Tim Gallwey in his best selling book “The Inner Game of Tennis”, showed how visualization can be much more effective than verbal instruction. As a tennis Pro, he became aware that each pupil’s mind seemed to contain two entities. A Self 1 who observed and commented on the play, and a Self 2 who actually did the playing.
Before a shot Self 1 would issue alI sorts of commands such as “keep your eyes on the ball”, “bend your knees”, “follow through”.
Then, after the shot, would come a verbal analysis – usually critical. When asked why they did this, most players would respond, “I am just talking to myself”.
Gallwey rationalized that “I” and “myself” had to be two separate entities, otherwise no conversation would take place. He developed the theory that Self 2 would be better taught by nonverbal means, and that the “relationship” between Self 1 and Self 2 must be improved to optimize performance. Indeed he observed that an athlete’s peak performance usually occurred when the verbal Self 1 was almost totally set aside. Players on a “hot streak” almost never analyzed what they were doing -they were immersed in the physical action and played instinctively and unconsciously. As soon as they tried to exercise conscious control, they lost their fluidity.
Gallwey, therefore, taught his players to engage, or distract, the verbal Self 1 during play, by describing external events. They would say “bounce” when the ball bounced, or “hit” when it struck the racket. They alternatively would be told to say the words of a song. These distractions, left brain activities, allowed the right brain and limbic system to control the physical play and make all the highly complex intuitive calculations that are involved in assessing ball speed, direction and angle of bounce.
The importance of not over-analysing and of not verbalising an essentially non-verbal activity, was further re-inforced when `Inner Skiing’ was introduced. Small children, it was noticed, could learn to ski well in a day. Adults learn (or are taught) to depend more and more on verbal analysis and to trust intuition less and less.
The inadequacy of the verbal hemisphere controlling the subtle but essentially physical movements of skiing, is made all too obvious when you observe the jerky movements made by people who are clearly rehearsing their instructors words in their minds. The fluent skier very often cannot even describe how he or she does it – yet obviously knows on a non-verbal level. Consequently increasing emphasis has been put on teaching skiing in nonverbal ways – and the positive results can be dramatic.