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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball - How to Do It

Keep your eye on the ball - even if you can't see it...

As we have learned, keeping your eye on the ball is easier said than done. Coaches talk about the need to do it but I have rarely seen anyone talk about how to do it. I will mention the one exception I've seen below. But today we will turn to the tennis world to get some ideas how this is done. The video we will review is from Ian of Essential Tennis and is called How To Watch The Ball Part 1: The Process.

Ian spends quite a bit of time in the video explaining how the field of vision is divided between "focused vision" and "peripheral vision". In a separate article, Ian writes:
The human eye is able to view almost 180 degrees of vision. Out of those 180 degrees, only two or three of them are actually finely focused and used for daily tasks such as reading, driving, or whatever else your “focus” happens to be on at the time. I often demonstrate this to lessons by picking up two tennis balls, each with a different number on them. I present one to the student about 3 feet away from their eyes and ask for their focus to be on the number of the ball, and to keep it there. I then take the second ball, and start about two feet away from the first one, and ask if they can read the number on the second ball without moving their eyes from the first. The answer is always “no”. Then I slowly move the second ball towards the first, to see how far away they can read the number without moving their eyes. Most students can read the second ball once it gets about 2-4 inches from the first. Thats it! From three feet away, you’ve got about 3 inches of focused eye sight. If that small percentage is not locked on to the ball as it is traveling towards you and meeting your strings, you’re using blurry vision to see the ball, and sometimes (depending on your habits) no vision at all! Your focused vision will ONLY stay on the ball if you move your eyes along with the ball through out its path to your racket.
Everything I have read says that we, as normal humans, cannot focus on the ball all the time. In fact, it is not even a good idea. Ian explains that, after our team hits the ball and it is moving toward the opponents, our focus should be on the opponents themselves in order to see cues about what shot they will hit and where they will hit it. This allows us to prepare to make the return early and gives us more time to find and watch the ball after our opponents strike it. Again Ian:
After the ball is struck by your opponent your fine vision needs to begin tracking it immediately as you start positioning yourself for your stroke.
He states that we should track the ball from the moment of opponent impact until contact with our paddle by using our focused vision. This is where science can get in the way. A hard-struck ball is physically impossible to track the whole way to the paddle, especially if the ball travels a short distance. Ian does not discuss this at all but we know it to be true. Ian's coaching is that we should see the ball make contact, though, in order to make the purest hit in the sweet spot of the paddle. His method adds another element as he discusses below:
Now here’s the hard part for most people, as the ball approaches and comes into your racket as your make your swing, track the ball with your fine vision all the way to your racket strings, and then LEAVE YOUR EYES THERE. People have an amazingly hard time with this at first. Make your swing, watch the ball hit your racket, and keep your eyes at the point of contact. You will find (if you’ve never done this before) that you’ll have an extremely strong desire to look up and see where the ball is going. Don’t, contact is more important, and that needs to be where your focus is. After the ball has left your racket and your swing is complete go ahead and look up to see the resulting shot, and start the process over again when the ball gets to your opponent.
In order to do that, we must not use the method seen by Joy Leising in Keep your Eye on the Ball to the Paddle - the Real World. She anticipated where the paddle should meet the ball by instantly analyzing its trajectory and kept her vision looking forward. Instead, we should use the second method used by baseball players as described in Keep your Eye on the Ball to the Paddle - the Science:
they might follow the initial flight of the ball, estimate its path, then shift their eyes to the anticipated point where the ball crosses the plate to, hopefully, see their bat hit the ball.
In other words, we should do the same trajectory analysis, then move both our paddle and our eyes to the point of contact.

Before leaving this post, I mentioned above that I had seen a coach give some advice on how to watch the ball. Matt Blom was an instructor at the Pickleball Summit and had students go through several ball toss drills while instructed to "watch the holes in the ball". This provides even more focus when a player is about to hit the ball.  Excellent advice.


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