david meggyesy inner game

By David Meggyesy

Tim Gallwey, Master tennis coach, first coined the term “inner game” in 1974. His book The Inner Game of Tennis broke open the constricted, limited view and awareness of coaches and athletes. Athletes and coaches have always known there is an ‘inner game’ going on in athletes’ minds during their training and performance moments. Tim Gallwey and Robert Kriegel, a skiing coach and friend of Tim’s, followed up with their book, The Inner Game of Skiing in 1977.

Many athletes, including myself as an NFL player (1963 – 1969), were trying to get ourselves ‘right’ mentally: we called it getting our ‘psych on’. Small rituals like tying my shoelaces 20 times before a game as a way of focusing our game plan and how I would play, did the trick. Ernie Clark, my fellow linebacker, would slam the front of his head (with his helmet on) on the locker room wall five times (boom boom…) just before entering the tunnel that led onto the field. Willis Crenshaw, our fullback, would arrive in our locker room to quickly take off his street clothes and put on his uniform just 10 minutes before we would file through the stadium tunnel to the field. There were, indeed, a number of ritual practices occurring, all of which provide us with some early examples of the athletes working to successfully handle their ‘inner game.’

The living awareness aspect of our human consciousness has an inside, internal dimension, as well as, outside, external dimension. Typically what we ‘see’ and we are aware of, is ourselves experiencing the outside world; things, actions, activities that are outside of ourselves. This external ‘sensory’ data does lead to thought and feeling experiences we use for making sense of, and deciding how to be in our world.

However, in addressing the ‘inner game’ we can, and want to, shift our focus to our inside stuff; our thoughts, feelings which lead to physical sensations in the body, sensing patterns, and memories. Some describe this inner-game process as our never ending ‘stories’ that remain unexamined and become typically judgmental and result in our comparing ourselves with others. We then simply end up feeling good or bad. What is happening here? When we step back and observe our movie, there are external and internal dimensions with varying degrees of awareness. As one begins to examine the ‘inner game’ aspect, the question may become more pointed, so that one is asking, “What the hell is going on here?” The athlete was then left to puzzle out the big Mystery of our existence, with little or no guidance until the 1970s era I mentioned earlier.

For generations, coaches and athletes have been taught to focus on the external ‘what happens’ outside ourselves; that which we can measure, evaluate and judge. About lifting the weight, making the tackle, or making the basket, we say, “I know that it just happens?”. Again, our athletic training and coaching focuses on the external, the physical, physiology, technique, the science of making your body better. Strength, endurance, flexibility and regular practice where the prevailing attitude is ‘more is better!’ However, gaining awareness of what is happening in the internal dimension, our 'inside-of-us' experience, is critical. To gain this awareness, one must shift focus onto the internal experience that is happening when you lift, tackle or shoot a basket; this 'internal-focus practice results in performance-changing awareness. Still all too often, even in this 21st Century, we say, “I really don’t know?” Discovering what is happening internally when you lift, tackle or shoot a basket is the question for all of us coaches and athletes.


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