Inner Game Coaching is effective in many areas of life and is easily understood in the context of sport.
In a singles game of tennis, for example, both players have an opponent standing on the other side of the net. However there are also two other opponents on court - inside the minds of the players. The Inner Game is the one they are having with their Inner Opponent.
As Timothy Gallwey explained when he first introduced the idea in 1974, “Every game is composed of two parts, an Outer Game and an Inner Game. Whatever Outer Game you are playing there is always an Inner Game going on too in your mind.” It was the early days of sports psychology.
With professional sport becoming such a financially lucrative industry, it was obvious the participants and their management would be interested in anything that could give them an edge. Top athletes and players train for many hours every day, explore new fitness techniques, processes, equipment and dietary influences, and leverage every aspect of physical development to the maximum.
This just left the mind – the last unexplored continent – as the new playing field where an edge could still be found. Enter the Inner Game.
Performance is Potential minus Interference.
So who is interfering with our potential to perform at our best?
Timothy Gallwey named the 'interferer' Self 1. Self 1 is the voice in our head which provides a running commentary, judges what we have done and gives instructions as to what to do instead.
And who is Self 1 interfering with, judging and giving instructions to - Self 2. Self 2 is our potential to perform to the best of our ability, but cannot get a look in let alone operate freely, with Self 1 dominating and continually giving instructions, judgements and criticisms.
So the Inner Game is about allowing Self 2 to firstly learn the skills by observing them in action rather than being told how to do them, and then perform them without the running commentary of Self 1.
That is, after all, how we learnt to walk, by observing our parents and others walking and then feeling the good ‘feelings’ we get when we take our first steps.
Not much instruction is needed, we probably wouldn’t have understood the instructions anyway. Just simple observation of process is the most beneficial first step and then more awareness or feel of what they are doing in order to take the next step to do what feels and works better.
These are the two natural re-inforcers of behaviour. While not everything that feels good works - and not everything that works feels good, put the two together – what feels good and works and you have a straight path to improvement.
So sport is a great activity in which to learn the Inner Game – to overcome the fears, doubts and limiting beliefs generated by Self 1 which inhibit our performances.
So our Coaching continues to develop away from teaching information and more towards creating an environment in which players excel – which is a different approach.
Process of Unlearning
Inner Game Coaching has two critical components - Increased feedback and distracting the mind (or distracting the distraction!)
However we have to start by unlearning some old beliefs of what we thought was the best way to do things, to pave the way and make space for new beliefs.
Gallwey’s revolutionary thinking, built on a foundation of Zen thinking and humanistic psychology, was really a primer on how to get out of your own way to let your best game emerge. It was ‘sports psychology’, before the term was codified into an accepted discipline or way of improving performance.
In the Zone
It is almost impossible to achieve mastery or real satisfaction in any endeavor without first developing some degree of mastery of the Inner Game.
Most of us experience times when our ‘self-interference’ is hard at work. Everything we do seems difficult, our minds are full of self-criticism, hesitation, over-analysis, self-rebuke and unhelpful dialogue. Our actions were awkward, miss-timed, and ineffective and the more we chastise ourselves and criticize our performance the worse it gets.
But then we have also experienced times, whether on a sports field, at work, or in some creative endeavour, when our actions just flow with a kind of effortless ease.
Athletes refer to this state as ‘the zone.’ Generally at these times our mind is quiet and focused. We experience a feeling that everything is just happening perfectly, without us ‘interfering’ with inner instructions in any conscious way, almost as if by itself, without our intervention.
It’s the ‘state of mind’ that, having experienced, they all want to be in. But ‘trying’ to get into the zone is usually what keeps them out of it. You can’t be there while you’re busy giving yourself instructions or trying to recall what you did before.
So the job of the Inner Game Coach is to reduce interference by developing the three overarching skills or capabilities that have us be in the Zone.
Increasing non-judgemental awareness of just ‘what is’ – people look at themselves and their performances very judgementally and become doubtful and tight which further interferes with their potential.
Clarity of goal, clarity of choice and keeping the choice maker with the choice – not running the show but following the interest of the choice maker.
Inspiring self-trust. People generally have far more potential than they think they do. This is because they interfere with their potential, compromise its’ fulfilment and then see the outcome as lack of ability, skill etc.