How To Watch The Ball In Tennis

Mar 14

“Watch the ball!” is one of the most common phrases coaches say in tennis lessons. On one hand, it seems very easy to understand, but on the other hand, it’s not as obvious as it seems.

Seeing the ball well and not looking too early towards the other side of the court as we’re hitting the ball are not easy skills to master, so let’s take a look at what really goes on with our vision and our attention when we play tennis.

How To Focus Our Attention And What To Look For

There are three key moments you need to focus on in order to really judge the ball well in the first place and eventually to be able to see it well before contact.

1. The beginning of the ball flight/trajectory
When your opponent hits the ball, you need to watch very closely the beginning trajectory of the ball. That will help you calculate where the ball will go and eventually end up.

seeing the ball flight

Don’t just wait for the ball to bounce to see it! You need to pay full attention to the start of the trajectory.

In my experience, most lower level tennis players do not pay good attention to this part of the trajectory and simply wait to see the ball bounce before doing final adjustments.

More experienced players gather almost 90% of the information of the final position of the ball even before the ball crosses the net.

They can determine:

  • how far (left-right and forward-backward) the ball will be from them,
  • at what height the ball would be at contact if they choose not to move,
  • how much time they have before the ball reaches them,
  • and how the type of spin (topspin, flat, or slice) will affect the bounce and alter the height and speed of the ball.

If you do not watch the first part of the trajectory (from contact until the bounce) with full attention, you will not be able to pick up these cues and therefore won’t judge the ball well.

That will result in rushed movements after the bounce, more tension in your body and very likely a poor shot.

2. The ball leaving the ground after the bounce
This part of the flight of the ball gives almost all information needed for a good hit. The last part follows below…

If you have ever played on clay or on an uneven surface, you know that if the ball has a bad bounce, it totally breaks down your timing and swing.

That tells us that almost all of our timing for the swing is done well before the ball bounces.

By paying really good attention to this second part after the bounce helps us really acquire that accurate timing and the ability to hit the ball in the sweet spot of the racquet.

3. The ball just before contact – usually between 2 meters to about 0.5 meters before contact
As the ball is approaching our point of contact, we need to see it very clearly at some point before we hit it.

We need to bring the ball into FOCUS and see it very clearly.

see the ball clearly

See the ball clearly before contact, even if just for a split second.

I call this the SNAPSHOT moment. It’s like taking a picture with a camera and being able to focus the ball despite it traveling fairly fast towards us.

It’s not so easy to see the ball very clearly during its full flight as it’s traveling fast and changing direction as it bounces.

But, once it comes closer, roughly between 2 meters to 0.5 meters before contact, we usually can bring it into focus and see it clearly for a split second.

That short moment of seeing clearly gives the brain the last bit of information it needs about the ball’s trajectory and it can therefore make a final adjustment to the timing of our stroke so that we can hit the ball in our ideal contact point and not be too early or too late.

It also helps the brain guide the arm and racquet hand very accurately towards the ball so that we can hit the sweet spot of the racquet.

The “Bounce” Moment And How To Look At It

What I am about to share with you is how I personally see the bounce and how most of the highly skilled players I talked to see the bounce.

I don’t look with full attention to the bounce, which I’d say is that flight of the ball perhaps 0.5 meters before the bounce and 0.5 meters after the bounce.

This is where the ball abruptly changes direction, and we can lose sight of it for a split second.

I do know that most beginners have problems tracking the ball well exactly because they try to see the ball all the time and hence “lose it” temporarily as it changes direction from going down to going up.

More experienced players PREDICT where the ball is going to come out of the bounce and look already in that area which is approximately 0.5 meters to 1 meter after the bounce.

From that area until contact, the ball is going in a fairly straight line and is slowing down all the time; therefore, it’s not difficult to TRACK.

So, the way to look at the bounce is to see it with “soft focus”.

looking at the bounce

Look at the bounce with a soft focus, let it happen. Then look for the ball coming out of it.

The best way to describe “soft focus” is in how you observe cars in the lanes next to you as you’re driving on the highway.

