Friday, June 27, 2008

The Inner Game

I suppose my thinking for this blog has something to do with the fact that I've been watching some of the Wimbledon tennis matches on tv. And, I've been watching as much of the Euro Cup Soccer as I can - where all of the pre-tournament favorites have been knocked out of competition! This has put my mind to thinking about the importance of focus, concentration, positive energy, momentum - all those kinds of things - on performance in sport and, come to think of it, in life generally.

Way back in 1972 a book came on the market called The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey. Athletes in all kinds of sports found Tim's thesis that there are actually two games going on in any competition: the outer game (what observers SEE) and the inner game (what goes on in the mind of each competitor), transformative. And of course there's often a connection. Players can defeat themselves by allowing their mental state to interfere with peak performance. We've all seen it - dramatic shifts in momentum in key hockey games or obvious lapses in concentration in tennis or golf. You can almost see the mind straying from its target. Maybe it begins to think of what success is going to feel like or maybe the mind starts to analyze the "victory" before the competition is over, or maybe the mind begins to doubt the outcome.

A few days ago I heard a report about a study that tested the actual advantage gained by athletes taking so call "performance enhancing drugs" compared with those taking a placebo. The result of the study was that even many of the athletes who were taking the placebo had noticeable improvements in their performance! And just today I heard about a new development in the material used in swimwear and a discussion about the competitive mental advantage that athletes get from having a perceived "edge" when it comes to gear or equipment. It all has to do with the mental side of competition.

So, I'm thinking that this isn't just about sport performance. Who we are as individuals has an awful lot to do with who we THINK we are and with our ability to set and stay true to our goals - whatever they may be. There is an inner game - and we are wise to pay attention to it! Not to reduce relationships to the status of a "game" or to suggst that life itself is simply a "game", but really, it's about perspective.

I also wonder if somehow the fact that many of us live pretty comfortable self-centred lives has made us both mentally and physically "soft". OK - I'm speaking for myself and maybe it doesn't apply to you - but I keep thinking that I am coasting through life and that someday I'm going to realize that I missed LOTS of things along the way. You may notice this theme has cropped up in my postings from time to time!

Let me be more specific and link this to my faith journey. Let's say that I am (or want to be) a fully devoted follower of Christ - a disciple. What's the inner game of discipleship? What kinds of things might distract me from my goal? How can I train myself so that I'm on top of my game ALL the time? I can't help thinking about Peter, one of Jesus' disciples. Scripture and tradition paint him as the impulsive, brash one - a fisherman by trade. On one occasion, for instance, he's said to have stepped out of a boat into turbulent water and actually taken a few steps ON the water before the realization of what he was doing caught up with him and he focussed on the water and the storm - and sank! Don't you wonder what things we might be capable of if we could just keep our inner game in line?

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