Spring Training Volume 3
So now more aware of your attitude and emotions on court (from the
previous newsletter), lets visit another spring training theme - vision -
watching the ball, watching the ball "all the way in."
Roger Federer has totally captured my imagination, not unlike McEnroe did
many years ago. I am bored by and critical of the professional tennis that
lacks imagination and tactical flair (Chang, Haas, Phillipousis and so on).
I am captivated by the all court game, by an array of shots and angles, and
by players using all of the court. So I have been spending a lot of time within
our Pro Strokes Gallery studying Federer's moves.
Photo by Bill Putnam
quick, confident - these and more are apt descriptions. But I have noticed
something else, and I have not seen this as clearly with other players over
the years, perhaps they did this as well but I had not previously noticed.
Roger keeps his head impeccably still during the hit, absolutely still, his
eyes hesitate in the contact zone a moment after the ball has left the
racquet. You can notice this in stills or video replay. He absolutely
watches the ball, all the way in, I even found one instance in the gallery
on a backhand underspin where he begins a recovery step while his head is
still down at the contact zone - yes recovering without initially looking
My foray into exploration and guided discovery suggests, "Watch the ball" is
a command; the student once commanded has lost awareness and responsibility
for the task. On the other hand, a teacher might question a pupil, "How is
the ball spinning as it approaches you?" I have read that Bobby Bonds would
pitch to his young son Barry, using balls slightly smaller than baseballs,
and with two different but distinctive marks, and Barry was only allowed to
swing at one of the two types of balls. An extreme visual acuity was born,
the rest is history. Barry not "watching the ball" but rather trying to see
something specific that would differentiate one ball from another.
had once asked me to note how the service toss was spinning as I hit it.
And though this probably had something to do with my tossing mechanics,
equally it enabled me to heighten my awareness of the movement of the ball
as I swung up to serve it.
Experiment with your awareness of the quality of your vision. Do you feel
your head move during the swing? Are there moments during the incoming
flight of the ball when you see it less clearly? Can you observe Fred
Earle's 5 rules as you monitor and hopefully improve how well you track the
ball? On this, take a moment in the Pro Strokes gallery, find nearly any
sequence of Roger Federer, and be amazed (as I am) at how still, poised,
motionless without appearing rigid or locked, is Rogers head and eyes during
For those of you wanting more on vision, I have a few leads. Slow the Ball
Down.com. Bill Harrison, sports vision trainer, has worked with George
Brett, Jason Giambi, and years ago Tom Stow. Bill has an extensive line of
products that can be used off court, to heighten ones visual acuity on
court. In the 1970's I used his book Vision Dynamics, and his vision cards,
to work on my visual skills. The exercises are fascinating, helpful, and
overall this approach inspired me to totally reexamine what I knew (as a
player and teacher) about following the ball. I know Bill personally, he is
engaging, he is an expert, and he is moving much of his material into the
tennis domain. And as an aside, generally when players recount their best
wins, they invariably describe a phenomenon where the ball mysteriously
appeared larger than normal and moved slower than normal, so that one can
actually "slow the ball down"
Additionally, the following two links are fascinating reading on visual
tracking skills. First, PBS "Scientific Frontiers" has a segment entitled
"A Quiet Eye" at (click here). There is also a
question-and-answer web page
(click here) with Joan Vickers
So between now and our next visit, on court I will be patient, positive,
and willing to make mistakes, 100% fully engaged, and taking full
responsibility - as I monitor my eyes.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
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First Things First: The Ball
In this segment of his instructional suite Jim Mclennan examines the flight of the ball. In each and every instance the ball has a certain amount of momentum, and moves in a specific way. Soft balls, fast balls, skidding balls, ascending balls, descending balls - in every instance there is a way to use what the ball gives us, always with an eye to minimizing effort and improving shot selection.
The Essentials of Shot Making
Ready position. Grip. Backswing. Contact point. Follow-through. These are the components that have been drilled into us when taking tennis lessons. And they are important components of shot making, but, they may be much less important than the true fundamentals like seeing the ball, moving to the ball, maintaining balance when hitting the ball and controlling the racquet head.
What's An Athlete?
"He's not what you'd call a good athlete, but he's a good tennis player." Pardon the diatribe but that's the kind of backhanded compliment tennis players have been subjected to for years and Joel Ducker has had enough of it. After all, why should tennis have to apologize for itself?
A Plan for Strengthening the Rotator Cuff in Tennis Players
The Infraspinatus is one of four muscles that function as the "rotator cuff". This group is designed to stabilize the head of the humerus as it sits in the socket of the shoulder, and is responsible for initiating the complex rotational movements of the shoulder that allow it to move in all directions known as circumduction. Without these muscles our movements would not include slice backhands, open stance forehands, topspin serves, overhead shots and the myriad of other movements your shoulder goes through when you play the game.
Exclusively on TennisONE
ProStrokes Gallery: James Blake's Serves and Returns
James Blake is included among the rising group of young Americans and with his matinee idol looks and engaging personality,he seemed like just what was needed to give American tennis a shot in the arm. But lately some of this group is passing him with Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish and Robbie Ginepri placed ahead of him on the ATP standings. Blake is quick as a cat but his balance seems a bit suspect. Study his strokes and see what you think.
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