You see them, but you don’t look at them. You don’t focus on the cars next to you as that would take your eyes off the road – yet you see them.

You also monitor the lines that define your lane in which you drive and which help you guide your car within your lane.

You don’t look at the lines directly, but you see them through “soft focus”, and that’s enough to give you information on where to guide your car.

So, in a similar way, you observe the bounce – you do see it, but you don’t focus on it or fixate on it.

How To Keep Your Eye On The Ball

The second critical part of watching the ball when playing tennis is keeping your head still while making contact.

This is one of the most difficult things to master in tennis, especially for recreational tennis players.

The reason this is so difficult is because it’s not very natural to us.

What’s natural to us is to look at the target we want to hit so that we can judge the distance and figure out at what trajectory (height, speed, etc.) we want to throw something so that we hit the target.

This instinct has to be overridden with very deliberate practice so that not looking at the target and simply KNOWING where it is becomes second nature.

The reason we want to keep the head still at the point of contact is because if we “pull” the head too quickly from contact as we’re swinging the racquet, we also unknowingly “pull” the racquet away from the ideal contact point and therefore mishit a lot or hit the ball off the center of the racquet, which results in a poor shot.

From my personal experience as a coach, this is not so difficult to master when working with competitive tennis juniors who train almost daily for years.

If, in this period, we constantly remind them to keep their head still at contact, they will eventually master it.

But, most recreational tennis players do not play that much, nor are they constantly reminded to keep their head still, so this “technique” of keeping the head still does not become second nature.

As recreational tennis players also like to compete a lot, we play under a lot of pressure which often makes us look up even more because we are so anxious to see what happened with our shot and what our opponent is about to do.

That’s why keeping your head still while you’re hitting the ball is a much more MENTAL process than simply a mechanical one.

Federer still head

We’ll never be able to keep our head still on every shot like Roger Federer, but we CAN improve our vision skills a lot with practice.

And that’s why it’s so difficult to improve and master.

My personal experience as a player is that I spent around 3-4 months practicing keeping my head still while hitting the ball before I actually experienced any real progress.

I played almost every day – and on most days, I actually played twice a day.

My usual playing time in the summers was between 3-5 hours a day, and whenever I could, I was trying to keep my head still and overcome an old habit.

I eventually improved a lot, but I still cannot keep my head still like Roger Federer on every shot. 😉

It takes a lot of concentration to work on your “watching the ball skill”, which includes seeing the ball clearly coming towards you, taking a “snapshot”, and keeping your head still.

You may be able to practice that only for 5 minutes at a time before losing your focus.

My longest time of continually doing it without breaks was around 20 minutes while hitting freely with my friend, and after that time I was mentally completely exhausted.

So, if you are deciding to improve your “watching the ball” skills in tennis, you need to practice this skill very deliberately while hitting freely with a partner and sticking with it for quite some time.

The benefits of being able to do it properly are massive, though.

You will have many more clean hits of the ball which will give you much more power and ball control.

You will eliminate most mishits and hits off your sweet spot which result in a very deep ball with very little effort.

Keep in mind this fact: if you hit just 5 cm off your sweet spot (with a typical tennis racquet), you lose 40% of the power – and that, of course, results in a ball landing short or even not crossing the net.

Drills For Watching The Ball

The following drills and ideas worked for me and my students well as I was experimenting with them and trying all sorts of things to help them see the ball well.

This is what worked best…

1. Bring the ball into focus
a) Just drop the ball and as it comes to the top of the bounce, bring it into focus. See it clearly with all the little details.

This is the snapshot moment that will happen just before you make contact with the ball.

b) Do the same while playing mini tennis.

c) Do the same while rallying from the baseline. Practice for 5-20 minutes, as long as you can manage.

2. Read the initial part of the trajectory
Focus for a while on the initial part of the ball flight after your partner hits it and until the ball reaches the net.

Ask yourself: where will the ball go? Can you figure out where will the ball end up (at what distance and height from you) just based on this information?

