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Coaches Corner - tip of the month


Insights to Mastering your Game, from Jak

The Mind Body Connection

When working with players I make a habit of asking them, particularly after they’ve experienced a particularly ugly unforced error, exactly what their intentions were for their shot. It is not unusual at all for them to admit, typically after a moment of deliberation, that they really did not have a clear idea of what they wanted to do with the ball beyond “over there somewhere.” That’s just not going to get it done reliably. Even with sound mechanics you’re not going to be able to play the tennis that you’re truly capable of playing with that kind of “quarterbacking.”

Some players have an innate knack for picturing their shots in advance of striking the ball – “chess on the run” according to noted author and lifelong tennis enthusiast David Foster Wallace. Unfortunately, these individuals are few and far between. Most players have a grossly underdeveloped use of their right brain hemisphere – the picturing area, i.e. thinking in pictures. Instead they mostly analytically “think” from their left brain side resulting in interrupted/distracted ball watching. Interestingly, left-handers are more predisposed to visualizing their shots since their hard wiring is right brain side driven.

As a young 'flash and dash' right-handed serve and volley specialist, I also enjoyed success hitting clean passing shots in singles and low returns in doubles versus other serve and volleyers and net rushers, the tactical norm of the day when players were without the howitzer-like rackets and the rapid recoil strings of today giving them the time to get into the net. Yet, curiously, although armed with the same forehand and backhand skill, my backcourt game was a completely unreliable crap-shoot, lacking in both confidence and consistency. A complete mystery.

Eventually, although many years later since we all coached ourselves back then and knew nothing about visualization (no one even used that terminology), it became obvious to me that I needed a “target” and excelled when I had one. An opponent coming in, or already at the net, triggered, from years of playing experience, an unconscious ability to clearly picture – in my right brain mind’s eye – exactly where I wanted my shots to go. Both the player, and the net itself or the “window” immediately above it, provided unknowing reference points both directionally with regard to the court and marginally with regard to the top of the net. It was only then that I became a credible back courter if I needed or chose to be one - just in time for the 35’s. Oh well.

Amazingly, some thirty years later, developing visualization skills in clubland remains mostly untaught and unaddressed. When Roger Federer states that he believes his greatest skill is his ability to first recognize an opponent’s approaching ball with all of its speed, spin, and trajectory, and then “see” his own response faster than anyone else, giving him comparatively more time for the actual striking of that ball.

Golfers develop this skill more readily and easily than tennis players since all of their shots are hit from a static start – unlike tennis players who enjoy that luxury only on serve and return of serve. First the look at the fairway or the green. Then the personalized wiggle-waggle routine. Then another look or two followed by another wiggle-waggle, and finally the swing. They are visualizing early on in the development of their golf game.

Not so in tennis. Surprisingly, even accomplished, veteran ball strikers are often unconsciously hoping and praying for success instead of “seeing” success through visualization prior to every ball struck, including in the midst of a live point…back to Wallace’s “chess on the run.”

This lack of clear cognizance of a shot’s precise purpose undermines a perfectly good player’s mechanics and otherwise sound games in a big way, resulting in launching mis-hit “bricks,” giving points away needlessly, and playing ugly at times.

Perform this exercise in your mind’s eye to get started:

  1. Picture the color yellow
  2. Picture a yellow tennis ball
  3. Picture a yellow tennis ball passing over the middle of the net by 3 foot margin with a rainbow trajectory landing halfway between the service line and the baseline.

These “pictures” occur lightening fast compared to slow and distracted analytical thinking. Once integrated into your game the results will totally surprise you - connecting your mind and body through visualization with the motor areas of the brain and the spinal cord handling the “details.”

Even a caveman can do it!

Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

This Tip of the Month is copyright© by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved. Copies may be made only with the permission of and by Jak Beardsworth. Contact him here.

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