The Inner Game of Tennis Book Summary


Hi Success Titan reader, I’m Sal Damiata, and that’s the book summary of “The Inner Game of Tennis,” written by Timothy Gallwey. 

Why this Book?

What if I told you that there is a state of mind under which you fuse yourself perfectly with everything around you, where time stops, and you perform are at the best you can ever do? If you want to learn how to access this peak performance state, keep reading.


The Inner Game of Tennis is a book that explains what the conditions required to get your mind to the so-called “peak-performance,” “super learning,” or “flow” states on command are. 

However, is it really true that we can get our mind into those states and perform at our best anytime we want? Let’s discover it together.

Who’s it for? 

  • Everybody that practices competitive sports of any kind;
  • Everybody that has troubles getting into peak performance states;
  • People that would like to become more spontaneous in any area of their lives.

What You’ll Learn from it

  • The practices to get into a peak-performance state on command;
  • How to always get to a new level of performance while having fun;
  • Tips and strategies to make your mind learn a new skill faster.

In a Nutshell

  • Your body is smarter than you think; trust your subconscious mind by focussing on your self 2 rather than on your self 1 because that’s what will eventually improve your inner game.

3 Sentence Summary

  • Your self 2 (subconscious mind) could play at it best if it wasn’t for the continuous critical intervention of your self 1 (conscious mind). Quiet your mind, trust your inner instincts and let go of judgment.
  • Give yourself the right level of challenge because whenever your skills are too superior with respect to the challenge, you have to meet you get bored. On the contrary, whenever your skills are too low with respect to the challenge, you have to meet you get anxious. 
  • To maximize the performance of your mind, make it quiet, focus on whatever is happening around you in that very moment, and do not think about the next move to make. Stop judging the quality of your game because if you always judge yourself, you can’t perform at your top. 

Big Ideas

Those are the most relevant ideas expressed in the book that we’ll explore together.

  1. You Have Two Selves
  2. Trust your Unconscious Mind
  3. Always Challenge Yourself
  4. Quiet your Mind and Get Focussed 
  5. Visualize Success

Time to learn more about them now!

Big Idea #1: You Have Two Selves

As Timothy Gallwey points out, we all have two selves with which we function throughout our day. “Self 1” represents your conscious mind while “self 2” represents your subconscious one. 

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The key to improving your inner game is to put your focus on your self 2 (unconscious) more than your self 1 (conscious.)

In fact, self 1 is oftentimes an impediment to self 2 that, below the surface, carries out billions of bodily functions and calculations without you being aware of that. That’s why when your conscious mind tries to control your subconscious one, things don’t work well. 

A Relatable Example

If you ever played a sport, had a date with a potential partner, or went to a job interview, you have probably noticed how you have one mind (conscious) that keeps talking to you, giving both positive and negative judgments based on how things go.

One the other hand, you have also noticed that sometimes, in the same situations, occurs a moment when the first mind seems to disappear into nothing while you are transported by the automatic flow of the second one. 

Those are your “Self 1” and “Self 2,” representing your conscious and subconscious minds, respectively.

Big Idea #2: Trust your Unconscious Mind

Having understood that we have two minds and that we should pay attention to our unconscious one to get into that flow state, how can we get it to that state? 

The first thing that the author talks about is that the best thing you can do to achieve that state is letting go of the need to control every little thing (movement of your body, words you say, thoughts you think).

This happens because when your conscious mind tries to micromanage everything as well as controlling your subconscious one, things will go bad. 

Your body is perfectly fine, being controlled automatically by your subconscious mind, so you don’t need to do anything to perform at your best. 

Another advice the author gives us is not to follow too strictly the advice of a coach and not to intellectualize your learning experience. Act like a child instead, as they do this so well that they experience “implicit learning” that is key to reach peak performance states.

A Relatable Example

Considering again the situations of above (sport, social settings). Did you ever notice that anytime you try to make something happen with your conscious mind, everything gets screwed up? 

Maybe you were too self-conscious about what movements to make or about what to say in a particular situation. 

When you put too much pressure to make something happen, probably that things will never happen. Just like when you play sports, and you get too tense, and you try to control each movement of your body, making you assume a very robotic and unnatural behavior. 

Or when you think too much about what to say when talking to somebody, making the conversation too calculated and less spontaneous.

Big Idea #3: Always Challenge Yourself

Challenges are necessary to get us out of our comfort zones, to make us perform at unprecedented levels and to get our mind in a peak performance state. 

This peak-performance state is what most spiritual masters refer to as the “Now” or “Present moment.” 

