A Harvard English major wrote The Inner Game of Tennis in 1972. A million copies later, its ideas are still some of the most influential in sports — and beyond, taken seriously by actors, politicians, and even sex researchers. What’s its secret? Maybe that there is no secret.
He’s resting on a couch, but this discussion—explaining how his team will rebound from a moment that most Seattle fans still can’t bring themselves to watch again—is more interrogation than psychotherapy. “If you hope I’m going to cry over the deal, I’m not,” Carroll says. “I’ve moved past that.” ... Carroll believes he made the right call. He’s never wavered there. Where some people say “worst possible decision,” he says “worst possible outcome.” That’s his distinction, and he’s sticking to it. ... the same critics who panned Carroll for throwing late against the Pats lambasted him for the decisions he made against UT. He never ignored that moment or banished it from his memory or said it didn’t hurt like hell. He confronted it. And it has fueled him. Says Carroll, “It’s much easier for me [to move forward] than most people.” ... There’s a famous story about the epiphany Carroll had around this time. He was reading a book by John Wooden that described how it took the old UCLA coach 18 years to win his first national title. And then Carroll slammed the book shut, inspired. He took the USC job in December of that year and started to write down not only what he wanted to accomplish but how he would go about it. He filled legal pads and the outsides of manila folders with so many notes that he ran out of space to write. He dissected every aspect of performance. Details that seemed small—like having players preorder for the Trojans’ omelet station in order to save a few minutes at breakfast each morning—were implemented to improve efficiency. He asked his assistant coaches to explain their vision in 30 words or less ... To Carroll, it became less about the victories and more about the process.