How To Keep A Still Head At Contact

Oct 18

How can you keep your head still and not look up when you’re making a shot?

Surely you’ve seen the pros do that. They keep a very still head and look up only after they’ve completed their follow-through.

And surely your coach has told you to keep a still head, watch the ball, and don’t move your head – yet you find it very difficult to do.

So, what is stopping us from keeping our head down, and how can we learn to do that?

Bonus Video – How I Teach Kids To Keep A Still Head

I’ve compiled another video where I show a progression of drills that I use to teach kids the concept of a still head.

You can access this video by sharing this page with your friends.

[sociallocker id=”2713″]Thanks for sharing! Please check the drills below and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Why Keeping A Still Head Is So Important

The main reason for keeping a still head while we’re contacting the ball is that it helps us hit many more shots in the sweet spot and keep our balance at that moment.

Let’s look at each of those reasons separately:

a) More Shots in the Sweet Spot

When we are approaching the ball with the racket and we’ve lined up for the ball, our brain has calculated the exact path into the ball with our sweet spot. As soon as we move our head away, we are also going to pull the shoulders away.

The result is that our shoulders are going to move the arm, and the arm is going to move the racket a bit. We’re no longer going to hit the ball in the sweet spot of the racket.

missing the sweet spot

We lose a lot of power when we don’t hit the sweet spot

The sweet spot of the racket is actually quite small; it’s about the size of a hand.

So, if you’re hitting the ball somewhere in the sweet spot, then the racket is very powerful and bouncy. However, as soon as you hit the ball off the sweet spot by a few centimeters, you will hit with much less power because the racket is not so bouncy as the power drops off very quickly.

Hitting by only a few centimeters off the center gives you 30 or 40 percent less power.

If you are pulling away the head, you will be miss-hitting the ball slightly; therefore, you’re not going to hit a good ball because the racket doesn’t give the ball good power.

b) Better Balance While Hitting -> More Power And Control

The second reason for keeping a still head at contact is that we have better balance and more power at our disposal.

If we are moving the head away at the moment of contact, we disturb our balance a little bit because the balance is in our inner ear. That’s the main center.

If we jerkily move the head at the moment of contact, we disturb our balance some, which affects our ability to hit a good shot.

That’s because, when we’re a bit off balance, our brain is going to trigger certain muscles in the body and keep them at a certain tension as that will prevent us from falling.

But when those muscles are used for balance, we can’t use them for our strokes! As such, we lose on some power again.

So, those are the main reasons we should watch the ball and keep a still head at contact.

Now, I know that when you’re playing you probably never miss the ball, and that’s why you don’t feel that it’s so important to watch the ball.

You never completely miss the ball. You always hit the ball on the racket, even if you don’t watch it very carefully.

Even if you don’t keep a very still head, you’ll still play at a reasonable level.

That’s why you don’t feel that it’s so important to watch the ball and keep a still head.

But when you come to a bit higher level of tennis, you will start to feel a very big difference between hitting the ball in the sweet spot and hitting the ball off the sweet spot.

Hitting the ball off the sweet spot immediately makes the ball land short, and you will be in trouble. Your opponent can attack you.

So, that’s why you want to hit good shots as much as you can. The only way to do that is to really pay attention to the ball and not move your head when you’re making a shot.

4 Reasons You’re Not Keeping A Still Head At Contact

Before we go on to learning how to keep your head still at the point of contact, we have to address the reasons you can’t keep your head down.

I know of three mental reasons and one physical one.

1. Looking Up To See Where Your Opponent Is

The first mental reason is that, as you’re about to hit the ball, you look up to see where your opponent is going.

You want to see if your opponent is going to the right, so you can then play to the left.

I have to tell you that an experienced tennis player is not concerned with where their opponent is going.

There are two reasons. First, your opponent is recovering and waiting for your move.

If your opponent has any skill in tennis, they’re going to go back to the middle of the angles that you can hit, and they’re going to split step.

Why are they going to split step?Β So that you can’t wrong-foot them.

An experienced player split steps and waits for your move.

So, there’s nothing to see.

ideal recovery position in tennis

I will always recover to the ideal position from where I can cover the court well on both sides

After they’ve hit their shot, they’re always recovering on every shot that you play. What are you going to see? πŸ˜‰

They will inevitably be coming back to the middle, and they will split step.

There is one situation, though, where your opponent is actually running and doesn’t split step.

