There are countless "distractions" that can affect a player's ability to "focus" in tennis. He tries to "tune out" such distractions (spectators, airplanes, lawnmowers, traffic noise, the grunt of the opponent to name but a few). However, the greatest distraction is actually one's own mind and the dreaded mental habit of anticipation. How many times have you told yourself "stop thinking!" when playing tennis? Like the child who incessantly nags "are we there yet?", the player who tries to "focus" his mind on anticipating, preparing and judging potential outcomes finds the route to his destination (the "zone") excruciatingly unattainable. Only when the player suspends anticipation and premature judgement, quiets the mind, simply "sees" the ball and reacts naturally will he be able to approach the seemingly magical, slow-motion realm of the zone. Here is a great explanation of this phenomenon:
How To Judge The Ball - from Oscar Wegner's Newsletter dated 6-21-08
Tracking the ball to hit it optimally is a delicate task. You may be looking at it intently, but it is how you look at it that is important.
One way of looking at the ball is relaxedly, observing it in general terms to see it's speed and where it is going. Basically, you want to know where you can intercept it and how much time there is for both you and the ball to meet there. It is a coordination computation, as if you are going to catch it.
Another way is to look at it while thinking how you are going to meet it and what you are going to do with it. You are too far ahead in your thinking. With your mind so occupied and deciding ahead of time, you may forget that the ball is drastically slowing down and that you have more time than you think.
That is the root of the problem. A thinking mind observes less than a relaxed mind. A relaxed mind is, so to speak, minding it's time.
And, since time is measured by the cadence of the mind (24 pictures per second on the average for a human being), the more you think the less time you seem to have.
And the less you think, the slower you'll see the ball.
And when you see it really slow, as if floating, and as if you have all the time in the world, you are in the zone.
What is the zone? It is a practical shut-off of the mind. You are there very relaxed, just looking, and the body seems to move by itself, you get to the ball, it just sits there, and you whack it (with topspin, of course). While you feel everything is in slow motion, someone observing you is thinking you are very fast.
The trick is not to commit completely to the swing until after the bounce of the ball. The adjustments after the bounce might be very minor, mostly instinctive, but it surely affects your game.
Think less! "Prepare" later, when you are near the ball or when the ball is near you. Make it a habit of "stalking" the ball.
04-08-2009, 08:46 PM
Catching The BALL
The great thing about Oscars teachings is that it is easy to translate into action.
I spend a lot of time just working on catching the ball on the racquet then accelerating through the ball. It doesen,t mean i don,t ever make a bad shot or get distracted but, it gives me apoint to come back to if things are going wrong.
05-06-2009, 01:22 PM
Count To 5
Another great tip is to count to 5 on every stroke. On groundstrokes you wait then at the bounce count "one", then keep counting "two, three four" then "five" at impact. This keeps you from swinging early, rushing, and getting tight. If you start getting nervous during a match, start counting to 5 for a bit until you calm down. It really works. On the serve and on volleys you can do the same. On the serve count one at the toss and 5 at impaact. On the volley count one as athe ball hits the opponent's strings and 5 on your impact. Here is a little video example of a 4 year old counting to 5:
scroll town to "Miranda" and click the start button
05-06-2009, 10:52 PM
the little girl counting to five is very cute. and she has a decent swing for a youngster. i'm going to try your method on the return of serve. i have a real problem with being too ready for the serve to the point that my feet are already planted. of course, this leads to me not adjusting as needed to return a serve.
02-18-2011, 12:13 PM
Miranda starts counting long before the ball bounces. Oscar pointed out in one of the new 2010 DVDs that starting exactly at the bounce makes the player really watch the ball. So, while she is getting the benefit of not rushing the swing, she probably doesn't get the benefit of better watching the ball. I noticed the same behavior in my 5-year old girl. She starts off the right way, but after a few balls she gets carried away and starts the "mantra" mindlessly long before the bounce. :-)
02-27-2011, 05:41 PM
Good observation, 2008. In the Coaching Modern Strokes DVD (from the Tennis Into the Future series) Oscar rallies with a very talented teaching pro, John Carrizosa, and Oscar has to guide John to start counting at the correct moment. It is critical that the player (kids and adults both - and even teaching pros LOL) start the count at the bounce, not before. It is helpful to count aloud with the player at first in order to demonstrate exactly how the timing works. Once they get it let them count aloud by themselves. You will see a marked improvement in overall timing. BTW, the counting to 5 works on volleys and serves as well. These techniques are in the Modern Serves and Volleys DVD.