You should do this for a couple of minutes every time you start your baseline warmup so that you are warming up not only your strokes but also the “trajectory judging computer” in your brain.

Drills And Tips For Keeping Your Eye On The Ball

Keeping your head still as you’re swinging through the ball is not difficult if you start in very easy conditions.

That helps you at first experience how it actually feels not to look over.

drop feed and delay look

Drop feed the ball and delay your look after the ball

1. Drop feed the ball to yourself
As you drop and hit the ball after the bounce, delay your look after it.

You can do it if you decide to do it.

Experience how that feels. You may feel anxious for a moment even though there is no one to “attack” your shot on the other side.

You need to calm down yourself here first before trying to replicate this process while in a live ball rally.

I suggest hitting one basket of balls like this for each stroke. So, around 50 shots for the forehand and 50 shots for the backhand (per session).

2. See the “blur” of the racquet
A good way to tell if you’re keeping your head still at the moment of contact is to be able to see the blur of your racquet passing through your field of vision.

Once you see the blur, you can look up and see what happened with your shot.

3. See the ball disappear
As you focus on the ball at your contact point and if you don’t move your head, the ball will “disappear” from that space you’re focusing on.

So, the next thing you see is the ground behind your contact point. If you “see” the ball disappear from your contact point, you’re very likely keeping your head still.

In summary, “watch the ball” and “keep your head still” are still very common mantras on tennis courts and hopefully now you understand why they won’t go away.

The coaches are well aware of the benefits of doing it properly, and it takes a lot of time to master – hence you hear this so often.

I hope this article shed some light on what in my experience goes “behind the scenes” in our eyes and our minds as we’re watching a tennis ball fly towards us and how we need to focus on it so that we get as many clean hits of the ball as possible.

Leave a Comment:

(48) comments

Richard March 14, 2015

Thanks Tomaz. So important makes all the difference in the world of course.
(Sound recording tip: consider record volume level, a little lower to avoid distortion. Mic position, weak wireless batteries and possible compression choice too can lead to distortion as well).

Reply
    Tomaz March 14, 2015

    Thanks, Richard. My old wireless system died, still tweaking the new one…

    Reply
Charlie March 14, 2015

HI, FOLLOWING YOUR VIDEO ON WATCHING THE BALL/HIT, I HAVE COME UP WITH A NOVEL LITTLE TRICK TO HELP PLAYERS CONCENTRATE ON THE HIT AND KEEPING HEAD STILL AT CONTACT: TAKE AN OLD RACQUET, REMOVE THE STRINGS,THEN HAVE A FRIEND FEED YOU BALLS AND DO YOUR NORMAL STROKE, BUT OFCOURSE, THE BALL WILL JUST GO THROUGH THE EMPTY SPACE AND BEHIND YOU. THIS WILL DISCIPLINE YOU TO WATCH THE BALL GO THEOUGH THE FRAME AS AFTER FEW MINUTES , YOUR BRAIN WILL JUST ADJUST TO THIS IDEA OF HAVING NO BALL TO WATCH GOING FORWARD AFTER THE HIT!!! I’d love to know what you think of this, may be fun short video to make. Cheers from sunny London, Charlie

Reply
    Tomaz March 14, 2015

    Hey Charlie,

    The idea might work. I use the “empty” racquet often to help players loosen up because they consciously or unconsciously tense up before contact expecting some massive collision from a 60 gram ball. 😉

    But as they swing through with no strings and there is no collision, they become aware of the tension they carry.

    So then they can let go of it.

    But definitely a very cool trick that has many benefits.

    Reply
    Remguy September 11, 2016

    Cheers, Charlie, for that very interesting idea! I have a racket I don’t use (feather light, I can barely hit the ball over the net with it!) and I’m eager to try this out. I’ve been having a TERRIBLE time adjusting to playing in a wheelchair, all my vision skills seem to have abandoned me! I’ll let you know how it works out and thanks again for the insightful suggestion! – Remguy, Montreal.