That’s when you stretch them really wide and leave them too far from their ideal recovery position.

Now, they have to gamble.

They either choose to run to the open court as they are guessing that you’ll play there, or they’re going to wait in case you try to wrong-foot them.

So, that’s another situation when you might say, “Well, I want to see what my opponent is doing.”

But again, there’s no need to see what your opponent will do.

I will still choose to hit in the open court even if I sense that my opponent is about to gamble and possibly run to the open court.

looking at the ball in tennis

You should play to open court most of the times hence there’s no need to look at your opponent and where he is going

That’s because, if they choose to run immediately towards the open court, they’re still going to run 8-10 meters to get to my ball, so it’s very unlikely that they will hit a good ball back.

It’s actually more likely that they’re going to make a mistake. Even if they do hit the ball back, they’re not going to hit a good ball, which allows me to stretch them again to the other side and make them run.

If I try to wrong-foot them and they guess that in their gamble, then I didn’t make them run.

In fact, they are now just waiting there for the ball, which means they can turn defense into offense. Therefore, that’s a riskier shot for me.

wrong footing shot in tennis

A wrong-footing attempt can quickly change offense into defense

That’s again why I don’t look at my opponent, even if they’re stretched out wide. I still prefer to hit in the open court and make them run rather than take a chance that they’re going to read my wrong-footing shot and turn defense into offense.

It’s very important that you follow my explanation in your mind’s eye now and check what you’re thinking, what your beliefs are.

All the above logic has to be very clear to you. You must adopt it so that, when you’re about to hit the ball, you don’t feel the urge to look at your opponent. Only then can you keep your head down – unless, of course, something else pulls you up.

I am not saying you should never play wrong-footing shots but in my experience of working with juniors and adults they attempt the wrong shooting shots way too many times and make the game much more complicated than it is.

 
The foundation of high percentage tennis is moving your opponent as much as possible which means that “by default” you play to open court and therefore there is no need to look where you opponent is going.
 
Only when you are good at this stage of playing should you try to “upgrade” this with occasional wrong-footing shots.

If you’re still not sure why there’s no need to look at your opponent, then leave me a question below in the comments and I’ll share my views.

2. Looking Up To See Where The Target Is

The next reason you pull up from the contact point is that you want to look at the target.

You may want to see where you want to play the ball. Maybe you don’t want to watch your opponent; maybe you’re fine with that, but you’re actually looking up to see where you’ll hit your next shot.

Here’s why we don’t look at the target in tennis: first of all, we don’t aim at small targets.

Maybe professionals have slightly smaller targets, yet even they don’t look up. We, as recreational tennis players or competitive juniors, should have bigger targets.

The best pros in the world receiving the easiest ball can’t consistently hit fairly big targets. How good do you think you are? πŸ˜‰

We can’t have small targets – meaning aiming close to the lines – because we have a bigger β€œspread.” That is, we spread the balls around our target.

how much you miss in tennis

That’s by how much you’ll miss your target on average – if I feed you very nice balls.

If we aim at a small target placed on the court, we will on average miss it by around 5 feet on the sides and by around 8 feet in terms of depth.

So, when we aim close to the lines, a large percentage of our shots will land out.

Therefore, we need to aim more inside the court, which means we have big targets.

I initially teach players to aim in the middle of the second half of the court on the left and on the right side.

Imagine a target right in the middle of each quarter between the baseline and the service line.

two target areas

Most of the shots from the baseline should be aimed at these two targets

If you aim at those targets, you can miss a lot but your shot will still land in the court.

And because your target is very big, you don’t have to look at it!

There’s one more thing to keep in mind as you may be wondering how you’re going to hit any good shots closer to the lines.

The answer is simple: you’re going to miss the target!

Since you’re going to miss your target 99% of the time, you will spread your shots equally around your target.

That means you can hit the ball:

  • a bit short and wide – that will be a great shot as it will pull your opponent out of the court;
  • a bit long and wide – again a good shot, pulling your opponent wide and pushing them back;
  • a bit long and more to the middle – a good shot that prevents attacks and possibly forces a short ball; or
  • a bit short and to the middle – that’s the only time your shot is not so good and your opponent can start to dictate if they are good enough to react quickly.

Based on this, we can conclude that you will hit a good shot in 3 out of 4 situations, and that’s how you’ll actually hit those good shots a lot without aiming for the lines.

high percentage tennis

You will hit good shots most of the times when you miss your target!

