The Inner Game

The Inner Game

The concept of coaching originated from the sports world, but for some reasons we have football coaches and ski instructors. Actually for the most part, both are instructors. It’s the same for sports such as tennis and golf. No wonder it’s a widely held perception that coaches are those that shout instructions to their players, motivate them, and scold them when things are going bad.

The essence of modern coaching is rooted in the Inner Game theory developed by Timothy Gallwey, a tennis coach who was frustrated by the limitations of conventional sports coaching methods. He noticed that he could often see the faults in a player’s game, but that simply telling him what to do to improve did not bring about lasting change.

For instance, most tennis coaches would give advice such as: “Keep your eye on the ball”. When a player received this sort of instruction he would try to do what the coach was asking him and watch the ball more closely. Unfortunately, no one can keep instructions in the front of their minds for long, so players usually slide back into their habitual ways of thinking and playing. Inevitably, both coaches and players grew increasingly frustrated and the coaches will get more stern and give more instructions.

One day, instead of giving an instruction, Gallwey asked, “Can you say “bounce” out loud when the ball bounces and “hit” out loud when you hit the ball?” To do this, players had to keep their eyes on the ball but no longer had a voice in their heads repeating the words “I must keep my eye on the ball”. At this, their play started to improve markedly and the Inner Game method of coaching was born. From then on, whenever Gallwey wanted a player to change, he no longer gave instructions but instead, ask questions that would help the player discover for himself what worked, what didn’t and what needed to change.

“There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure.” ~Tim Gallwey

The Inner Game, as what Sir John Whitmore wrote in his book Coaching For Performance, is about ‘recognizing that the inner obstacles are often more dauting than the external ones’. The word “inner” was used to indicate the player’s inner state or in Gallwey’s own words, “the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net.”

Coaching, in essence, is about raising the self-awareness of the coachees, and this had been carried into the non-sports world of performance.


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About HT Lee

Coach Hwai Tah, the founder of, is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) with the International Coach Federation (ICF).

He stands in the gap of where organizations and individuals are and their extraordinary future and dreams. He engages leaders in thought-provoking process to accomplish big professional and personal goals.

Operating from his base in Malaysia and the surrounding region, Hwai Tah’s specialized areas of coaching includes performance, leadership, executive and life coaching.


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  2. Carley Pa says:

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    Thanks a lot for sharing!

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