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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Ball Watching and Science

April 2022

The Art and Science of Ball Watching: Learning to See Contact, by Dr. Paul Hamori, is a currently somewhat obscure but ambitious new work to say the least, and is extraordinarily researched. Its bibliography cites 36 different sources, and its "Notes" section contains 39 references.

I spend a significant portion of my on-court coaching time reminding frustrated players that all the terrific mechanics in the world, ones that they are continually seeking, will not be very useful if they are not an exceptional ball watcher-ball tracker. And that watching the flying yellow sphere, especially those without a sport's background in their youth, is a most demanding learned skill. And the most difficult to grasp for all.

Dr. Hamori, a 4.5 player, has made a study – including physics, biophysics, biomechanics, ophthalmology, neurology, kinesiology, and metaphysics - of the dynamics of ball watching, while utilizing the Roger Federer ball watching approach as his model. He observed Federer live more than 40 times, reviewed over 1,500 photos of the Swiss magician, and many hours of video of both Roger and other top players which led to his, in some instances, surprising conclusions.

Here are some of those revelations:

  • Maximum ball on string contact duration is .0005ths of a second.
  • It is impossible for the human to actually see that contact moment.
  • Perceiving contact, versus seeing it – since that's not even possible - might be a better way to view it.
  • Relaxed grip racket acceleration, particularly the last two inches prior to contact, is the source of power.
  • The sport's friendly homunculus area of brain cells is heavily weighted to sensory and motor functions of body parts.
  • Proprioception is your amazing ability to know where a body part is in space and time without actually seeing it. Close your eyes and put your index finger on your nose.
  • You actually can realize/perceive that you can "stop" the incoming ball's travel to generate the perfect image and timing of the contact moment.
  • Narrowing your eyes – squinting – can shut out any peripheral visual distractions just prior to contact. Fed does it 82% of the time.
  • Using energized footwork and the hand-racket-visual "complex" will help in arriving at the right place and right time for a clean shot.
  • It is more functional to think of putting the racket on the ball (the above mentioned "complex") versus watching the ball into the racket!!
  • Following your shot prematurely triggers disruptive changes in your intended stroking path…the head moves "up" to follow the shot the body follows. It's all connected.

That's a brief overview of Dr. Hamori's extensive research. Do your own study of exactly how you track-watch the ball.

Finally, if you have not visualized precisely what your shot intentions are immediately upon recognizing your opponent's incoming shot – something RF believes he does faster than anyone else - instead "hoping" for a good result without placement goals, it'll be long day at the office.

Copyright© by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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Past Essays

  • August 2022 - Tennis' uniqueness: warming-up the enemy
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  • July 2022 - Extracting Double Faults Through Receiving Positions... and more
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  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
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  • May 2022 - How the Toss Primes the Serve Relaxation Pump
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  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
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  • March 2022 - Caving
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  • February 2022 - Kenny G and Emmo
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  • January 2022 - The Knees
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  • December 2021 - The Match is with You
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  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
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  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
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  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
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  • August 2021 - The Challenge of Visualizing… For Some
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  • July 2021 - Playing with both your feet and your hands
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  • June 2021 - Finding the Range
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  • May 2021 - The Focus
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  • April 2021 - About Your Butt Cap
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  • March 2021 - The Essential Forehand and Backhand
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  • February 2021 - On Being a Doubles All-Courter
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  • January 2021 - Same Grip Volleying Myths
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Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays

2020

  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
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  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
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  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
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  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
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  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
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  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
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  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
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  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
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  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
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  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
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  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
    [read more]

2019

  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
    [read more]
  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]

2018

  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]

2017

  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • 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.