You will hit those shots simply based on statistics as you’re aiming in the right place where it’s high probability that your shots will land closer to the lines but not outside of the court.

Because the target is big and you are free to miss your target, you don’t have to look at the target.

We’re not aiming at small targets in tennis. We aim at big targets, and hitting big targets is not so difficult. In fact, with some practice, we do that without even looking at them.

3. Looking Up Because You Don’t Trust Your Ability To Aim Without Looking

This brings me to the third mental reason you look up, and that’s because you don’t trust your ability to hit a target without looking at it.

And this is what practicing keeping your head down is all about.

It’s all about trusting your ability to hit your target without looking.

When you improve your ability to hit the targets without looking at them, you’ll begin to trust yourself.

Then you’re not going to look up to see where the target is or where your opponent is.

And this is what you’ll develop once you spend some time practicing keeping your head still, which is what you’ll learn just below.

4. Looking Up Because Your Body Is Turning – It Feels Natural

There’s one more reason it’s difficult to keep your head still when you’re making a shot, and this one is more of a physical reason.

When you’re hitting your forehand or a two-handed backhand, what happens is that your body is rotating. Your shoulders are rotating forward, and it’s not very natural to rotate your shoulders but not rotate your head.

Your head naturally wants to go together with your body.

body and head rotation

Your head naturally follows the body.

When you play tennis, you need to rotate your shoulders and rotate your body but not rotate your head.

That’s physically not very comfortable. That is not how our body likes to work.

still head at contact

Train yourself to keep your head from following your body

It wants to work in harmony, so shoulders and head want to move together.

For this reason, you actually have to train yourself to keep your head still when you rotate your shoulders because that’s not very natural.

The same goes for a two-handed backhand; when our body rotates when we’re hitting the ball, the head wants to rotate, too.

Keeping your head down and still is a bit uncomfortable, and it will get comfortable only when you make a lot of repetitions.

And you can, in fact, do those repetitions even when you’re not hitting an actual ball.

You can just practice at home simulating a stroke and normally turning your body and your shoulders but keeping your head still while looking at your imaginary contact point.

It’s, of course, easier when you play a one-handed backhand or a slice backhand because the body is not rotating then.

How To Practice Keeping A Still Head At Contact

Now that we’ve addressed the main reasons why it’s difficult to keep your head down, we can start working on keeping your head still when hitting the ball.

Once you no longer worry about your opponent or about looking at the targets and you’ve become a bit more comfortable rotating your body on the forehand side or on the two-handed backhand side, you can start working on the actual skill of keeping your head down and trying to hit the target.

I intentionally use the word skill because it is a skill. When we work on skills, we isolate them, and we practice them – and, with repetition, they improve.

For example, this skill is similar to trying to learn an open stance forehand or to learn how to hit with topspin because these skills improve with repetition.

So, the actual skill that you want to develop when it comes to keeping your head still at contact is your ability to hit a big target area without looking at it. That’s it.

When you start working on this skill, you won’t be very good to start; therefore, you won’t trust yourself to keep your head down. That’s the biggest obstacle that you have to overcome in the initial phase of practicing.

You’ll work on the skill, but you won’t be good at it – yet.

But I encourage you to persevere and stick with it because you’ll soon see that you’re better at hitting targets without looking at them than you thought.

Once you do trust yourself in this ability, you will finally be able to keep your head still while hitting the ball consistently even when you play matches.

Here’s how I suggest you work on keeping a still head:

Put a target in the middle of the second quarter of the court on the other side. Look at it for a couple of seconds, then drop feed the ball to yourself and aim at the target without looking at it.

practicing watching the ball

Practice keeping a still head and keep adjusting

Notice where the ball lands and then adjust.

If your shot landed too much to the left, aim more to the right. If it was too short, aim deeper – then try again.

Through repetition and adjustment, you will see that, even after 10 shots, you are now hitting a bit closer to the target.

What helps is imagining a line along which you can extend your arm towards the target.

Try to figure out the correct angle at which you must swing towards the target and then focus on that.

controlling forehand direction

Focus on the initial line towards the target

This is the only part of the flight of the ball you can control. After the ball is flying, you have no control over it anymore.

So, focus on this line, this track that leads towards the target, and see if you can find that exact angle under which you must swing so that the ball lands close to the target.

Your next progressions will be when you have a cooperative rally with your partner where you will do exactly the same.

