Tim Gallwey, founder of the Inner Game

About Tim GallweyTim Gallwey Inner Game

In 1971 Tim Gallwey, founder of the Inner Game, was working as a tennis coach. Having captained the tennis team at Harvard, he was on sabbatical before finding a serious job. One day he noticed that when he was away from the court, a student who had been stuck with a technical problem had improved, without his help. He began to realise that people had the ability teach themselves more effectively than a sports coach could:

“At the outset of one particular tennis lesson, I decided to delay teaching only to find that the student increased his rate and enjoyment of learning much faster than he had when I was actively teaching him. Feeling a bit threatened that I wouldn’t get due credit, I stopped and realized I was more committed to teaching than to the student learning. I decided to reverse my priorities. “Where does learning happen, and what’s going on inside the head of the student while the ball is approaching?” It was obvious. My should and shouldn’t teaching instructions were creating self-doubt, self-criticism, too much effort, and overly tight strokes.
When I replaced the traditional control mechanism of should and shouldn’t with invitations to try heightened awareness and relaxed concentration, the student learned naturally by using what felt good and what worked. This is how we all learned as children to crawl, walk, and run. In the use of simple awareness, three things reliably increased: rate of learning, enjoyment of play, and the student’s confidence that they could learn from experience.” – Tim Gallwey

Tim started to develop a new approach to sports coaching, which focused on enhancing the student’s awareness of what was happening with the ball, the racket and the student’s own body. He developed a series of questions and instructions to achieve this.

Tim theorised that in every player, and indeed in every one of us, there is a ‘Self 1’ and a ‘Self 2’. Self 1 provides a running commentary on everything that Self 2 does – and it is often a critical one. Self 1 not only reminds Self 2 of the baggage of previous failure, but creates the tension and fear that tend to beset us when we are confronted by a challenge. In fact, Self 1 is creating the worst of the challenges, yet manages to throw all the blame onto Self 2, with inner dialogue like ‘you really blew that; you’ll never be any good at this.’

He summed up the effect of Self 1’s interference in the theory:

Tim discovered a way of getting round Self 1’s interference with instructions like ‘focus on the seams of the ball’, instead of ‘try to hit it in the centre of the racket’. He discovered that directing the student’s attention towards something inconsequential in terms of successful playing was a way of shutting out the nagging voice of Self 2. His pupils’ techniques improved dramatically.

Tim Gallwey Inner Game


In 2009, Tim demonstrated these principles at Queens Club in London. The volunteer for the demonstration informed onlookers that she had never previously played tennis. Tim began by asking her to say ‘bounce’ when the ball bounced and ‘hit’ when it came into contact with either her racket or his own. The resulting volley – with this novice tennis player – lasted for about ten minutes, without a single dropped ball, until Tim chose to bring it to an end. Tim then explained that, because her focus was absorbed in noticing when the ball bounced or hit her racket, the chattering of Self 1 was silenced, and her instincts, intuition and unconscious mind were given full play. Tim has also found that listening to the sound the ball makes, or feeling one’s grip on the racket, are effective in silencing Self 1 and improving focus.

We have all experienced times when we were ‘in the zone’ – for example, a moment when we played the perfect shot, or wrote the right lines, won the deal, or played an instrument fluently and without a mistake. The interference of Self 2’s critical voice is silenced during these times. The techniques which Tim developed help people attain that state. He realised that the real obstacles to playing well lie in the player’s own inner game, not in the skill of the opponent:

“The opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one the other side of the net”. – Tim Gallwey.

Tim expounded his theories in the best selling  The Inner Game of Tennis, which has sold over two million copies. Other books in the Inner Game series include The Inner Game of Work, The Inner Game of Stress, The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Skiing and The Inner Game of Music.

Tim Gallwey Inner Game


Tim’s work was eventually discovered by our co-founder, Sir John Whitmore, who developed the principles into Performance Coaching, applied first in sport and later at work. One of the core principles of the Inner Game is non-judgemental awareness – asking questions which raise awareness of what is happening in any situation, physically, mentally and emotionally, and this approach became the basis of Performance Coaching and the GROW model.

 “In sports, I had to learn how to teach less, so that more could be learned. The same holds true for a coach in business.” – Tim Gallwey

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