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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Tennis


How to Win the Inner Game of Tennis?

Tomaz Mencinger

Do you know the ways of winning the inner game with your mind? Timothy Gallwey developed this concept in his bestselling book Inner Game of Tennis. You're about to find out more ways of winning the inner game of tennis and these ways are applicable to all other areas of life.

Inner game is actually rarely a game. How is that? Well, usually we just listen to every thought that comes up in our consciousness and listen to it. Like having a radio stuck to your ear and repeating everything that you hear.

Playing a game means that you have some influence on your opponent. But if we just listen to every thought that comes up in our mind, then that is not a game, it's obedience.

The first step is to become detached from your mind. It's just your mind, it's not you! It's simply releasing thoughts from the realm of your unconsciousness and there is no end to them.

So how can you actually play the game with your mind?

Here are 5 ways you can win the inner game of your mind:

1. Fighting the mind
The most typical example of fighting the mind is when we are afraid. Courage is actually a win against fear -- and that's when we fight our mind. Our mind is telling us something and we don't do it. There is some other internal or external motivation that moves us through the fear.

Fighting the fear can result in a very surprising outcome if we persist. When we are in a fearful situation and we overcome fear, we gain some confidence. When we are confronted with that or a similar event later, we overcome that fear more easily. We feel that the fear is smaller. Eventually we win the internal battle and the fear does not appear anymore. We don't need to spend our nervous energy to overcome the fear, so then we can be much more effective in other mental activities at that moment.

2. Tricking the mind
This concept is the main idea in the Inner Game of Tennis book. We trick the mind by focusing it on something relevant and something interesting - seeing how the ball is spinning or watching the flight path of the ball and things like that.

We are playing a game with our mind and even though we know that we'll trick the mind and the mind knows it, it still falls for the trick. Not always but we get better with practice.

3. Listening to your mind
When we develop good awareness of our thinking, we choose what we'll believe. We choose whether some thoughts are important or not. Again, this is not some Indian mystical ability; we do this all the time.

No? Have you ever thought about hitting someone and you didn't? Or some guy on the street drove in front of you and you wanted to crash in his car? And you didn't? You chose not to follow the thoughts! You saw how useless and damaging would that be in the long term.

That's exactly what we need to do in tennis. Hitting a winner from 3 meters behind the baseline on the run is not a thought to follow. If just after a bad line call a thought like this appears: «Everything is against me; I cannot possibly win this», then this is not a good thought to follow!

4. Ignoring the mind -- the door to the zone
This is an even higher ability to have than just listening and selecting the thoughts. When you ignore the mind it feels as if you're watching the TV and the radio is on. You are so focused on the TV show, that you don't hear the radio. But it's playing all right.

And the same can be done with our minds. We can get so focused on the tennis game that we don't even hear and realize what the mind is talking about.

5. Shutting the mind off -- entering the zone
This is the ultimate ability and it enables the player to enter the zone. Shutting the mind off happens when you have been ignoring the mind for a long time. Some thoughts come but you simply don't care and you just keep playing. Every time a thought appears you just let it pass.

What happens after a while (and it is my own experience) is that the mind seems to get offended. Since we don't notice the mind's chatting, it is so upset that it refuses to talk to us anymore. Suddenly there is silence in the mind.

And you can just play. There is no past or future. They exist only in the mind. What is is now.

So this is a progression in taming the mind. Sometimes it gets a little rough, but eventually the mind seems to give up especially when we don't care. And there lies the freedom from ideas, concepts and beliefs. Only after the match you release this zone state and return to your normal beta state of brain wavelength. Back with your mind friend.

Tomaz Mencinger is a sports consultant and a tennis coach. He shows tennis players and other athletes how to win the inner game of their mind and how this makes their mind their best ally. More resources on inner game at his website

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