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A Question for Victor on Inner Tennis and Trading, from Jeff Beckwith

With the spring frostbiting season not far away and my New Years resolution that I would seek to shape my well rounded physique into something more competitive, I picked up a copy of the book Sail Fitter by Dr. Michael Blackburn, BApSc (Hons), PhD. Dr. Blackburn is a Sports Science PhD and a top level international sailor who won a bronze medal in the Laser Class at the 2000 Olympics. The book is very good reference manual for any dinghy sailor looking to bring his fitness level up a few notches. The one item that really struck me in the bibliography, where amongst all the sailing titles appeared:

Gallwey, W.T. (1976). Inner Tennis: Playing the Game. Random House, New York.

Dr. Blackburn states that despite its focus on tennis, it is a great book that can help you improve your feel for and mental approach to sailing. Based on the quote from the book I imagine that may help improve the mental approach to trading too! Are any of the racquet aficionados familiar with this book?

Victor enlightens:

The tennis aficionados are indeed familiar with Gallwey's book , especially since he was a year or two ahead of me at school, and Hobo wrote the Inner Guide to Raquetball, an augmentation of Gallwey's book, and Dr. Brett is always trying to write about the inner game of day trading.

Regrettably, there is nothing to the idea that the inner game is important. You need good strokes in tennis to be good, and good athletic ability. Then you need good coaching so that you can fit your strokes and abilities to the game, and proper discipline to apply the previous two factors. Nothing else matters, although someone like Martina Hingis is a natural in knowing where to hit the ball, and someone with a bad temper, and bad character can detract from her abilities and training at the margin. Let's say that ability, strokes and training account for 99%, and your temperament accounts for 1%, that 1% being that you could destroy yourself with cowardice et al.

The same applies to trading. If you have the right niche, if you ask the right questions, if you apply the proper balance regarding the mix of qualitative and quantitative, if you choose a proper reward and risk structure relative to your goals and ruin point, if you choose your spots, if you vary your positions and markets based on the above, if you realize the cycles are always changing, if you take account of the interrelations of markets, if you understand your place in the market eco-structure, if you have your costs to an absolute minimum, if you have no fixed rules that are easy picking for the flexible, if you choose to trade against the ephemerals and not against the true experts like the dealers and the market makers, if you have the wind at your back by always believing Lorie and Dimson, and if you have the right trainer, then you've achieved 99% of what you can accomplish.

All the inner secrets, all the proper training, all the EEGs, all the good character can't augment the preceding by more than 1%, although like the tennis player that blows up, if you're particularly egregious of character, if you drink or gamble too much, if you spend your time trying to impress the beautiful babes, if you're desirous of financial suicide, then you can override even the best of the 99%..

Now that I've listed the factors necessary for success for the spec investor, I see that it's much harder, and much more varied than for the racket player who if he's fast and strong and agile, and has good strokes, the world is his oyster, whereas comparable attributes for the spec investor, i.e. intelligence, capital, knowledge, study, are just a beginning.

Bo Keely adds:

I hope to clear some readers minds in four paragraphs. I opened Tim Gallwey's "Inner Game of Tennis" right after it was published in 1972 when I was the national paddleball champ and runner-up in racquetball. The contention that the tennis player first confronts the Inner Game when he discovers there is an opponent inside his own head more formidable than the one across the net struck me as bizarre. I still remember putting the paperback aside and meditating a full minute with the closure that the author's implication of an inner game hence an inside player was something I hadn't found on my own and didn't want to.

Fast forward a year to an evening in the mid-70 s when the phone rings. I was living in an unheated garage on a remote lake in Michigan with a Doberman, and we were surprised to hear a fast-talker on the other end remark, "This is Tim Gallwey's agent and he would like you to co-author a book on The Inner Game of Racquetball  with him". We verbally sealed the deal in five minutes, and I hung up elated. Immediately I pulled a thick file of racquet sports psychology clippings and wrote an introduction and table of contents. A day later, the agent rang and I proudly told him what I d done. To my astonishment he scoffed that it was impossible to empty the head with a file of clippings, and if I'd closely read the Inner Game I'd understand Zen athletics. Maybe he heard the Doberman mindlessly fetching in the garage, but in any case the book was stillborn along with my chance at Zen sports stardom.

Incidentally, I read Gallwey's original text from cover to cover to be stunned not by the main precept but by another sports proffer that has had wide implication throughout my life. The author suggests that if you are frightened by any prospect, anything at all in life, then cure it instantly by mental rehearsal of the worst scenario outcome. For example, I am going to lose this match. That's pretty awful, but the worst scenario might be more like I am going to lose the match by an unforced error in front of my parents and fans, my wife will divorce me to run off with the opponent and take the dog that fetches my practice balls. That vision overshadows simple loss.

Buy Inner Game of Tennis but ask yourself before cracking it, if you already have an entity in your head. If not, begin and stay on your toes.

Dr. Brett Steenbarger responds:

The book I'm currently writing reviews all research on human performance, including athletics, chess, performing arts, etc. Hundreds of studies and books are available on these topics, but--oddly--no one has assembled all the data. The bottom line is that psychological fortitude and confidence comes from structured practice/rehearsal, in which performance expectations are progressively raised and frequent, accurate feedback allows for correction of errors and eventual mastery. If the goal is the development of expertise, the pursuit of "positive attitudes", "self esteem", etc. apart from effortful mastery of a performance domain is a waste of time. Psychological difficulties can impede the enactment of skills and the expression of talents, but psychological interventions cannot substitute for those.

J. T. Holley remarks:

Reading Brett's undertaking made me think of Sam Snead's famous quote "practice puts brains into my muscles". This is from a man who could stand in a doorway and kick the top part of the frame in his younger days. The other is ole' Harvey Penick who shunned any use of negativism in his teaching of his pupils e.g. "I am never going to tell you not to swing hard, I'm going to tell you to swing slow". My wife tells me that I make people sick on the stomach I'm so optimistic and positive thinking.

Dean Tidwell adds:


8 time world champion calf-roper Dean Oliver is a living legend in work ethic. Repetition to the point that nobody could/would do what he did. My father still has the old projector film showing his hours and hours of repetition.

Wasn't it Vic's Ed. Of Spec. that told the story of Rene Lacoste's serving of a ball while the crowd was bowing to the Queen. Of all the world's greatest, at their respective field) I have never studied anyone who created the "Condition" without 1) unbelievable work ethic and 2) Powerful "re-creation" ability.

True Story... In high school, I was a baseball, basketball, and any ball "star." Bolletieri tennis academy helped me to a Singles District Championship and a Regional Semifinalist in tennis as a sophomore. I quit forever after the final loss that year as a new passion in golf was found. After struggling to an 80+ every tournament (my senior year), my father had me read Psycho-Cybernetics. I spent over 3 hours visualizing the entire day. The surroundings, each swing, everything. The next day resulted in a 74, winning my 1st High School Tournament. This was 6 shots better than any round I had played to that point. Was it NAIVETY in an easily manipulated teen that might believe anything if the right person told him so? Or was it psychological fortitude?




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