Have a target placed on the court and aim at it without looking – keeping your head still at contact – and keep adjusting based on where your shots land.

You will see that you can quickly improve your accuracy after just a few minutes. It really isn’t that difficult to do when you aim for big targets.

Once you see your success, you will gradually build more trust in your ability to hit accurate shots even when you don’t look up.

Therefore, you will reinforce this skill of keeping your head still when hitting the ball.

Summary

In summary, why is it important to keep your head still when you’re hitting the ball, and how can you learn that?

When you keep your head still as you’re making your contact, you’re going to very likely hit the sweet spot of the racket. That gives you a lot of power, it gives you a very clean shot, and you have great control of the ball.

The main reason it’s so difficult to do is that you have all these urges: Something is pulling you up from the contact point.

You want to see where your opponent is. Maybe you want to aim at a small target.

Maybe you don’t trust yourself (which is very likely if you haven’t practiced this). Also, it’s physically a bit uncomfortable to rotate your body and not rotate your head.

So, you have to first remove these mental obstacles: Don’t worry about your opponent. Don’t worry about the target.

Become physically more comfortable rotating your body without rotating your head.

Once you’re clear in your mind and you can physically do it well, then you need to work on your skill of hitting the ball in the target without looking at the target – which is keeping your head still at contact.

Like any other skill, it will definitely improve with practice. Make sure you devote some time to practicing this as it will not improve simply because you read this article.

I am simply showing you the way and clearing some obstacles, but you’re the one who has to walk it.

And it is still quite a journey. The skill keeps improving, but it takes quite a few months of practice before you’re really good at it.

While some tennis tips help you play better very quickly, this isn’t one of them.

It will take you quite some time to master it, and it’s one of those skills that I call β€œsummer projects.”

When I was working on keeping my head still at contact many years ago, I remember that it took me about one summer to become significantly better at it.

Note that I played a lot, usually twice a day, almost every day, and I kept working on this skill: clearing my mind, not worrying about my opponent, and aiming at big targets.

In time, I became more comfortable physically and also mentally as I saw that, yes, I could hit big targets pretty well. In fact, I could miss my target and still hit a good shot.

That then developed more trust in my ability to aim without looking; therefore, this skill eventually improved to a point where I do watch the ball and keep a still head nowadays at a quite high proficiency.

So, keep in mind this is a summer project; it’s not a one-week project.

If you stick to it, you will gain a lot of benefits from that because you’re going to hit most of your shots in the sweet spot and you will be very accurate.

If you have still some questions about why you don’t have to look at your opponent or why there is no need to look at the target, just let me know in the comments below and I’ll share my views.

Leave a Comment:

(55) comments

Mike October 18, 2016

What about when an opponent is approaching? Don’t we need to know where to pass?

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Good question, Mike. Because your opponent doesn’t know where you’ll aim your passing shot he is approaching in the middle of all the angles you can hit.

    He is waiting for your move. Again, there is nothing to see as your opponent is equally far from your down the line and cross court shots.

    You can choose whichever passing shot you want without looking at your opponent.

    Reply
David October 18, 2016

Great video. Do you give lessons?

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks. Sure, I give lessons all the time. You can reach me through the contact page.

    Reply
JonC October 19, 2016

I had a very interesting revelation practicing with a wood racquet for two weeks. Amazingly, I was hitting better than with my 11+ ounce 98 head racquet.

The main difference was that I wasn’t looking up and I was finishing the stroke. I have a huge problem with looking up but I wasn’t doing it with the wood racquet.

I had more power, depth, and spin was not bad – and I was much more consistent. Is that crazy?

I think it was 100% due to the weight of the racquet – maybe swing weight more specifically. When I was swinging the heavy wood racquet it did something to me psychologically – I knew that I could not easily manipulate the path of the racquet and trying to do so would be very bad – so I had no motivation to look up or pull out.

With a light racquet, it’s so easy to move the racquet head that people (or me) falsely feel that they can do things to gain topspin or correct something right at contact – hence they pull out of the stroke and try to change something -they might even jump for no apparent reason.

I then went back to my light racquet and I stopped hitting solidly. I then increased the weight to 13 ounces (slightly head heavy) and I’m getting that feel of the wood racquet.

I put tape at 3 and 9 and less at the grip.

Light racquets are no good for me – maybe others would benefit by increasing the weight and swing weight as well. I’m going even heavier.

