By Christine Carron
[The inner game] takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.
- Tim Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis
Many years ago, a company I was working for brought in the author of The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallwey, to lead an offsite team-building workshop. Gallwey asked for volunteers, specifically people who did not play tennis. (Hello!) I raised my hand and was one of three selected. He lined us up on one side of the court and proceeded to give us a run down of what we needed to do to hit the ball.
It was a litany of instructions: wrist here, feet there, hips this way, pivot at this moment, swing at that moment, grip your fingers tight but loose, keep your knees loose but ready, look where you want the ball to go, but also watch the ball, swing your arm only this far back, keep the racquet on this angle, don’t tense your shoulders . . .
By the time he finished, my brain was fritzing on overdrive trying to remember everything. He went to the other side of the court and served to us one by one. We all gave it our best effort but it was a pretty dismal showing, from not hitting the ball to ball gone wild.
“Let’s try something different,” he said, coming back to our side of the court. “Here’s what I want you to do. Forget everything I just told you. Instead, when the ball bounces, say ‘bounce,’ and when you hit the ball, say ‘hit.’”
We all looked at each other. Was he serious?
He was. He made us practice bouncing the ball ourselves and then hitting it a few times, calling out with every action: Bounce. Hit. Bounce. Hit. Bounce. Hit. Deeming us sufficiently trained in this new method, he headed back to the other side of the court.
I was up. He served to me and . . . BOUNCE / HIT!
Holy tennis ball! I whacked that sucker right back to him. I may have started jumping around in excitement, but then he hit the ball back to me, and I had to pull it together, and BOUNCE / HIT again!
Holy tennis ball-ooza! We were volleying. Volleying! I had never volleyed anything in my entire life. When the other volunteers were up, the results were the same. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
In minutes, he had taken three novices who could barely get a tennis ball to go straight (if we managed to hit it at all) and turned us into novices who were consistently hitting the ball across the net.
Actually, let me restate that. He didn’t turn us into those players. We were already those players. Even before we stepped onto the court, each of us innately had enough brain-body connection and coordination to get a ball across the net. What he did was give us a way to get out of our own way.
Which of course is the inner game of anything.
From that day onward, Bounce Hit became shorthand for me. It bubbles up during times of over-striving, overthinking, and overcomplicating (not unusual in the world of Christine), and reminds me to dial those back and amp up relaxation, allowing, and intuitive flow.
Gallwey writes that “the player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.” (p. xix)
Sounds good, right?
I don’t suspect I would get much argument in asserting that a whole lot of inner game mastery is needed to ace the writing adventure. Yet, perhaps Bounce Hit might not seem as applicable at first glance, since tennis is a physical activity and writing is a mental activity. (And, of course, there is no ball that bounces when we write, nor do we get to whack anything with a racquet.)
But the thing is, it’s really not about the Bounce nor the Hit. It’s about the invitation. Let’s go back to Gallwey. He opens the section on his Bounce Hit exercise with:
So the question arises as to how to maintain focus for extended periods of time. The best way is to allow yourself to get interested in the ball. How do you do this? By not thinking you already know all about it, no matter how many thousands of balls you have seen in your life. Not assuming you already know is a powerful principle of focus. (p.77, emphasis added)
Then he continues:
Focus is not achieved by staring hard at something. It is not trying to force focus, nor does it mean thinking hard about something. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. When this occurs, the mind is drawn irresistibly toward the object (or subject) of interest. It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled. When watching the tennis ball, allow yourself to fall into focus. (p. 78)
The invitation Gallwey offers us is to move into curiosity. A relaxed curiosity. One you fall into, not one you force. Nothing fancy. Nothing striving to be impressive. Just call the bounce. And call the hit.
That we can totally apply on the writing adventure. I myself have Bounce Hit my plotting process, relaxed curiosity leading me to explore: Where do I feel shaky? Where do I feel confident? Where was I trying to control too much? Where was I perhaps a little too lax in my process? What was working about the way I was plotting? What wasn't?
Have I experienced as fast of a thrill as I did that day on the tennis court? No. But I am thrilled. My understanding of plot is deepening in massive ways. I no longer feel stressed talking through plot questions and concerns with my writerly peeps. And day by day, I get more and more confident about moving my new project forward.
It all feels somewhat guided. Which is totally cool.
So now, back to you. What will you Bounce Hit this week?
The Goodjelly Prompts of the Week