Well what happened was, stringing racquets, as far away from changing the world or doing what Harvard grads were supposed to do, I found soothing. I also found I like selling dresses and could give tennis lessons in my sleep in the same manner they had been given to me: compare the strokes of the student to the image in your mind and then issue instructions in the form of you should do this, and shouldn’t do that, until the strokes were similar to my image of the “proper” way to hit the ball. So I could do it, but could I keep from being bored with this routine. It was only three months until boredom was knocking at the inner door, and instead of teaching, I just was tossing balls. And before I had begun my routine of correction, the student’s particular bad habit began to change on its own. The conversation is my head is still in my memory, “Damn it, I missed my chance, you lazy bum. If you had only started teaching before his learning happened you would get the credit for the improvement and he would pay you happily.
In the next moment something happened that i now call the beginning of The Inner Game. The next thought/feeling was, shock. Followed by a clear sentence, “You are obviously more interested in teaching that in the student’s learning. He learns before you teach, and you are disappointed, and fear the obvious undermining of your role and if it were to continue the undermining of the economy of the tennis pro. That shock woke me up, and I decided I want to find out how much learning might happen with the absolute minimum of teaching.
My next question opened the door to coaching. I asked, I wonder what this player is thinking and feeling while the ball is approaching him. The answer was obvious. First a tape recording of my instructions was playing in his head, followed by doubt about whether he understood them, and more doubt that he could execute them, and certainty that he could not put all of them together into the proper stroke. And above that there was something called trying hard to do it right, followed by self judgment when he was aware of something wrong or if I didn’t tell him “good” that was much better.” If I didn’t say “good” that nothing said, meant it was bad. The fear of judgment was inevitable and it became obvious that all of this mental activity was distracting him from the reality of the ball and the racquet and it was all initiative by the way I was teaching. I was inadvertently interfering with learning as much as facilitating it. Strokes were overly tight in an effort to control and avoid negative judgment, stated or implied.
With the lesson the door to the Inner game was slightly opened, and by the end of the next few days, the students responded to the atmosphere of non-judgment, and absence of instruction with incredible improvements and enjoyment. The only one enjoying themselves more was I seeing what seemed like miracles happening as student learned and learned without trying to do anything right, but free to focus simply on what felt good and what worked. I never got tired of seeing this spontaneous learning happen. It meant that there was something inherently intelligent and capable in people which if allowed to operate without interference. When I asked I found the inner dialogue was absent or not listened to. The self 1, the one doing the self instructing was mostly quiet and had been replaced by Self 2, the one the Self 1 assumed needed instruction and knew only should and shouldn’t as its method of mobility – of moving towards the desired outcome of better tennis. The formula for the Inner game was simple: Performance = the potential to perform minus self interference or P= p-i. Soon this formula was elaborated to declare that PLE ∆, the components performance, learning, and enjoyment which were naturally all present, was equal to the human potential for all three minus i which stood either for self interference or simply I, the self of doubt, judgment, and over control.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the students were learning tennis from focus on the ball, and I was learning that what I had thought was wong with me, was an image I assumed was real, and that there really was a self 2 in everyone including even me, that had my best interests at heart. The more I could connect with self 2, without getting into either positive or negative identification, the more fun, the more learning, and the better the performance. All that was left was techniques and tools that would facilitate decrease of interference and trust in one’s true self.
At that moment tennis was a game, but the victory of myself over the self-interference was not a really a game, it was moving me toward the self in me which was real. I wanted to be aware of every moment, to acknowledge the good feelings, and to be in awe of what my body and the intelligence within it could could do and could learn.
Even though i soon was invited to be the assistant dean of students at Georgetown School of Foreign Service, after the interview, I declined realizing that it was doubtful that I would find a better learning environment than the one I was in, learning my observing my students and how they were impacted by how gradually I learned to coach them. I recognized the truth of what I was learning and intuitively realized it was not limited to tennis. So all of the above was to say that I as the coach, at the end of my rope, learned from what life had to offer me, in this case student’s, human beings with the same potential to learn and to interfere, and that it was possible to win on the inside as well as on the outside. The self image was not so important as knowing and trusting oneself. And that was possible for everyone in whatever they did.