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2017 NEW ESSAY SERIES: Local & Beyond

Managing Your Body and Mind in Tennis Space

By Jak Beardsworth

As you, a serious player, are faced with responding to incoming continually changing fuzzy yellow spheres flying at you at myriad speeds, spins, and trajectories that require, at least minimally, an equal response in kind, you absolutely have to be kinesthetically in touch with your body and all its moving parts in order to arrive at the right place, at the right time, to successfully execute a viable shot response, one that's also based simultaneously upon what you have visualized, "seen," conjured up, in your mind's eye.

Good tennis anyone?

Years ago Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University — not the best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell as is now being promoted in the short term memory world we live in! — formulated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice, which he coined "deliberate practice," to become expertly proficient at any finite motor skill activity… auto pilot realized.

Nothing to it. Right? Wrong.

Nonetheless, too late to back out now. Not that you would. You've already invested a large number of those countless Ericsson hours into developing your game. Good. But are you really effectively managing your body in space, or are you spinning your wheels on a daily basis, an endless loop of inefficient and unproductive body management and mind set?

Without the knowledge and usage of the right information, flying by wire if you will, you could very well be, unknowingly, a limited paint by the numbers player relying on trying to follow ten point check lists to get you through the shot-making challenge, an unfortunate antithesis to just do it.

Not good.

Overt left brain thinking in the midst of attempting to successfully intercept that aforementioned yellow sphere will always result in high muscle tension, triggering over-controlled racket steering lacking in fluidity, and anatomical risk — wrist, elbow, shoulder. Simultaneously, you'll be disrupting and interfering with your innate neural brain connections that are essential in producing eye-hand-eye-foot coordination — working in tandem — and overall body control to the best of your natural genetic ability that's working in concert with those hours you've devoted to the game playing and practicing.

KISS: Relaxed muscles are smart and can replicate your best level. Tight muscles are dumb as a door knob and undermine consistency.

In match play, once the point is about to start — serving or receiving — or when it's ongoing, the task then becomes to focus on two, and only two, components: 1) tracking the ball acutely both incoming and outgoing with exceptional acuity; 2) visualizing precisely what your shot intentions are both directionally and marginally over the net, immediately upon recognizing your opponent's response. That's all you can do. No, that's the most you can do!

Jordan Spieth, the young pro-golfer extraordinaire, in responding to a how'd you do that question in a post play press conference regarding making a particularly amazing shot under very difficult circumstances, came up with this little gem: "The more specific you are about seeing the exact shot you're trying to execute, the less you miss by."

Listening tennis players? Over there somewhere, along with a hoping that you don't miss mind set, is a formula for poor play.

Experienced, better club players typically do visualize their shot's intended direction, even if they're not so cognizant of it. But, those same players, mainly because they/we can see through the net, lending it to becoming a disappearing act — versus say a brick wall — are complacent about picturing their intended margin over it in the same visualization moment. That includes factoring in degree of topspin, underspin, or no spin. This results in the majority of their unforced errors being vertical (in the net or over the baseline), versus horizontal (out wide of the sidelines). Good but not the whole enchilada. The missing link.

Getting back to the mechanical or technical aspect of the game, you cannot think and hit. It's more about kinesthetically monitoring, touchy feely if you will, the physical components of shot making — footwork, racket preparation, grip, grip tension, head still, breathing, etcetera. But you cannot be left braining (analytical) these necessities and expect to be able to simultaneously track the ball and visualize your intentions.

Not happening.

Your best tennis brain does not function that way.

In fact, that kind of overt thinking makes it virtually impossible to accomplish the in-point "big two" with any kind of success.

For your review, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "kinesthetically" is: "a sense mediated by receptors located in muscles, joints, tendons, and joints stimulated by bodily movements and tensions; also: sensory experience derived from this sense."

Are you not aware of your body in everyday space? Of course you are. Getting in and out of your car without banging your head. Going up and down stairs without falling. Sure, those particular examples represent gross motor skills, and not the mostly finite motor skills required on a tennis court. So, not as demanding for sure, but, nonetheless, the more familiar you become with a task, including high difficulty ones required in ball striking, the more of a literal no-brainer — not "thinking" - it becomes.

It follows then that the more you practice the aforementioned Big 2 core fundamental skills required to be a consistent, accurate, free flowing ball striker — that means actually practicing versus playing set after set, match after match that also include, for many, poor warm-up routines, and nothing more — the more natural it becomes to manage your body in space through an effective mind set. And, as a substantial bonus by product, spend less physical and emotional energy doing it.

Embracing this approach to your game will pay the seeming elusive improvement dividends that you're seeking, and allow you to be the player you really can become.

Copyright 2017 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved.

COMMENTS WELCOME: JB1tennis@comcast.net

Past Essays

  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space[read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game[read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy[read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

Check back often for more essays.