs to reach the necessary distance, the cat is fully concentrated on its prey, and its mind is calm.
The cat does not think about a thought about the possibility of not catching its prey or about the consequences of it. Do not see anything other than the bird. Suddenly, the bird flies; at the moment, the cat jumps. With perfect anticipation, he intercepts the bird a couple of feet above the ground.
It is an action perfectly executed without the need for any thought; and then there is no complacency, only the reward inherent in the action itself: a bird between the teeth.
At some times, tennis players approach the thoughtless spontaneity of the leopard. These moments usually occur especially when players are flying on the net. The exchange of blows at such a short distance is usually so fast that action faster than thought is required.
These moments are very exciting, and players are often astonished to get perfectly placed balls that they did not even expect to reach. By moving faster than they thought capable, they have no time to plan anything; simply, the perfect blow takes place. When they think that they have been lucky; but if it happens repeatedly, they begin to trust themselves and feel deep security.
Maximum performance requires a mental slowdown. This means less thinking, less calculations, less judgements, less worries, less fears, less expectations, less attempts to exert, less regrets, less controls, less nerves, less distractions.
Judgment is the act by which a positive or negative value is assigned to an event. That means that some events that are part of your experience are good and you like them, and others are bad and you don’t like them. You don’t like to see you sending the ball to the net, but you like to see your opponent completely defeated by your service. Therefore, judgments are the personal reactions of our ego to everything we experience: visual objects, sounds, thoughts and feelings.
After the I No. 1 has evaluated several hits, it is likely that it will begin to generalize. Instead of considering a single blow as “another bad setback”, he begins to think: “You have a bad setback.” Instead of thinking: “You got nervous at that point”, he generalizes and says: “You’re the biggest coward in the whole club.” Other very common generalizations are: “I’m having a bad day”, “I always fail the easiest”, “I’m slow”, etc.
It is interesting to see how our hypercritical mind expands its range of action. You can start with a complaint, “what a lousy service”, then this becomes “how bad I am serving today”. After some more “bad” services, the trial becomes wider and the player says: “My service is crap”. This can continue to grow and become “I’m a lousy tennis player”, to finally culminate in “I’m no good for anything”.
The mind begins by judging an isolated group of facts, then judging a group of facts, after identifying with that group and finally judging itself.
If he tells you enough times that your service is awful, there is a king of hypnotic process. It is as if you had given the I No. 2 a role to play – the role of lousy servant – and he will interpret it perfectly, provisionally repressing its true capabilities. Once the hypercritical mind has created an identity based on its negative judgements, the interpretation will continue to hide the true potential of I No. 2 until the hypnotic spell is broken. In short, you start to become what you think.
Stop making judgments does not mean ignoring mistakes. It means simply being aware of things as they are, without adding anything.
Judgment produces tension, and tension interferes with the fluidity required by precise and rapid movement. Relaxation produces fluid blows and is the result of accepting the blows themselves as they are, even if they are erratic.
I began to see how I No. 1 works: As it is always seeking approval and trying to avoid disapproval, this subtly selfish view sees each compliment as a potential critic. Reason as follows: if the teacher is happy with a type of performance, he will be unhappy with the opposite performance. If you like doing things well, I will dislike doing them wrong. A norm has been established that dictates what is right and what is wrong, and the inevitable consequence will be a divided concentration and ego interference.
It is clear that positive and negative evaluations go together. It is impossible to judge a fact as positive without judging others as non-positive or negative. It is impossible to eliminate only the negative side of all judgement. To see your blows as they are, you don’t need to attribute them positive or negative qualities. The same goes for the result of those blows. You can see exactly where a ball has gone without classifying that fact as something bad.
By eliminating judgment, you are not avoiding what it is. Eliminating the trial means that you don’t add or take anything away from the facts you witness. Things appears as they are: without distortions. In this way, the mind achieves greater calm.
The first skill to be developed in the Inner Game is that of consciousness free of judgment. When we “unlearn” our tendency to judge, we discover, generally with some surprise, that we don’t need the motivation of a reformer to change our “bad” habits. Maybe we just need to be a little more aware of things.
Chapter 4. Confidence in the I No. 2
The first step in creating greater harmony between the egoic mind and the body – that is, between the I No. 1 and the I No. 2 – is to stop judging yourself.
When this step is taken, then confidence and self-confidence can appear.
Set aside the opinions you have about your body for a moment and think about what it does.
Letting happen is not the same as making it happen.
Why wouldn’t a beginner player treat his reverse the same way an affectionate mother would treat her son? The key lies in not identifying with the backhand. If you consider your inaccurate backhand a reflection of who you are, you will feel frustrated. However, you are not your backhand, just as a mother is not her son. If the mother identifies with each fall of her child takes personal pride in each of her successes, her image of herself will be as unstable as her child’s balance. He finds stability when he understand that she is not his son, observes him with affection and interest, but as in independent being.
