Johnnie Moore

Following the ball (or not)

A lesson from Inner Game author Tim Gallwey about not following Route One to a goal
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Sometimes it's good not to simply tell people what to do

Transcript of this video:

The author of the Inner Game books, Tim Gallwey, tells how when he was a tennis coach, he would often see players being shouted at by other tennis coaches and told to ‘follow the ball’ because they weren’t basically following the ball.

And he realised this was in many ways a perfectly sensible instruction.

They did really need to pay attention to the ball if they were to progress as a player, but he noticed that telling them to do it didn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

And he realised there were probably sort of two reasons for this. One, the way our mind works sometimes doesn’t bring out the best in us when we get overly focused on the goal. Some people call that target fixation, I guess.

Also he noticed that there’s a status game being played out where the coach gives instruction, the player obeys, but perhaps a little reluctantly, because deep down we don’t always want to be told what to do and we certainly don’t want to be shouted at.

So with his next player, he thought to himself, well, what can I do differently to get a more satisfying result?

And he came up with this experiment. He said to the player, I’m gonna serve you a few balls. I’d like you to hit them back, but don’t worry too much about your performance.

But what I would like you to do just for the purposes of this experiment, is when the ball hits the ground, I want you to say ‘bounce’.

And if you do hit it – wherever on the racket and whether your stroke is good or bad – I want you to say ‘hit’. Bounce, hit, bounce, hit.

And so he played this game of bounce, hit with his coachee for a while. And what do you know, before very long the player was following the ball.

I think they tell us a lot about how we really go about learning things.

I’d be tempted to make a longer video with a more elaborate explanation of what I think is going on here, but that would be slightly contrary to the spirit of what I think Gallwey is showing us

Which is that sometimes giving instructions, offering advice and explanations or information may not be the best way to help people to progress and grow.

And that sometimes what’s needed is a spirit of playful experimentation and a sense of companionship.


Photo by Samuel-Elias Nadler on Unsplash

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