For this to happen, some conditions must be present. First of all, you should give yourself the right challenge level. Why? Whenever your skills are too superior with respect to the challenge you have to meet, you get bored. 

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On the contrary, whenever your skills are too low with respect to the challenge you have to meet, you get anxious. 

The peak performance is not triggered under those states, but it occurs whenever you seek the right challenge for yourself. This means you should find out your own sweet spot to get into that peak performance state. 

Competition is good, but the best thing is competing with yourself to get the maximum enjoyment and progress out of the experience.

A Relatable Example

If you’ve ever seen a surfer in action, you can often see them taking on the biggest waves and not just any one of them. This occurs because each surfer does this as a way to challenge himself and to get in the zone. No surfer would get in the zone by taking a too big or a too-small wave for him. 

This principle is also applicable to virtually any other thing as everything has an inner and outer game. In business negotiations or in dating opportunities, if you can trust the present moment, you’ll have a much stronger chance to get something good out of the relationship. 

Big Idea #4: Quiet your Mind and Get Focussed 

You know that whenever you are in a situation where you require to be fully present, you should avoid the urge to control everything. To do this, quiet your mind and focus on whatever is happening around you at that very moment. 

If you’re playing tennis, football, golf, or basketball, focus on the ball and do not think about the next move to make.

Relax, and it will be easier to focus, be confident, non-judgmental, and trustworthy towards your own mind. Feel instead of thinking, and everything will seem like being in a flowing river. 

Stop judging the quality of your game because if you always judge yourself, you can’t perform at your top. There is no good or bad performance, there is just a performance when you are non-judgmental.

To make this non-judgmental condition occur, don’t label your actions as wrong whenever you perceive to have done something bad because they will trigger negative emotions in you that will distract your mind from the present moment. 

A Relatable Example

As a dating & social skills coach, I can see how true this concept is as I apply it to my life as well whenever I relate to women or people. 

I found that the best way to make an interaction go well is to just be in the now and to become one with the other person. That’s where the magic starts to happen also for people that are really bad at social skills.

Big Idea #5: Visualize Success

Finally, the last big idea for this book summary is visualizing yourself acting exactly as you want to be. The author literally suggests you ask for the qualities you’d like to have and then to trust the process. 

In your mind’s eye, see the greatest version of what you need to be coming to reality, see it with as many details as possible, and feel as if you were that person already.

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Do what this kind of person would do, talk like that person, become that person, and you will win. 

When you visualize yourself being comfortable and fluid when doing the things that you have to do, your subconscious mind will learn a new behavioral pattern and improve your game. 

Moreover, it has been seen how our minds learn better when we see something rather than when we get instructions from somebody. 

A Relatable Example

Conor Mc Gregor is an expert not only when it comes to fighting but also when talking about how to use your mind in the best way possible. 

In many of his interviews, he talks about the power of visualization and how he could see himself winning before his fights occurred. 

Not surprisingly, he has been able to make a lot of correct predictions oftentimes, as he had trained his mind (and this body) to get into a specific state and to do specific movements whenever a certain situation presented himself. 

One of the greatest predictions he has ever made has been the one with his fight with Jose Aldo, where he predicted that he would have knocked him out with his left hook, exactly what happened during the fight.

Conclusion & Takeaway

Let go of the need to control everything and trust the process; if you have set a clear goal to reach, your subconscious mind will do the rest for you. That way, you know where you’re going, but you’re not desperately controlling the way to get there. 

The purpose of success is not necessarily the achievements you get when you win but who you become during your growth process.

My Advice For You

This “peak performance state” is something that you should experience for yourself rather than process intellectually. There’s no comparison that can be made with a real-life learning experience of what a peak state of mind is compared to what can be taught with a book. 

My advice for you, then, is to look for some challenges you can take over in an area of your life that you’d like to master.

About the Author

Timothy Gallwey is an author and mental coach born in San Francisco in 1938. He was the captain of the Harvard University tennis team. During his work as a coach, he had an epiphany where he understood how to get our mind into a super learning state. 

After that, he wrote his best-seller, “The Inner Game of Tennis,” that was inspired by eastern philosophical principles. 

Those same principles applied to the sports field made him the starter of the coaching trend that was later applied to all the fields we see it today, like business, personal relationships, etc.

Reading Suggestions

  • “The Champion’s Mind” – Jim Afremow
  • “Coaching of Performance” – John Whitmore
  • “Zen Tennis” – Bill Scanlon
  • “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence” Gary Mack
  • “How Champions Think” – Bob Rotella

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Armin is an online entrepreneur and writer in the dating, psychology and spirituality areas of the self-help industry.
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