Friday, March 18, 2011

Inner Game of Tennis for Kindergarteners

I started reading The Inner Game of Tennis again last night. I was immediately reminded of how much I love this book and how much influence it has had over my thinking as a coach. It is such an excellent example of the adage that if you truly have something to say, say it simple and plain and short. While I was reading, my daughter Opal who is in kindergarten was working a floor puzzle. She took a break to check out my book.

"What are you reading, Daddy?"
"The Inner Game of Tennis, sweets," I replied.
"What's the story?" she returned.
Here I paused. "Well," I puzzled trying to think what the story was, "it's a book about how you have two brains. A Word Brain," and I touched her forehead with three fingers "and a Doing Brain." I cupped the back of her head up under her hair.
"When the teammates are playing frisbee, do you think they are using their Word Brain or their Doing Brain?" I asked her again indicating her fore-brain and brain-stem.
"I don't know."
"Well, when they are playing frisbee are they using words or are they running and jumping and doing things?"
"They're running and jumping and doing things."
"So which Brain are they using?"
"The Doing Brain."
"Right," I finish. "This book tells the story of how to get the Word Brain to be quiet so the Doing Brain can do."
"Oh." And back to the puzzle.


  1. Hi Lou,
    Inner Game of Tennis is one of my favorite coaching books! I also read it sometime in '99 or so. I think I have bought 5-6 copies over the years. I keep lending it out and not getting it back. My current copy is again out on long term loan. I often photocopy sections to give to my players to read.

  2. Random question. You've been part of a lot of great programs that sustain themselves. Have you done or learned anything over the years to help with recruiting? Is it something you focus on very much?

  3. Thats a great way to describe it.
    One revelation I had after reading TIGOT was that teams rarely outwardly acknowledge that the mental game is very very important to performance. So this year I am coaching the B team and one of the first things I said in a huddle at practice was:

    "Does mental state have a big effect on how we play?" Obviously yes, but by opening getting everyone to state that it does, I have found it MUCH easier to explain some of the drills and tactics I use that focus on the inner game. I think players need to "buy into" mental training as much as they need to "buy into" difficult and painful physical training.

  4. Matt, any favorite passages? I have used this book to shape my methods as a coach, but never to help a player adjust her game. Where and how are you applying it?

    @Mikey, recruiting is a weird one. At the college setting, there are no resources to lure students to your school, so the challenge is getting the athletes who are there to play. At Carleton, every athlete in the school considers it but there just aren't many athletes because the student body is so small. At the U of O, there are heaps of students and heaps of athletes so the trick is finding them and convincing them that ultimate is something they want to do.
    Recruiting at the club level is kind of crazy. It's all about doing favors for kids with talent (like apartments and jobs) or setting up special deals (like you can like in texas and just show up for tournaments.)
    The biggest and best recruiter at all levels is winning. People want to win and so they will make sacrifices to play on a team that will win. Like go to school where it is -18 in February or move all the way across the country.
    To answer your question, we focus on it, but not nearly as hard as we focus on developing players once they've committed to us.

    @Hubbard: I have always found that it is the mental work that is the hardest. Everyone is willing to suck it up and run sprints, but addressing mental flaws is so personal and difficult. The challenge of the mental game is that pressure always attacks you at your weak point and so that is what you have to work on. Physically, if you can't throw you can adjust your game. Mentally, if you can't hold up there's nowhere to hide. While this is the greatest challenge of sports, it is also the area with the greatest reward.

  5. While I was reading, my daughter Opal who is in kindergarten was working a floor puzzle. She took a break to check out my book.
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