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks for sharing, JonC.

    It’s also possible that you kept your head down because you felt on some level that the racket head was smaller and that you had to really pay attention to hit the sweet spot.

    There are actually some training aids with very small racket heads used exactly for that – namely players quickly realize they need to watch the ball really carefully if they want to hit it with that small racket.

    Reply
      JonC October 20, 2016

      Probably so. And there was another element I’ll mention – the wood racquets were not nearly as powerful so I could take full swings without worrying about the ball going out.

      Reply
Owen October 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz,
thanks for a good article on an important skill in tennis. I find my anxiety to lift my head and watch the ball travel from my racket heighten when I play doubles and there are one or two opponents at the net. It’s the feeling of wanting to be ready for the volley that may come back quickly to my side of court. Any thoughts on how to deal with this?
Regards Owen.

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks, Owen.

    What you need to experience is that you will hit a better, more powerful and accurate shot if you don’t look up too early.

    If you have not experienced that, then you won’t believe the difference, no matter what I or some other coach tells you.

    And when you hit that better shot then you’ll receive a much slower and weaker volley from your opponents at the net so you’ll have enough time to look up a split second later.

    I agree that you won’t keep your head down as long as in singles but when you practice this skill over time you will automate it to a point where you will always do it.

    There will be no decision that has to be made whether you want to keep your head down or not, it’s automatic.

    Reply
Ryan October 19, 2016

Brilliant explanation of targets on a court. I’ve certainly heard the usual sayings like “don’t aim for the lines”, but your explanation of exactly where to aim and, more specifically, why to aim there, as well as the margins for error as a result of aiming for these targets has finally caused the concept to sink into my brain. Thanks very much.

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Glad to hear that it helped, Ryan.

    Reply
Stephen October 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

Great lesson as usual! I am wondering if you can talk a little bit about whether it is the same when it comes to serving, i.e., keeping the head still until contact. Thanks.

Stephen

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Hi Stephen,

    Yes, you should keep your head up also because pulling the head down early pulls your racket down even by just a little bit and therefore many serves end up in the net.

    It is true though that it’s not so critical to really force yourself to look up for a very long time because the ball is coming down from the toss very slowly and it’s almost the same every time.

    It is not difficult to hit the sweet spot on that slow ball compared to receiving a ball in a rally where every ball is coming to you at a different speed, angle, spin, height, etc.

    Reply
Vladimir T. October 19, 2016

Brilliant piece of advise – as always. I thought of a similar learned ‘unnatural’ or ‘disconnected’ move all drivers had to practice. Think of changing lines in traffic: you need to keep your hands steady on the wheel, while your head turns to the side scanning for a car in your blind spot, or immediately behind. A natural move is for the hands and shoulders would be to follow the head. It takes a conscious effort to stop and ‘disconnect’ hands/shoulders from the head’s movements.

Somehow, a reference to this feeling makes it easier for me to practice the above drills (not quite there yet).

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Good point, Vladimir, that’s a very good analogy.

    Reply
Anita October 19, 2016

Wonderful video as usual

Reply
Robert October 19, 2016

My attention was directed to this skill, particularly as practiced by Federer, in 2008 shortly after I started playing again. I have been up and down with it since then for various reasons good and bad, but it remains true that when the wheels are coming off and I need to get my game righted in a hurry, that is the first thing I focus on, and it does the trick. Still, it has not occurred to me until now that this is a skill that can be independently practiced and developed. I have improved very much and learned a great deal of modern technique over this time, but I have continued to feel that this area is holding me back from stabilizing at a much higher level of execution. Thank you, Coach.

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks for sharing, Robert. Yes, it’s a skill and it takes time to master.

    It can be a part of your practice session every time where you devote 5-10 minutes to just keeping your head still while hitting the ball.

    Only after that I suggest you move to other parts of the game or stroke technique that you want to work on.

    Reply
      Robert October 25, 2016

      Thank you so much for the advice!

      Reply
Claudia October 19, 2016

Tomas, Great video. Thanks for sharing this.

Reply
Q October 19, 2016

Great work on keeping your head still. I have been trying to do that and one of the things you also said was breath out when hitting the ball. I combined that breathing out with hitting the ball, and as a result, if I’m not watching the ball, l can’t know when to breathe out.

