Welcoming Vic Braden to TennisOne
Today we publish the first article in our new Vic Braden series of video analyses. Vic Braden is certainly one of the spiritual godfathers to TennisOne -- using multimedia and other innovative methods to teach tennis in a whole new way. Among his many accomplishments, Vic founded the Vic Braden Tennis College, at which TennisOne members will receive a 10% discount. Please join me in warmly welcoming Vic Braden to the TennisOne community and our ever expanding list of outstanding writers and contributors.
Kim Shanley, Publisher
On Fixing Unforced Errors
Certainly the zone is considered the ultimate tennis experience, but I wonder sometimes if people are really aware enough of their own state of being to realize that there is something else out there besides their normal performance state.
Most players, unfortunately, play the game in one state of being and one state only – their normal performance state. Then, for no apparent reason, they have one of those great days where everything comes together and they play the game out of their minds. But rather than recognize that day as a day where they switched from their normal performance state to their peak performance state, they think instead that this was nothing more than the way they always play – except when they are having a bad day, which is almost always.
I’ve actually had people come out for a lesson, or a workshop, warm-up in their normal performance state (making a bunch of unforced errors) and looking very ordinary in the way they play the game. Then, when I show them how to get in the zone and they make the switch to their peak performance state and start playing to their maximum potential, they turn around and tell me this is how they usually play.
Federer’s head and eyes are still at contact. No visual error.
I usually leave them alone for about 5 minutes, saying nothing about keeping their focus fixed on their contact zone and pretty soon they start focusing on their outcome, lose their fixed focus state, go back to variable depth of focus and start playing tennis in the norm again.
When I ask them what’s going on they say they are just having a bad day, or they just can’t concentrate today. Some excuse that takes the responsibility off of them and puts it elsewhere. I’m not exactly sure where “I’m just having a bad day” fits on the ladder of lame excuses, but you hear it all the time and what it really means is that you are having a day in which you are performing somewhere along the bad-to-good continuum of your “normal performance state.” This is a performance state in which your operating system is prone to making errors in the way it interfaces with the action on the court.
In other words, in your normal performance state, your eyes often send inaccurate information to your brain about the speed of the ball’s movement. Your brain then takes that inaccurate visual information, processes it, and then outputs inaccurate motor information to your body that results in your stroke being mis-timed. Consequently, you make a lot of unforced errors because of the underlying errors made by your operating system. The more often your eyes send bad information to your brain, the more often your brain sends bad information to your body. When this happens, you end up making a lot of unforced errors. End result: a bad day.
Bad days don’t just happen. A bad day happens for very logical reasons when you look at the system dynamics of performance. Errors in the way your operating system interfaces with the ball are causal to errors in your performance, and until you make corrections to the cause, you will not make corrections to the bad day you are experiencing as the effect.
Roddick’s head and eyes are moving at contact. On this forehand he gets away with the visual error.
The quality of your overall performance (good day, bad day, great day, horrible day) is a function of the quality of this core interface between your operating system and the tennis environment. Even ATP players have bad days, so you know that a bad day is not caused by the quality of their stroking techniques. ATP pros all have high quality stroking techniques, so that’s not the core cause of someone like Andy Roddick having a bad day or not playing to his full potential on that day. It has to be something else, something that is causal to the quality of his performance. Something that you cannot really see with the naked eye, but that is always functioning beneath the surface of the stroking techniques that we can see making all those unforced errors.
The precision necessary to play the game at the tour level is hard for the average player to understand. But when you look at the elapsed time between contact events as the ball is hammered back and forth across the net at unbelievable speeds, you realize the importance of a high-quality input/processing/output (IPO) interface between the player’s operating system and the movement of the ball.
Even slight inaccuracies in a player’s visual input will cause relatively slight inaccuracies in that player’s motor output, and errors in motor output end up creating slight errors in the contact event. End result – Andy Roddick’s monster forehand hits the tape or sails six inches long. And it has nothing to do with an error in his forehand technique. That’s the effect. The cause was an error in his operational interface; more exactly, an inaccuracy in his visual input that caused a relative inaccuracy in his motor output.
Again, Roddick’s head and eyes are moving at contact. On this forehand, the visual error causes the contact error.
What you see is the inaccuracy in his motor output which takes the form of an error in his technique. But once again, you are seeing the effect of an error in his overall IPO interface, which is caused by an error in his visual input. Andy’s eyes gave Andy’s brain inaccurate information about the movement of the ball, so Andy’s brain ended up giving Andy’s body inaccurate motor information about his own countermovement to intercept the ball, and Andy’s body ended up making an inaccurate countermovement to intercept the ball, and that countermovement ended up being off just enough to create negative contact.
Effect: Andy’s monster forehand goes six inches wide.
Cause: (according to TV commentators) Andy didn’t move his feet, or Andy tried too much on that shot, or Andy is too far back from the baseline. Take your pick. Each analyst has a different take on the cause of Andy’s unforced error. Unfortunately, they are not pointing out the cause. They are pointing out different errors in the effect.
Cause: (according to system dynamics) An inaccuracy in Andy’s visual input that caused a relative inaccuracy in Andy’s motor output.
To get to the cause you have to look at the source document, if you will. And in tennis, the source document is your VCM (Visual/Cognitive/Motor) operating system – not the techniques performed by your VCM operating system. Andy Roddick has great technique on his monster forehand, so why does he ever miss? With his technique, when he hits a forehand it should always go in. And if his technique is off, then there must be something beneath his technique that is causal to that technical error.
Look beneath the surface and you’ll find the human VCM operating system. Look at the first link in the operating system’s IPO interface with the tennis environment and you’ll find the human visual input system. Your eyes.
Errors in visual input cause relative errors in motor output.
Cause: errors in visual input.
Effect: errors in motor output.
You can work on correcting the errors in your technique until you are purple, but you will only be correcting the effect, you will not be correcting the cause. If you go to the source, if you correct the errors in your visual input, you will be amazed at how well your motor-output, your technique, works.
Cause and effect. That’s how tennis works. That’s how your VCM operating system performs. In that sense, you and me and Andy are exactly the same. And no matter how much Andy works on his motor-output (technique) he won’t raise the quality of his overall performance until he raises the quality of his visual input.
The quality of his effect is directly related to the quality of his cause. Same with me; same with you.
That’s how the human VCM operating system works.
(For more information about the Parallel Mode Process and getting into the zone, visit www.arete-sports.com)
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