The same detached interest is what it takes to let your game develop naturally. Remember that you are not your game. You are not your body. Trust your body’s ability to learn and play, just as you would trust another person to do a job, and in a short time your body will perform well beyond your expectations. Let the flower bloom.
If you look at the I No. 1, you will see that it is always disparaging the I No. 2 with its critical posture and its derogatory comments. The alternative would be to learn to appreciate the I No. 2. This would be an attitude of respect based on the recognition of the natural intelligence and the capacities of the I No. 2.
Many tennis students are too aware of the blows and do not pay attention to the results. Those players are aware of how they hit the ball, but they don’t care where the ball goes. Deep down, what he said to his body was: “Do what you have to do to achieve that”. Then, all he had to do was let it happen.
Chapter 5. The discovery of the skills
Perhaps, the mistake was in not having trusted enough in the I No. 2 and having depended too much on the control of the I No. 1. It is as if we prefer to consider ourselves more as obedient computers than has human beings. As a consequence, we tend to lose direct connection with muscle memory, which stores a much more complete knowledge of the desired action.
In a society that has focused both on language and a way of representing the truth, it is very possible to lose contact with our ability to feel and remember the hits.
If we lose contact with our ability to feel our actions, by relying to much on verbal instructions, we can undermine our natural learning process and our potential to act. If, on the contrary, we hit the ball trusting fully in the instincts of I No. 2, we will reinforce the neurological connection that leads to the best possible hit.
There is nothing that can replace learning through experience
I think the best use of technical knowledge lies in giving only one clue that leads to the desired destination. That clue can be provided verbally or demonstrated with an action, but it is better to consider it an approximation to a desirable goal.
The player only has to meet two requirements to achieve success: send the ball over the net and inside the opponent’s court. The sole purpose of the striking skills is to meet those two requirements consistently and with sufficient speed and precision to create maximum difficulties for the adversary.
Chapter 6. Changing habits
We all develop characteristic behavior patterns and each of them exists because it plays a role. The moment of change occurs when we realize that the same function could be performed in a better way.
It is much harder to break a habit when there is a suitable substitute for it.
We never repeat any behavior that is not performing any function or fulfilling any purpose.
If you think that a bad habit controls you, you will believe that you should try to break it. However, a child does not need to break his habit of crawling because he does not think he has a habit. Simply stop catching when you discover that walking is a more practical way to get around.
The awareness of what is, without making any judgment is relaxing, and is the best precondition for change.
Chapter 7. Concentration: Learning to focus attention
Over the years I have learned that the best way to silence the mind is not to tell it to shut up, or to argue with it, or to criticize it for criticizing it. Fighting the mind is something that does not work. What works best is to learn to concentrate it.
To silence the mind one has to learn to place it somewhere. You cannot just abandon it; You have to concentrate on something. If optimal performance depends on a calm mind, that means we have to see how and what to concentrate it on.
As one reaches concentration, the mind becomes silent. By keeping the mind in the present, it calms down. Concentration means keeping the mind in the here and now.
Watching the ball means focusing your visual attention on it. I have discovered that the most effective way to increase concentration through sight is to concentrate on something subtle, something that cannot be easily perceived. It is easy to see the ball, but it is not so much to see the drawing made by its seams as it spins. This practice of observing the seams of the ball produces interesting results. Soon, the player discovers that he is seeing the ball much more clearly than when he only “watched” it.
If you listen carefully to the sounds produced by a series of balls, you will soon be able to distinguish different types and nuances of sound. Soon you will be able to differentiate the sound produced by a lifted drived, executed with the center of the racket, from a drop shot, which has not been executed so cleanly. You can identify the sound of a flat backhand, and differentiate it from one that has been executed by opening the face of the racket in the beating.
If the face is deflected only half a centimeter, the ball could go outside for a couple of meters when executing a bottom hit. Therefore, to improve accuracy and consistency, you have to develop your sensitivity.
When attention is focused on an object that object becomes known. Attention is focused and concentrated awareness, and awareness is that power which allows knowing.
The greatest concentration losses occur when we let our minds imagine what is going to happen or remember what has already happened.
One of the good things about tennis is that sooner or later you or your opponent are going to hit the ball, and this will serve to bring you back to the present moment. But generally a part of your energy stays in the mental world of the past or the future, and thus the present is not captured with full awareness. Consequently, objects lose sharpness, the ball seems to go faster and be smaller, and even the track seems to shrink.