I’m using two voices. I either say ZOOOOM, or YES when I exactly hit the ball. Now since I can’t do the breathing out AND tell my body where to hit the ball, I either just hit the ball cross court or just pretend that my body knows where to hit the ball, so I just let it go!

At the 4.0 level i seem to be steady and I seem to be winning more points and match because I’m calm and relaxed.

Hope this helps! Best Q

Reply
Michael Biggins October 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz
Thanks for once again giving such a detailed analysis of such an important aspect of tennis: keeping the head still. I watched a previous video you made on this subject and have been working on it all summer.

It really seems like an “act of faith” to not look up and see where the ball is going, or where my opponent is but I observed that there is a definite correlation between keeping the head still and focused on the ball and a good end result.

This awareness and the understanding gained by your detailed explanation served as my motivation in continuing, every session, to keep working on keeping my head still. While I haven’t achieved Roger’s ability, I’ve improved this aspect of my game a great deal; moreover, I’m immediately aware when I have failed to do it, so can quickly “put it back in”.

As a committed tennis student, I’m very appreciative of your terrific videos; thanks so much!

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    It will surely feel like an “act of faith” for a while, thanks for the idea, Michael!

    Reply
Rodrigo October 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

Awesome lesson :).Thanks

Should I keep my head still during volleys too?

I am guilty of reasons 2 and 3 during my volleys.

Also, I think reason 1 is not so critical in volleys because the time interval between the attempt to pass and the volley is so short that the oponnnent is almost in the same spot. Wrong footing is very hard.

Please, let me know your thoughts,
Cheers

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks, Rodrigo.

    Yes, you should keep your head still and really see the ball well.

    Again, you’ll have to experience the difference between doing it and not doing it to see the benefits.

    Work on this when you warm up or practice the volley.

    You will have less time to keep your head still compared to baseline shots but it can still be done. While we can’t do it as well as the pros do we can try to get as close as possible.

    Here’s one example:

    Reply
JOHN October 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

Excellent. Very useful video and instruction. I will embark upon your ‘summer project’ and turn it into my project for this winter!

Typically I try to implement and forget to keep my eyes on the ball and keep my head still after about 3 minutes of hitting on court, because I have a tennis lifetime history of anticipating where the ball will go and looking up slightly before the ball has even reached my racket strings. I am too keen to take aim, see where the ball lands and whether is a ‘good’ shot or a ‘bad’ shot.

This also shows me why my serve is probably my better shot and my forehand the least. On serve I have to keep my eye on the ball and have no opportunity to look at my opponent as my head is pointing up, away from the court, whereas on the forehand my opponent and the direction I am hitting to is in my line of sight and most easy and tempting to view.

And loss of power is also to do with miss-hitting as the ball often misses the centre of the racket.

Reply
    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks for the feedback, John.

    Yes, it is quite easy to turn the head forward on forehands since the body is rotating.

    If you rally with your partner cooperatively pay attention to the quality of your hits. How clean do you hit the ball?

    Try and give your stroke a rating from 1-5 in terms of hitting the ball very cleanly and you’ll realize that then the head tends to stay still because your brain automatically knows what to do in order to achieve clean shots.

    Reply
Richard October 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz

I have found a tremendous improvement in my game after simply placing my focus on the ball at contact point. These points have reinforced that for me. I agree it is not easy to do. Bad habits are really hard to break, but I am determined to get better at it. Thank you for your valuable training.

Reply
Bruce October 19, 2016

A great lesson as always. I always wondered why it was easier to keep my head still on my one handed back hand as opposed to my forehand; thank you.

Reply
    Nate December 14, 2016

    Same here. I never have to think about my one handed backhand, solid as a rock all day long, but my forehand is always a struggle. Strangely my two handed backhand is solid as well, though. One reason could be because on the backhand we reach across our body so the contact point is actually closer to us than on the forehand. Somehow this makes it easier to keep the head still and/or to see the ball into the racket? We don’t have to look so far away? Also could be because the backhand tends to force a shoulder turn while the forehand does not. With no shoulder turn the racquet/shoulders/head have to be dragged through to hit the ball instead of simply rotating under a still head.

    Reply
      Tomaz December 17, 2016

      Hi Nate,

      Yes, it’s easier to see the ball on the backhand since we rotate our body much more on the forehand and that makes it more difficult to keep the head still.

      And yes, the backhand does force a shoulder turn and on the forehand we need to train ourselves to do it.

