Gallwey and Alexander
By Kim Shanley
To The TennisONE Community
In my last newsletter (Let Go), I was mildly critical of Tim Gallwey's classic, The Inner Game of Tennis for not providing a systematic methodology for achieving the ideal state of mind to play the Inner Game. That state is one where your ego (Self 1 in Gallwey's lexicon) allows Self 2 (natural self) to play without fear or mental interference. When that happens, we enter "the zone." When you're in the zone, time slows down, your mental chatter subsides, your focus and awareness increases, and you stop trying and simply let it happen.
Today, we're featuring a new writer (Gary Adelman) who does represent a systematic methodology for getting out of your own way and unlocking the gates of the zone. That methodology is called the Alexander Technique, which is now taught by over 6,000 teachers around the world.
However, before I provide more background on Gary Adelman and the Alexander Technique, I want to revisit my conclusion about Gallwey's methodology. After re-reading Chapter 6 ("Changing Habits") and Chapter 7 ("Concentration") of the Inner Game of Tennis, I still reach the same conclusion: Gallwey is a bit light on how to get into the zone. Having said that, Gallwey does have some interesting and valuable insights that are worth retelling.
Awareness. In Gallwey's approach, you can't really learn from the outside-in. In other words, you can't learn simply by trying (there's the word again) to be a good student by dutifully obeying every instruction issued by your coach or teaching pro. Trying to please is the ego's first impulse, quite often followed by an ego-condemnation that you've "got a lousy serve" or you're a hopeless punter. Before real learning can take place, you must gain awareness of what you're doing in the moment. Rather than make judgments that cloud your awareness, simply become aware of every detail of your stroke. Listen to the sound of the racquet striking the ball, feel the tension in your shoulder, sense when you're out of balance. Now, says Gallwey, you can begin to learn from the inside-out.
Programming. Gallwey recommends watching someone hit the ball like you would like to hit the ball (too bad there was no ProStrokes in his day), and then use that model for visualizing how you would like to hit the ball.
Self-Learning. Once you've visualized your ideal stroke, Gallwey says, just let it happen. Don't try to make it happen, let it happen. Trust that Self 2, having become aware, will make any corrections on its own.
Concentration. In Gallwey's universe, the ego and the mind are the two greatest enemies of the Inner Game. You may think you've let go of the ego-gratification of winning, but here comes a tie-breaker, and suddenly your ego has snuck back into the picture and you're feeling tight.
Recognizing the tenacity of the ego and mind to want to get back into your game, Gallwey recommends several techniques for concentrating the mind. Gallwey calls concentration the master art, for "no art can be achieved without it, while with it, anything can be achieved." Gallwey's best recommendation for focusing the mind is to concentrate on the spin of the ball. Seeing the ball better is only one benefit. The more important benefit is that watching the spin of the ball absorbs the mind, minimizing mental chatter and ego-interference.
How is this different from every tennis coach since time began scolding, "watch the ball?" The difference is that if you are trying to be a good student (pleasing your coach) and trying to watch the ball, you are allowing fear and anxiety to diminish your focus on the ball. Additionally, you are probably tensing your eye muscles, which tense your neck muscles, which in turn inhibit your body's ability to stroke the ball naturally and freely (you will see a similar analysis in Gary Adelman's Alexander Technique piece).
In summary, I still think The Inner Game of Tennis is a great book whose wisdom deserves a re-reading every few years. But reading one book will only get you so far. Here's where I think players need more systematic and enduring methodologies for unlocking the secrets of playing in the zone.
This is the reason why TennisONE is publishing a series of articles on the Alexander Technique, which is a systematic methodology for re-educating the mind and body. As far as I know, this is the first article ever published on the Alexander Technique and tennis, so we're very proud to bring this fresh perspective to our TennisONE audience.
Our new contributing editor, Gary Adelman, is well qualified to introduce the TennisONE community to the Alexander Technique, as he's been an Alexander teacher for 10 years and a tennis instructor for 25 years (teaching at the club, college and professional level). He's been quietly refining his secret formula of Alexander and tennis for a number of years now, so it's quite satisfying to share his unique perspective with our audience.
The background to the Alexander Technique is provided in Gary's article, so I won't repeat that here. But if you read between the lines a bit, you can see some Inner Game principles peeking through the Alexander Technique article. Both F.M. Alexander (the founder of the Technique) and Gallwey believed that real change comes from self-awareness and observation. Both Alexander and Gallwey believe that the ego (and it's need to please society) has interfered with the natural functioning of the body. Where Alexander differs from Gallwey is in his more comprehensive and systematic approach to teaching people how to get out of their own way.
Playing better tennis requires mastery of the outer and inner game (we're not neglecting the outer game - check out Jim McLennan's Federer groundstroke analysis). We have only one firm belief at TennisONE: that there's no one best way to learn to play tennis. Everyone seems to learn a bit differently, and therefore there is no one ideal way to teach tennis. Our goal is to provide as many schools of thought on how to play this great game as possible. You can choose the one that best suits you.
As always, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the Alexander Technique school of tennis, as well as any other opinions you care to share on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
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