Breathing is an amazing phenomenon. Like it or not, we breathe. Asleep or awake, it’s something that is always happening. Even if we try to stop it, a force will overcome our efforts and make us breathe. Therefore, when we focus on breathing we are placing our attention on something closely linked to the vital energy of the body. In addition, breathing has a very basic rhythm. It is said that when breathing man recapitulates the rhythm of the universe. When the mind follows the rhythm of breathing, it tends to relax and reach calm.
Anxiety is the fear of what may happen in the future, and it only arises when the mind begins to imagine the future. However, when our attention is in the here and now, the actions that must take place in the present are more likely to be carried out successfully, and in this way the future will become the best possible present.
It is disconcerting to ask why we leave the here and now. The here and now is the only time and place where one really enjoys or achieves something. Most of our suffering occurs when we let the mind start imagining the future or ruminating about the past.
Few people are really satisfied with what they have ahead of them at any given time. Our desire that things be different from what they are, leads us to an unreal world, and therefore prevents us from appreciating what the present can offer. Our minds only abandon the reality of the present when we prefer the unreality of the past or the future.
Chapter 8. Games in which we participate in the tennis court
It is difficult to have fun or reach full concentration when the ego is in what it considers to be a life or death struggle. While the I No. 1 is participating in a hidden game on which the image of itself depends, the I No. 2 can never express its spontaneity and quality.
We live in a society oriented to success in which people tend to be evaluated or measured by they ability in different fields. Even before we received our first compliments or reproaches for our first grades at school, we were loved or ignored for how well we performed our first actions.
Society gives off a basic and very clear message: you are a good person and worthy of respect only if you do things right. Of course, the type of things that must be done well to deserve love varies from one family to another, but the underlying equation that has been established between self-esteem and performance has been virtually universal. Now, it is a fairly oppressive equation, because it means that to some extent each success-oriented action becomes a criterion to define our own value.
If someone plays golf badly, it seems that it means that he does not deserve the same respect, from others or from himself, as if he played well. If he is the champion of the club, he will considered a winner, and therefore, a more valuable person in our society.
When love and respect depend on winning or succeeding in a competitive society, it is inevitable that there are many people who feel a lack of love and respect (since each winner implies a loser and each outstanding performance implies many that are inferior). Obviously, these people will try to earn the respect they lack, and the winners will try with the same force no to lose the respect they have already earned. In light of all this, it is not difficult to see why playing well has become so important to us.
The grade we got in school can measure our ability in arithmetic, but it doesn’t measure our value. Similarly, the result of a tennis match may be an indication of how well I played or how much I tried, but it does not define me as a person, nor does it give me reasons to consider myself more or less important than it was before of the match.
Chapter 9. The meaning of the competition
If I am secretly afraid that my bad game or my defeat in the game means that I am inferior as a human being, then it is obvious that I will be much more upset with myself for having failed a hit. And, of course, this same tension will make it harder for me to play at my highest level. There would be no problem with the competition if my image of myself was not at stake.
It is as if some believed that only by being the best, only by winning, they were going to get the love and respect they needed.
The greater the obstacles we face, the greater the possibilities to discover and expand the true potential.
To win is to overcome obstacles to reach a goal, but the value of victory is not greater than the value of the goal achieved.
Once the value of having difficult obstacles to overcome is recognized, it is easy to see the true benefits that can be obtained from participating in competitive sports. In tennis, who is in charge of providing you with the obstacles you need to reach the limit of your potential? Your opponent, of course! So, is your opponent your friend or your enemy? He is a friend to the extent that he does his best to create difficulties. Only by playing the role of enemy can your opponent become a true friend to you. Only by competing with you is he in fact cooperating! On a tennis court, nobody wants to stay waiting for a big wave to emerge. In this kind of competition, your opponent has the obligation to create you the maximum of difficulties, just like yours is to create them to him. Only by doing so, you are giving each other an opportunity to discover at what heights you can reach.
The difference between worrying about winning and worrying about making the effort to win may seem subtle, but in a reality it is very big.
Chapter 10. The inner game outside the tennis courts
Thus, there are to games in tennis: first, the outside game in which we try to overcome the obstacles presented by an external opponent and in which we play to obtain some kind of external prize; and second, the inner game, in which we try to overcome internal, mental or emotional obstacles, to reach our true potential. It must be recognized that both games take place simultaneously, so it is not a matter of choosing between the two, but of deciding which of the two deserves priority.
What else can be done to promote stability? The message of the inner game is simple: Focus. Concentrating attention on the present moment, the only one you can really live in, is one of the keys to this book and one of the keys to doing anything right. Concentrating means not staying stuck in the past, or in regards to mistakes or successes; It means not getting caught up in the future, neither in terms of fears nor dreams; It means preventing attention from leaving the present.
The goal is to take care without worrying