      Reply
        Nate March 7, 2017

        Thank you for the follow up Tomaz. If you have time, can you explain what you mean by rotating the body more on the forehand? Hips, torso? On the take away, the swing or both? Why is more body rotation needed on the forehand?

        Reply
          Tomaz March 10, 2017

          Hi Nate,

          The whole torso rotates roughly 90 degrees on the forehand while we’re hitting the ball and it rotates 0 degrees on the one-handed backhand while we’re hitting the ball.

          Is that clear to you, can you see it or not? On the two-handed backhand we rotate of course the same as on the forehand.

          Reply
Prasad Reddy October 19, 2016

Hi dear coach, I am very much thankful to you for presenting such a crucial technical input in a very simple and lucid manner for us to digest at one go. Now I see a clear correlation between what you have been talking on still head and the amount of unforced errors my 12-year-old son makes during the matches and even while practicing.

I used to break my head for not knowing the exact cause for his shots often going into net or off target. My son also has this habit of rotating his head wildly on the forehand shot right from his early days, though his coach and myself were able to reduce this to some degree, not succeeded for major part.

I could say during the last 2 plus years this article of yours is the best one I come across without any doubt whatsoever.

Thanks a lot from the bottom of my heart. We’ll keep in touch and meanwhile the first thing in the morning I am going to talk to my son on this wonderful article.

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    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    You’re very welcome, Prasad.

    Check the bonus video at the top that shows how I teach the kids this concept.

    Note that when the coach is working on this concept with a young (or old) player it takes months of every day repetition and reminding before this automates so that the player keeps a still head even if they don’t think about it.

    It requires a lot of commitment as the coach needs to keep repeating the drills almost every single session for months before this is established.

    Reply
McGinty Jack October 19, 2016

Many thanks Tomas for a great article.

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Larry October 19, 2016

Maybe one more reason that we move our heads: Natural instinct to avert the eyes when striking an object so as to avoid getting struck by shrapnel. The harder we swing, the more force to shatter an object and the more tendency to look away. Now, of course, we know the tennis ball will not explode but still old habits persist.

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    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    That’s quite possible too, Larry, thanks for sharing. The more conscious we are of such instincts, the more power we have to override them.

    Reply
Benjamin October 19, 2016

Very informative, as usual. Thanks Tomaz!

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    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks, Ben, good to hear from you!

    Reply
Aggie October 19, 2016

Dear Tomaz

Another great and super-useful video and what a lot of responses you’ve had on this important aspect of tennis technique.

I would like to add one thing which has worked really well for me but of course may not necessarily be best for everyone: I find that if I get really interested in seeing with your peripheral vision the swing path of my racket from contact to finish ie somehow trying to catch that blurred racket movement (without turning the head) it really contributes to stabilising the eyes and head through the contact point.

Like I said maybe not everybody’s cup of tea but certainly has helped to accelerate my learning (still a way to go) to keep a still head when contacting the ball.

Thank you again for all your extremely practical and effective coaching.

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    Tomaz October 19, 2016

    Thanks a lot, Aggie, that’s a great tip. It helps our mind focus on something tangible before it changes focus to the other side.

    What works for me for example is “seeing” the ball disappear, so I see empty space where the ball was for a split second and as soon as I register that I then move on with the focus to seeing my shot and what my opponent is up to.

    In your case, you see the blur of the racket and then you move on, so a similar approach.

    Reply
Bakthan October 19, 2016

Another excellent article. I do well in keeping my head still with my eyes glued on the contact point in practice, but all this falls apart once I start playing my doubles match!
Keep up the good work
Bakthan

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    Tomaz October 20, 2016

    Thanks, Bakhtan. Try sometimes and decide that you’re going to watch the ball well for one game.

    Perhaps on opponent’s service game so that it’s not a big deal if you lose it.

    That’s how you can convince your mind to “risk” staying on the ball longer.

    Then it’s likely that you’ll experience some benefits of not looking up too early.

    Reply
Ken P. October 20, 2016

Another great lesson, building on your prior ‘watching the ball’ lesson with pro & go-pro camera. Thank you Tomaz…

I started working harder on this when your first ‘ball watching’ lesson came out, and can agree completely – it is exhausting. More so than I ever imagined… Truly watching the ball, especially in a match that counts, is quite fatiguing; you really have to build into the skill.

