The mental game can be played in a number of ways. W. Timothy Gallwey has written extensively about the “inner” games of tennis, golf, and skiing. What he discovered is something I think all serious athletes should consider.
Gallwey concluded that as we play sports, our minds are divided as if there are two people or “selves” with different personalities. One is analytical, overly judgmental and ultimately inhibiting. He called this side “self one.” The other side of your mind is quiet, confident and filled with amazing potential. This is “self two.” When playing sports, self one is constantly judging, criticizing and attempting to control self two. This becomes obvious when you hear a player yelling at him or herself, “You fool! How’d you miss that shot? You were wide open!”
Gallwey’s solution to this was, first of all, to recognize this split nature of the mind, and, second, to learn to trust self two. To accomplish this he employed a technique that is similar to the use of a mantra. In tennis, when the ball is approaching, you watch until the ball hits the court. When you see this you say, in your head, “bounce.” Then, as you swing the racket, you say “hit at the moment you actually stroke the ball.
The purpose of this “bounce, hit” technique is to keep the conscious mind, self one, busy while self two accomplishes the task. It’s like sending the boss out on a pointless errand so the workers can stay behind and get the job done.
If I were to compare my technique to Gallwey’s “bounce, hit,” I would say that the act of looking for the inflation hole and silently repeating the mantra accomplishes the same end. The conscious mind, which interferes in situations such as the free throw line, is tied up in the meaningless visual act of looking for the inflation hole.