    Reply
Claudia March 14, 2015

Great video Tomaz. Very impressed with your teaching style. Thank you for laying this out for us.

Reply
saull March 14, 2015

Thanks Toamaz,

I was looking for that lesson for 20 years.
Cant wait to bring it to action.

Saulius

Reply
Andrew March 14, 2015

Thanks Tomaz for yet another insightful and practical lesson. In my opinion, FeelTennis is simply the best instructional site there is.

I also found good information on seeing a fast-moving ball here:

https://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/batting-101-don’t-watch-the-ball/

A different sport but very similar to tennis because it involves a bounce.

Reply
    Tomaz March 14, 2015

    Thanks for the link, Andrew. Yes, we call come to similar conclusions. I’d like to add here that I read a study on a fighter pilot vision training (some years ago) where they realized that pilots can detect objects shown to them just for a split second even though they consciously did not see them.

    In other words, they said they didn’t see anything but when the instructor asked them what do you think we showed you, the pilots had extremely high rate of “guessing”.

    The conclusion of the study was that our eyes and brain get information even though we are not aware of it.

    That’s why it’s so important to keep the head still and eyes pointing at the contact point since we get additional information about the ball flight even though we are not aware of it.

    Many pros like Federer figure that out unconsciously.

    Reply
      Andrew March 14, 2015

      I have another problem with watching the ball, Tomaz, and I suspect I am not alone. Many times, I am so successful in seeing the ball clearly after the bounce that I watch it for *too long.* All my concentration is on seeing the ball, which has the effect of making me start my forward swing/uncoil too late.

      What advice do you have for how to incorporate the timing of the forward swing into your exercises designed to improve our vision of the ball?

      Reply
Walter Grob March 14, 2015

knowing that our brain can take 24 picture at each second and the ball is coming with a speed of a least 60 km/h (=60 000 m at 3600 sec) we understand that there is a little chance to see the ball at the strings – this may be also a reason while to concentrate is so difficult

Walter (Switzerland) still skiing 😉

Reply
    Tomaz March 14, 2015

    Correct, Walter, but as I replied to Andrew, our eyes and brain may still get some info on the ball flight even if we are not conscious about it…

    Reply
Jonathan March 14, 2015

Tomaz, super instruction once again. I love how you really take time to relay this difference maker instruction on how one watches the ball if one seeks to move toward becoming an advanced type player. It really ties into something you wrote in response to a comment on an earlier instructional piece of yours on not being late to contact. You said that you can tell who the better player is by watching 5 minutes of warm up and how they handle very deep balls, whether they are “late or not”. And you said you still cannot predict who will win the match. A lot of factors are involved there.

Reply
    Tomaz March 15, 2015

    Yes, Jonathan, I agree. Lots of factors – and we haven’t even touched the decision making process…

    Reply
Ben Ren March 14, 2015

Ben from Vancouver, Canada.
I am coaching my two kids to play tennis and this drill will really help me to improve my son’s shot.

Reply
Orlando March 14, 2015

Hello Thomas:

Great material!

It is very important to point out that the concept of “watching the ball” adds two other important features of a right stroke: the head remains still and the shoulders are prevented from rotating too early during the initial part of the swing forward. Of course, it is well known that what some people comment of “watching the ball hitting the strings bed of the racquet” is materially and humanly impossible, it would never happens. March 14/2015

Reply
Paulo March 14, 2015

HI Tomaz

Great stuff, as usual. Many thanks!

Reply
luiz March 14, 2015

Very enlightening lesson, the best I ever seen on this issue. I have been practicing the “watch the ball” mantra for years but not properly as you show here. I think the problem is how to direct the ball to the other side of the court looking to the contact point and not to the target. It is not intuitive at all. Should we use the flight direction of the incoming ball as reference? Thank you a lot.

Reply
    Tomaz March 15, 2015

    Hi Luiz,

    We use another “snapshot” as a reference, namely what we see when opponent is hitting the ball and we’re looking on the other side of the court. That’s how we then ORIENT ourselves on the court and KNOW where certain parts of the other side of the court are.

