Who is playing (continued)
Instinct is the operation of the being at the highest level of thought, with perceptions coming in and decisions going out at a speed that the mind can’t grasp. Ironically, you can develop this by waiting - by taking your time. Conversely, you can lose it by rushing.
In professional tennis, when the player is well focused, the spirit, that inner core, is playing, computing by feel. The ball may be traveling at a high velocity, but the player is efficient with no need to rush. He looks for the ball with the racquet as if it is part of the body, an extension of the hand. Finding it, he explodes with power, guiding the ball over the net and in the intended direction. The total focus is on finding the ball then looking to repeat a certain feel. The player may have a favorite place in relation to his body to execute this feel, but will adjust to the situation as needed, regardless of the position of the ball.
Attention to sound is equally import when focusing on feel. It takes the mind off the task at hand. That is why top pros play better when there is absolute silence during a point. They hear the opponent’s stroke, the bounce, then their own stroke. This sound will confirm to the player that he is focusing and staying in the present time.
I have had students count to five after the bounce. This seems to occupy and calm their minds, making for a far more polished timing of the ball and a cleaner hit. After a while, the mind becomes accustomed and the counting becomes unnecessary. However, if a player gets nervous again, an indication of too much thought interference, he can count again until he calms himself and gets back to the present time.
Even with the power of the modern game, top players will tell you, “today I felt the ball,” or “I did not.” Those who are not at the professional level can learn to hit the same way by focusing on the same principles. Play as if the racquet was an extension of the hand, stalk the ball, find it and feel it. Then strike it without exerting too much force, without worrying about body position, or feet placement. On the contrary, move naturally, in a light and subtle way, like a cat on a hot tin roof. Balance yourself as you learned it as a kid, chasing the ball in the most efficient way.
For beginners, practice like a slow motion movie, copying basic strokes from a favorite pro, stalking the ball first, then exaggerating the finish. Play slowly, efficiently, without rushing. Later on, when the game speeds up, you’ll need only to adjust your speed, not your form.
Using these principles I had total beginners hitting 60, 90, up to 120 ball rallies within an hour, at a medium pace, with full forehand strokes. Miraculous, No! That is actually the potential of the inner being when it acts naturally by feel apart from conscious thought. Using these principle, one time I had a hard practice rally with Jimmy Arias, a former U.S. Open semifinalist, of over 400 balls. And that was the first ball we hit that day! (And he missed first!)
Practice deliberately, slowly and by feel and you’ll be more conscious of the angle of your racquet when meeting the ball, which is the determining factor of the direction of your shot. Tennis will become easier, more fun, because conscious thought about too many details will inhibit the flow of the game. So take your time, enjoy, and don’t rush your game.