For Better Performance, More Awareness

Among important cognitive skills is “learning to see ‘nonjudgmentally’–that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening,” according to The Inner Game of Tennis. I read it earlier this month. The author, Tim Gallwey, is a long-time tennis coach who teaches the importance of developing cognitive skills for improving in tennis or any other activity.

When you hit a bad forehand and curse yourself, the part of you doing the cursing is “Self 1” and the part of you who hit the shot is “Self 2.”

The key to better tennis–or better anything–lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the natural capabilities of Self 2. (p. 10)

Soon after reading the book, a talk by Kathy Sierra was queued on my iPod and she happened to mention The Inner Game of Tennis. She said, to become a better performer, tell the dumber part of your brain (who Tim would call Self 1) to “shut up.” Cut out the noise and the “chatter.”

Back to Tim:

No matter what a person’s complaint when he has a lesson with me, I have found that the most beneficial first step is to encourage him to see and feel what he is doing–that is, to increase his awareness of what actually is. (p. 25)

…a great deal of technique can be learned naturally by simply paying close attention to one’s body, racket and ball while playing. (p. 54)

The process is an incredibly simple one. The important thing is to experience it. Don’t intellectualize it. See what it feels like to ask yourself to do something and let it happen without any conscious trying. For most people it is a surprising experience, and the results speak for themselves. (p. 80)

It would be useful to all tennis players to undergo some “sensitivity training” with their bodies. The easiest way to get such training is simply to focus your attention on your body during practice. (p. 89)

Luann Udell has found it helpful to use a Wii Fitness Board in her physical rehabilitation (Wii-habilitation). The Wii system gives her immediate feedback on her balance, improving her proprioception. (Proprioception was a new word for me. It refers to our sense of the position of our body. For example, through proprioception we know the location of our tennis racket even when it’s behind us on a backswing.)