    As I mentioned in the video, we don’t have to be very accurate in tennis.

    As you watch the ball, you “know” where cross court is for example, and then you hit it. Once you do, you see whether your orientation was correct.

    When it’s not, you try again and ADJUST. After a few months (let alone years) of doing that, you can become much better at hitting what you want without looking at it.

    Reply
Larry Praissman March 14, 2015

And then there is the time to stop watching the ball and start watching the opponent. Frequently after my approach shot I find that I watch the ball until my opponent hits and I end up flat footed and slow to react to his reply. It is a hard situation to practice for. After your shot the focus needs to be on the opponent to get clues about what and where they are preparing to hit.

Reply
    Tomaz March 15, 2015

    Yes, that happens too, Larry. It’s not easy to properly direct our attention to different cues in these short split seconds we have between one “event” and another one.

    Reply
Manh March 15, 2015

Hi Tomaz
Thanks you for the instructions. This I’m looking for so long time.
RG

Reply
Nik March 15, 2015

One trick related to this that has helped me and many of the players I coach is to watch the contact happen, then count to 2 before looking up. The process of counting to 2 gives you a clear task that must be completed before you look up which helps you do it consistently. I have had players who struggled with mishits try this technique and they very quickly start to make cleaner hits. I often use this strategy myself when I find that I am not hitting the ball cleanly and it usually gets me back on track fairly quickly.

Reply
    Tomaz March 16, 2015

    Thanks for sharing, Nik, very good idea!

    Reply
Bill March 16, 2015

Fantastic. Any tips on tracking a ball that is to be volleyed????

Reply
    Tomaz March 17, 2015

    Hi Bill,

    Pay really good attention to opponent’s hit, meaning you see the ball go off his racquet so that you can read (unconsciously) the angle of incoming ball and then everything is the same as groundstrokes except the bounce.

    A clear snapshot is very important.

    Reply
Mike Peters March 17, 2015

Great video Tomaz. I’ve tried to work on this before, and you’re right – it takes a while to get it right. I find that the drill to focus on the contact for longer than normal is a great way to calm me down when warming up for a match, though. Thanks!

Reply
Anjan March 17, 2015

Greetings from San Jose, California. As always, another fabulous video. I particularly enjoyed the view of the ball and the racquet hitting it during a serve.

Until now I was not quite sure if I am seeing the ball correctly during my serve.

Tennis is so much more fun when we use the right technique …

Thank you Tomaz!

Reply
Slimane March 17, 2015

“Watch the ball disappear.” That is the single best piece of advice I’ve ever received in tennis. I put it in action last night and right away I hit with more power and accuracy.

Not surprised to see that kind of advice from you. You’ve done an outstanding job once again. Thanks!

Reply
Slimane March 17, 2015

Quick question: how is this applicable to serving?

Reply
    Tomaz March 18, 2015

    If you pull your head too quickly away from the ball and down, you won’t hit it cleanly therefore you won’t control it well.

    “See the ball disappear” before you look where your ball is going.

    Reply
Vishal Anand March 18, 2015

Hi Tomaz,
Thanks for the article.
My name is Vishal Anand and I operate out of Windsor Tennis Academy at Dehradun in North India.

“Fixing the head and gaze” is the term I use to say while practising the same technique with my student players. I would like to share a simple equipment drill I use for the purpose.

I have fixed a tennis ball at the end of a stick with a stand whose top end is sharply edged for the purpose. The stick is long enough to provide the proper hitting height to the player. Now I have also cut an old racquet (that is unstrung at the sweet spot) from a side just wide enough for it to pass through the stick with the ball fixed at the top.

Players are advised to play their forehand (and backhand at another time) up to certain no. of repetitions while moving their racket swing in a way so that it passes through the stick through the cut portion and the ball through the unstrung sweet spot of the racket.

They are also asked to count up to 3 while still watching the ball after finishing the stroke in order to give them a prolonged feel.

