Probably the most common self-correction and lament heard on the tennis court is part of the title of this article: “Watch the ball!” Sounds easy, right? Yet, it’s one of the hardest things for us mere mortal tennis players to do on a regular basis.
Trying to execute this one simple task is likely the cause for more bad shots and resulting lost points than anything else in the game. So, why is it such a problem to keep our eye on the ball, and hit in the center of the racquet?
And, how do we learn to become more focused?
First: We have to identify where the ball is going so we can get in position to hit it cleanly, in the racquet’s “sweet spot.” As the ball travels toward an opponent, our focused vision – about 5% to 10% of our total 180-degree field of vision – should be on the opponent’s movements.
This will give us cues as to where the opponent might hit the ball back, allowing us to anticipate the shot.
Second: At the exact moment he or she strikes the ball, our focused vision must get on the ball and stay on it through impacting the center of our racquet.
In fact, it’s best to keep looking at that contact point for an instant after the ball leaves the strings.
This will also help to keep your head still and not look up too soon, more aptly insuring a cleanly struck ball.
As easy as this all might seem, the vast majority of mis-hits or bad shots are the result of taking our eye off the ball at the instant of impact. Whether we look at our target or opponent instead of watching or tracking the ball completely, or even simply blinking, the result is usually the same – a badly missed shot.
So, how do we make this “easiest” task stop being the hardest?
If you take a lesson or clinic now and then, have the pro work with you to better your ball tracking skills.
If you have access to a ball machine, set up a target to hit at and discipline yourself to not look at the target until well after the ball has left your racquet.
A hitting partner and a basket of balls can also do the trick.
The process of repetition is key to help you watch the ball, keep your head still, and make clean contact. Then, watching the ball becomes second nature, and your game just might improve dramatically.
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. firstname.lastname@example.org