As I flipped to the last few pages of the bestselling book by Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis, my mind reflected back on what it described about the game of tennis.It reflected on how a tennis player is playing two games, when playing a match. Apart from the evident match he is playing against the opponent across the court, there is an INNER game that he is playing against himself. As Tim went on to describe this other game in detail and how it applies to almost every athlete in any sport, I realised how there is an inner game going on in every one of us, almost all the time. 

What's your inner game 2

In case of star tennis players like Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras in the past and players like Federer, Nadal and Novak Jokovic at present, they are constantly evaluating their performance on every stroke and every serve. They are adjusting their style and stroke play as per a game plan in their mind, which does not even account for the opponent. The concept, built on a foundation of Zen thinking and humanistic psychology, talks about how they concentrate, work on gamesmanship and address their weakness. Many a times, the battle in the mind is what decides if they win a match, not how they play the opponent on that day.

As a runner, I can vouch for this inner game and how it is all that matters to millions of amateur marathon runners across the world. We all have our own benchmarks to beat, our own hurdles to clear, our own puzzles to solve and our own destiny to achieve. The event, the route, the terrain, the weather, atmosphere, no. of runners, type of crowd support, hydration support offered, etc. has little say over the course of 42.2 kilometres. If in my mind I am doing good, I can feel rhythm in my steps, magic in my stride, flow in my breath and smile on my face, I am a winner right from the first step. If that’s not the case, then even a new pb (personal best) will not enthuse or cheer me so much, leave alone a bad timing. 

I am reminded of an instance way back in 2014, when I was preparing to run just my second half marathon in Corbett. Incidentally, on the same day, my daughter was to run a 4km cross country race in her school in Gurgaon. As we wished each other good luck the previous night on the phone, assimilating the competition and her potential, I challenged her to be among the top three in her race. Not very familiar with the equation of a half marathon and not knowing that her Dad was an ordinary runner and not some star athlete, pat came her counter challenge “Daddy, you also need to get either a Gold, Silver or Bronze in your marathon.” And though I did not feature in top 50 of some 450 odd runners at the end, I had clocked a new pb and was simply overjoyed to get the regular ‘participant Brass medal’ the next day. But I was still overjoyed, as I had done as per my expectations and I ended the run with a smile.

What's your inner game 3

(As is depicted so well in the pic above, the joy of winning a bronze medal, when u could have narrowly missed out on a medal, is far higher compared to the kid who won the gold without too much of effort or the kid who won the silver medal, who regretted on not coming first.)

Very often, even a simple project being finished as per expectation can give a much greater satisfaction than a large project which is finished well. The benchmark set by the project lead in his mind matters more than the size of the achievement. 

We are constantly winning battles in daily life, working on a project at work, cooking a new dish for dinner, composing a new song , drawing a sketch, or even going on a tough, long drive in the car. The battle in our mind is to overcome perceived shortcomings, which generally are creations of our own mind, than any large external factor. And in the pursuit of excellence, having overcome those challenges matters more than the quality of the final output. Its not necessary that the song should be a chartbuster hit, it just needs to sound melodious to us. Its not necessary that the project will win us an award in the company, it should just gives us a reason to smile.

So Are you winning your inner game?

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Hetal Sonpal

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