This drill has given me certain no. of benefits as a coach:

1- We can determine the hitting zone.
2- We can adjust the height according to the need.
3- We can practice hitting the sweet spot while fixing the body, head and gaze ( of course the racket can only pass through the unstrung sweet spot ).
4- Sometimes I put two sticks one after the other for a prolonged uniform racket path, etc.

I am sure someone can be even more innovative with the same idea.

Reply
    Tomaz March 18, 2015

    Thank so much for sharing, Vishal.

    How long in your experience does it take for the players to eventually keep their eye on the ball during live ball exchange?

    Reply
Vishal Anand March 18, 2015

Hi Tomaz!

Thanks for the prompt reply.

Well, it depends from player to player. As we know, no 2 players and no 2 balls are similar ever, and that makes learning and improving an ever going process.

To your question, as I am dealing with teenage upcoming players mostly,I have found them quite adaptable in comparison to older players, the drill that I discussed above has starting benefiting them in a few days time. Their balance and cleanliness in their shots improves tremendously in a week or so.
I believe if someone practices it with certain amount of diligence and discipline for a couple of months, they will be able to keep their eye on the ball for the major part of a live ball exchange. But in order to enhance the learning, they for sure, will have to practice some additional drills.
It is also interesting to note that almost everyone who practices such a drill is amazed to find that not looking at the final destination actually improves their accuracy to a large extent.
Also, not looking at the net at all improves the chances of clearing it as against to hitting it. Players seem to be able to remove an obstacle from their vision (and the brain) while doing so.
Thanks
Vishal

Reply
    Tomaz March 19, 2015

    Thanks again for sharing, Vishal. Stay in touch.

    Reply
Scott March 18, 2015

Another excellent instructional video, Tomaz. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking about so many different things during a stroke, and we forget about something as elementary as keeping your head steady. I’ve looked at still photos of myself during a shot and it is amazing how much my head has sometimes pulled off the ball. Very well done, T. Thanks.

Reply
Chris March 21, 2015

Hi Tomaz,

Thank you so much for all of your fantastic instruction all the way from Australia, I wish I could travel to Slovenia to train with you!

I’m almost 30, been playing tennis seriously for about 6-8 weeks, I’ve always loved the game but never this serious, since I found a playing wall and Free Community Tennis court near my home, I’m playing every day.

I’m right handed, and also only have vision in my right eye, blinded in the left eye from a golfing accident as a child. (I always played sports, accident never stopped me)

I find I am hitting the ball very strongly, having heaps of fun and really enjoying the tennis. I just concentrate hard on that little green ball, and watch it like a hawk!

Would you have any tips for someone life myself with a disability such as this? I want to take my tennis to the next level. Should I maybe try anticipate a bit more, watch in front of the ball etc, anything that may help.

Thank you

Chris

Reply
    Tomaz March 22, 2015

    You’re very welcome, Chris.

    I think you’re already finding solutions to your issue as you mention that you watch the ball like a hawk. You have to because you don’t see it in 3D that well so timing is more difficult.

    But our brain is amazing and very adaptable so you’re simply paying that much more attention to the ball. I think you’re on the right track, just keep it up!

    Reply
      Chris March 22, 2015

      Thank you for your reply Tomaz

      Reply
Marcelo March 25, 2015

Excellent lesson. Specially the sentence:“Watch the ball disappear.”

I would only add that when I look out the ball of my opponent, I prepare my arm behind my body, I do not know if this is technically correct, but it gives me a while to adjust the stroke.
Thank you, a pleasure as always.

Reply
Tien April 6, 2015

Excellent advice as usual. In the past 1.5 years, I have learned so much through the process of coaching my beginner wife that I am starting to believe that this is the best way to learn! :))

I call it pre-focus. (I am sure that Federer does this from my observation of this eyes on super slow motion videos.) I ask her to focus on the hitting zone.

She can track the ball much better than she thinks, but there is a zone where the angular velocity relative to the observer is just too great for the extra-ocular muscles of the eyes to follow. Each person is able to follow the ball up to a different point before the ball becomes a blur.

