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If you’ve read a few of the posts here you’ll know I’m a fan of the Inner Game books by Tim Gallwey. It’s been a while since I read one, so I bought the 2009 version of The Inner Game of Golf to re-read.
To be frank, I’m not really a golfer at all – sometimes I have a few hits at the driving range and maybe play 2-3 rounds a year. But I am interested in how the mind learns new skills and the most effective and natural ways to teach and refine skills and this is where Gallwey’s work excels.
Gallwey’s Inner Game approach divides the mind into Self 1 and Self 2 – these are not to be confused with the conscious and unconscious. In Gallwey’s assessment, Self 1 is the verbalizing, thought producing self and Self 2 is basically the body and its natural responses. So athletic performance is a function of Self 2 (potential) minus Self 1 (interference).
The idea is that with practice, Self 2 will naturally organize its movements to those that lead to the best performance… when not distracted.
“Thus, the aim of the Inner Game is not so much to try harder to persuade Self 2 to do what it is capable of doing but to decrease the Self 1 interferences that prevent Self 2 from expressing itself fully.” (p21)
Using this technique, a coach wouldn’t provide much technical instruction at all. Instead, a coach would provide nonjudgmental guidance as to what part of a skill the athlete should pay specific attention to and discover more about the feel of that skill. This noncorrective attitude helps the athlete make nonjudgmental observations of his or her own technique, increasing the sense of feel and natural learning.
There isn’t an emphasis on ‘doing it right’, but on exploration… a coach guides the exploration to the best areas. The athlete retains trust in his own natural learning abilities and benefits from a pro’s knowledge.
I won’t reprint here the great example applications of this idea in the book – and there are many – but I think you’ll be easily able to apply the ideas to your sport even though the book is about golf.
Conscious thinking and instruction from Self 1 will never go away. You may feel that a part of your technique worked really well one day you just let it happen and didn’t think much about it. You can try to re-create that feeling, but you won’t be doing the same thing because you’re trying to force it rather than let it happen the way it did in the first place.
For such situations in Golf, Gallwey recommends saying to yourself ‘da’ at mojor points of the Golf swing – the take away, the end of the backswing, the ball contact and the finish of the follow-through. Thus, you wouldn’t give yourself any instruction about technique – just ‘da, da, da, da’. This gives Self 1 something to concentrate on while Self 2 does the hitting.
Gallwey wraps up his book with the time-proven ideas of focusing on the process rather than results and encouragement to have fun with the game you’ve chosen. Having fun with your sport means greater focus on the process, so that the technique-clever Self 2 can come to the fore.