But if you do, I found an incredible benefit that an earlier poster brought up – it is very calming. My mind doesn’t ‘think’ about what to do, I just stay focused on the ball and stay relaxed and finish/complete each stoke (ground-stroke, serve), recover on court and endeavor to stay consistent.

The entire process, when connected, is calming – not rushed; I always feel I have more time because I’m not panicked/rushing things; I am in charge of time, not my opponent…

And more fun…! Thank you, again, Tomaz…

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    Tomaz October 20, 2016

    Very good point, Ken.

    The challenge though is to calm the mind first because it is the anxious mind the pulls the head up.

    You can see that here in the comments when players mention anxiety and so on.

    That’s why I took so many steps and video clips to explain why there is no need to look up.

    I am trying to calm the mind first and then we can build the habit.

    So yes, what you are experiencing now is a very calm mind and that’s why you can keep your eyes on the ball.

    It is possible that you were not very anxious in the beginning so you could just force yourself to watch the ball and eventually you succeeded.

    But there are many people who have been whacking the Eye Coach or some similar device for months and put in thousands of repetitions and yet they can’t keep their eyes on the ball when they play.

    That’s because they dealt with the anxiety in the mind; they still worry about their opponents or targets…

    Reply
Don October 21, 2016

Hi Tomaz. Haven’t commented in a while but your style is very effective and wanted to let you know this. I am a serve unlocked membe, as you know, and I would be willing to pay an annual charge for these videos and the continued instruction. Look forward to more. I had both knees replaced in May, and I am just ready to start up again. Probably have to start from the beginning of your instruction again. Keep it coming!! Don

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Philip Leong-Sit October 23, 2016

Thank-you for such a thoughtful & in-depth topic, Tomaz! Such good advice and lots for me to consider.

I do have an additional question. Part of my difficulty in keeping my head still has to do with clarity of vision. When the fast incoming ball hits the strings, Vic Braden has studied this and says we are blind (20/200). We actually lose clear vision of the ball approx. 6 feet in front of us, well before it hits the strings. So I can try as hard as I can to keep my head still at contact, but all I see is a vague blur.

Federer is the best pro at really looking at the ball as it hits the strings, but he must also be blind at this moment … unless he is “super-human”! At the recent Shanghai tournament on TV, they showed slow motion of Andy Murray hitting winner forehands and his eyes do NOT follow the ball to the strings. Instead they are focused well in front of him.

It is slightly different with a drop-hit self-feed, because the ball is basically stationary so it’s much easier to keep our eyes on the contact point. Do you agree? Any thoughts on the blindness that occurs at the contact point during a rally? thanks so much!

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    Tomaz October 23, 2016

    Hi Philip,

    Yes, we don’t see that ball at contact. I shared my views in the Watching The Ball article where I say that I see the ball clearly around 3 feet before I hit it.

    After that it’s a blur. So I am not trying to see the ball, I am just trying to steady myself – which includes my head – so that I don’t disrupt my stroke with any unnecessary movements that would cause me to mishit.

    Keeping my head still allows me to cleanly swing through the ball and maintain my swing path.

    You have to take this leap of faith and practice for a while until you actually FEEL the benefits of keeping your head still and how that results in a better shot.

    Andy Murray is not watching the ball well that’s why his forehand is his weakest shot – at least at that level. He makes the most errors with it and it tends to break down under pressure.

    And of course, it’s easier to see the ball if we drop it but all training begins with easy conditions first which you must master first before you progress to more challenging conditions.

    Reply
Marcelo November 3, 2016

Tomaz, thanks. It is a fundamental of tennis practice.
Very useful lessons.
Regards.
Marcelo from Argentina.

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Roja December 23, 2016

Great post. I work on this all the time, and the results are immediate. To help focsus I tell my self that the ball is the target, the rest is body position. Thanks, great advice for any level.

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David February 21, 2017

Excellent article ! I agree completely. When I try to implement keeping my head still I find that my shots sail long. It’s as if my follow through is not as smooth. Will this improve with practice? Any tips to counter this.

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    Tomaz February 22, 2017

    Hi David,

    It’s possible that when you think about keeping your head still you’re not aiming the ball specifically enough that’s why it just flies.

    It takes some time to master a still head at contact. It took me one summer… So be patient and keep working on it.

    Reply
      David February 23, 2017

      Thank you. I’ve started to deliberately let my cheek rest just lightly on the inside of my shoulder when I make contact to keep my head down and still. This is helping greatly. Federer seems to do this to a tee.

      Reply
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