You need to recognize this blurring point. Just prior to the ball entering this blur zone that gives you no useful information, move your eyes (pre-focus) towards the strike zone expecting the ball to enter at a certain height and distance from you.

This requires of course experience. The more experience you have judging the flight trajectory, the better your pre-focus precision will be.

In this method, the ball comes into focus as you swing to meet it. This is the last information you get from the ball’s trajectory in order for you to make last split-second adjustments. The farther in front your strike zone, the slower the apparent angular velocity of the ball with respect to you will be and the easier it will be to track the ball.

In reality, the eyes do perform much better than we believe. It is the 100 other things the body and mind must do perfectly during the stroke that prevents us from seeing the ball well around the point of contact. (I do not have proof but I suspect the anxiety or stress related to performance expectations can play a role in our perception of the flight of the ball.)

As an exercise to reassure my wife that her eyes are indeed up to the job, I load up my ball machine at normal practice speeds and just ask my wife to catch the ball with her hands in front of her. She can catch almost all of them but says her vision of the ball is blurred when she hits it with a racquet!

Therein comes the steady head. If you move your head just a little during the stroke, your brain will have more difficulty telling those 6 extra-ocular muscles how to coordinate their movements to track the ball. If you can keep your head quiet and still both physically and mentally, you increase your chances big time.

Reply
    Tomaz April 6, 2015

    Thank you very much for sharing, Tien. Lots of good points there.

    Yes, we need to focus on that area where the ball will come out of the bounce. It happens automatically if you play a LOT but I believe with this bit of information we can shorten the learning process of how to see the ball well.

    A good exercise you mention is to have the player experience catching the ball and realize how well they see the ball and compare that with hitting it with the racquet.

    I believe there are two main reasons why players don’t see the ball as well when they hit it (even when not under pressure):
    – they expect “collision” and unconsciously squint
    – they already go in the future in their mind and want to check where the ball goes and so the eyes follow the mind

    And yes, I can confirm from own experience that pressure makes you see the ball much worse.

    I also use an exercise where I feed the ball and ask them to let it pass while they watch it. Then they hit it and compare how they saw it.

    Again, they notice it’s worse. So they know it can be seen better and know what to “look for”.

    Reply
Robert April 18, 2015

As I watched the early part of this I thought back to maybe a stage I went through for a while, when each time I had to move back or over quickly to play a ball that was bouncing very near a line, I made the little “snapshot” of the ball just after the bounce, where I could see that it was in or out, and that picture interfered with tracking the ball subsequently. Focusing on the ball that early was definitely not helpful. Later, as I began playing successfully when the ball is coming faster and deeper and I was taking the ball closer off the bounce especially on a bumpy court, I found that I focused sharply on the ball just as it was coming into the zone where I uncoiled to contact. I could not have explained it, but as you talked us through it I recognized that that is what is going on and that is what makes it work.

Reply

[…] gaze to the contact zone once we know where the ball is going. Another good article on this is at Feel Tennis, where the author, Tomaz Mencinger, says, “More experienced players PREDICT where the ball is […]

Reply
C January 27, 2016

Tomaz – Thank you so much! – I have been unsuccessfully trying very hard to keep my eye on the ball for over a year from the bounce to my racket strings, but the ball was always a blur to me. I can’t wait to see what happens now that I have learned from you that I need to see the ball clearly before contact, even if just for a split second, and take a snapshot of the ball with “soft focus”, and then PREDICT where the ball is going to come out of the bounce and look already in that area, and then see the blur of my racket as it passes through my field of vision.

Reply
    Tomaz January 28, 2016

    You’re very welcome, C.

    Let me know how your ball tracking skills improve!

    Reply
Russell young April 3, 2016

Great video and explanation ! Watching the ball is More important than I ever thought !
Thank you
Russell

Reply
Minh Chau April 19, 2016

Thank Tomaz.

This clip is an eye-opener for me. I will focus on this everytime on the tennis court for the next 3 month just like you said. This is such an important skill in tennis and I hope I can improve.

Reply
Add Your Reply

Leave a Comment: