Fixing my Lazy Eyes and Feet

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by vChRiSv, Apr 20, 2012.

  1. vChRiSv

    vChRiSv New User

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    After hitting regularly with my friend for the past 2 weeks, I've started to zero in on the biggest problems in my game. My friend is considerably better than me and I find myself never getting the chance to hit a solid shot, except on my backhand at times. I've realized that the two biggest reasons for this are:

    1. I don't track the ball up until contact
    2. I don't move well
    Problem 1: Eyes
    The problem is pretty simple to understand. Basically, as the ball is coming towards me... the closer it gets, the less I'm looking at it. By the time it's within 1-2 metres of me, I've lost direct contact and I'm tracking it with my peripherals, or not at all. The reason for this is because I like to keep a focus on my opponent and their movements. This is obviously wrong, and I'm becoming more aware of the problem. I know you should always keep contact on the ball before, during, and after (for at least the follow through)... and when I've tried doing this, I've gotten good results.

    So, how do I fix this? From what I assume, I should just always keep this in my mind when hitting and make sure that I'm doing it. At least until I break my old habit, and this becomes naturally ingrained in my game.

    Problem 2: Feet
    This seems like it will be the harder problem to fix. My movement is basically at where my level is, but that isn't enough. I've neglected it for far too long, and am dedicated to improving it now. There aren't any specific issues, it's pretty much an all-round improvement that is needed.

    I plan to look over FYB's footwork videos as a starting point, but my question is, how do I really start? Do you start off with simple rallies with slow-moderate balls and just work on footwork? Similar to the FYB videos on Modern Footwork. Then, as you progress, you move on bringing this into normal rallies?

    The split step is also something that I only do when I'm paying attention, but that fix seems like the same as my eyes. Just make sure I'm doing it, until it becomes second nature. But I would like some clarification on the split step. You want to jump around the time when you're opponent is about to make contact. What should your feet be like before the jump, flat or on the balls of your feet? How big is the jump, or "hop"?

    And lastly, fitness for footwork. Fitness in general is obviously important, but lets stick focusing on footwork for now. In another thread, I know someone mentioned HIIT, and USTA drills related to that. Looking at these two will be my starting point regarding this.
    I'm not really sure what I'm looking for in terms of replies... any extra insight would be great: More sources of information, clarification, tips on how to proceed with this effectively (obviously it can't be done all at once), etc.

    As usual, any sort of feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. :)
     
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  2. Larrysümmers

    Larrysümmers Hall of Fame

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    sounds like you are looking at the ball, but not seeing the ball. focus on the seams of the ball when its coming at you. and for footwork ive always been one of those guys who just watches the ball and moves my feet too the ball, to prevent any thinking.
     
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  3. vChRiSv

    vChRiSv New User

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    That's a good way of putting it. :p I'm definitely trying to make sure I'm watching the ball very closely during my strokes.

    What you mention about footwork is true for me as well. I find that when I really watch the ball, my footwork is automatically better and I can make adjustments without thinking.
     
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  4. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Legend

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    Watching the ball - drills and spot-on-the-ball concept.

    Watching the ball is my tennis curse, it degrades everything. While I have fully understood the issue for many years my consistency of watching the ball is very bad especially receiving a high pace or otherwise pressuring shot.

    You can play tennis not looking at the ball properly. But I have found that to really have confidence to apply pace you have to have an accurate look at the ball (its precise location).

    It is interesting that it has been so hard to change. It is as if the part of my brain that does the 0.2 second athletic motions for my body is another person, an idiot. Hey you, why didn't we look at the last three balls.............

    But I was cured for some months once thanks to a great instructor. Over about two months he used various illustrations and drills that helped me understand and break my watching habit:

    1) Drill. Hit the ball and keep the head still until after the ball bounces. If you see the ball before it bounces, you fail.

    2) Run to the side and hit the ball, keep the head still looking to the side until after you have turned and started running the other way. This bordered on silly at times but it made a point and really gave me the feeling of keeping my head still.

    3) Most important, pick a specific spot on the back of the ball that you will be striking, hit that spot. I learned an alternate way to play tennis on the back of the ball and still believe that it may be the best way. It was very good especially when I learned to keep wide balls in the court by looking at a spot on the outside of the ball and striking it there. For an inside-out-forehand for a righty hit a spot on the inside of the ball, left side. There is a conflict in the back-of-the-ball concept, however, whether you actually stuck the top or bottom half of the ball depended mostly on the grip and probably not the perception of where you thought you were going to hit it....still not sure.

    4) Feedback for watching the ball. If you hit an exceptional shot or make an error ask yourself which spot on the back of the ball did you hit. On the good shots I remember seeing the ball if not the exact spot. On errors I usually don't know where on the back of the ball I hit it, especially true on my overheads.

    I had occasions hitting and a few matches where I used the back-of-the-ball concept to play and a still head and it was very effective. However, playing lots of matches each week I did not use it often enough or transition it into my game in a permanent way. After a few months I got a golfer's elbow injury and stopped tennis for 3 months. Got rid of the GE but lost the new ball watching skills. Still not sure if I should be thinking ball,direction, and swing or I've got to hit that spot on the back of the ball.

    I remember the tricks and still use them but looking carefully at the ball is poorly done. Especially, I hardly ever look well at the ball on a tough, fast volley.

    Knudson, in Biomechanical Principles of Tennis Strokes, has some interesting comments on ball watching. He claims pros often watch, discontinue watching at some point and refix their view to where they expect the racket to meet the ball. (Do I lose track because the approaching ball becomes too fast?) I'd like hear more on Knudson's conclusions.

    Hope that you get the answer on this one.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2012
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  5. vChRiSv

    vChRiSv New User

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    Thanks for the response Chas!

    Some very helpful pointers your instructor had. Hope you'll be able to get used to watching the ball again. :p

    One thing I'm thinking of doing is maybe marking my tennis balls. That way I have something to focus on. Or I could just try to look at the logo when the ball is coming at me... that could work.
     
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  6. BevelDevil

    BevelDevil Hall of Fame

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    I anticipate where the ball is going to go, based on its trajectory, while I keep in mind where I want the contact to take place. So I guess I'm tracking a little ahead of the ball, but I don't think I'm consciously doing this. Simply by thinking about where I want to contact it is probably enough. Psychologically, it takes my mind (and eyes) off the opponent. Maybe this might help you.

    It's hard to learn to "keep the head still" in an actual hitting session. So maybe practice by drop hitting some balls and get used to seeing the ball flying out with your peripheral vision. Do this until it feels natural seeing the ball fly out of your center vision. You don't even need to be on a court or use a racket get used to seeing this. Smack paper wads out of your center vision if you want.

    Also, when the light is just right, and the balls relatively new, you should see fuzz exploding off the ball at contact. You should be swinging your racket through the fuzz. Look for the fuzz!
     
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  7. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Legend

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    Interesting tracking demo but maybe not for stroke tracking. ?

    The same instructor had a very interesting demonstration about how intensely to watch the ball. However, I am not sure now of the issue that he was addressing - looking at a ball that you are about to strike or looking at a ball the other player is hitting. Great demo in either case.

    He took a ball and held it in front of him in the center of his chest. He said to focus on the ball, watch it very carefully and track it when he moved it. He moved it rapidly and my eyes lagged and did not move to track the ball. My eyes were surprisingly late in responding. He repeatedly returned the ball to the center of his chest, stopped and then rapidly moved it right or left, up or down.

    Next he said not to focus intensely on the ball but relax and look generally at the area where he is holding the ball in front of his chest. He moved the ball the same way again and my eyes sort of automatically followed it although they were not very focused on it.

    Takes only about a minute to train and a few seconds to demo. Try it with someone.

    I recall once relaxing my eyes in a match and generally looking at someone hitting a winner-type pace ball, overhead?, and was able to track the ball or at least pick up where it was headed better than I normally do. But once again this relaxed viewing did not become part of my game.

    Not sure if it relates to stroking a ball. I seem to recall that he said to try and see the writing on the ball to strike it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2012
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  8. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    Most balls will be spinning rapidly. It will be hard to see any mark you make.
    So try this instead: try to hit the ball IN THE EXACT CENTER OF YOUR STRING BED.
    Take dead aim.

    Don't lift your eyes until after you strike the ball. Once you've struck the ball you can raise your eyes.

    It is vital you are starting to recover with your feet even while still staring at your contact point for a spit second longer. (You can chew bubble gum and walk at the same time, right?!!)


    Hit the ball well in front of you. It is much easier to track a ball until contact if it is in front. Trying to track a ball until it is at your side is virtually impossible on a fast ball - your eyes can't keep up the last two feet.


    Always come out of a split step every time your opponent hits the ball.


    Don't waist time and energy with a high jump. You just need a small hop forward to get the momentum to move forward.


    Watch these videos on the split step:
    Tennis Footwork Split Step Lesson, 1 of 3: Technique http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2xAK9p2hIM&feature=player_embedded
    Tennis Footwork Split Step Lesson, 2 of 3: Timing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtWMP75377k&feature=player_embedded
    Tennis Footwork Split Step Lesson, 3 of 3: Pivot and Fake http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UG5Z5fs4-Ms#!


    Always feel balanced. Sure there will be times your opponent will get you running on the edge of control, but most of the time you can really feel in balance out there. That means your upper body is in balance over your legs, so you could move in any direction. Beat yourself up for being lazy and getting caught out of balance admiring your last shot instead of recovering to a balanced position from which you can come out with a split step.

    You know when you've hit a deep penetrating shot - after it stay a step inside the baseline, expecting a somewhat short reply.
    Monitor your opponents shots - some have a weak side - you can almost always stay a step in when a good ball has been hit by you to that side.

    On the other hand, if you hit just a neutral rally shot and anticipate a good hard shot back by your opponent, recover after your shot to a position a couple of feet behind the baseline.


    Work on hitting inside out forehands.  Working on the small quick steps will really help your footwork.  Get good at this and you will never be in doubt about what to do when you see a ball coming down the middle of the court, or only one step to your backhand side.

    You can do those USTA agility drills as HIIT. Doing them as rapidly as possible and recovering for only a short time can help.
    Try doing the spider drill (and others) with a racquet in your hand. When you get to the point of having to change direction, swing from low to high, and teach yourself how to land so you will be balanced and shifting your weight in the other direction as rapidly as possible.
    Like competition? Time yourself. Beat your best time for 1 set of the drill, them two sets of the drill ...



    Did you play lots of soccer and basketball in addition to tennis? They make balanced change of direction essential, especially on defense. Any chance of playing soccer and/or basketball now?


    Good luck!
     
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  9. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Legend

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    The phrase "in front of you"

    The phrase 'in front of you' is another one of those that people might use or interpret differently. I'm not always sure what people are meaning when they say 'in front of you'.

    Should it always mean impact on the ball's trajectory closer to the net than your head or chest is located?

    On the other hand, for a completely closed stance facing the side line, the phase 'in front of you' could be interpreted literally. Then the ball would be about the same distance from the net as your head or chest. With the alternate interpretation it would be about a foot closer to the net. ?

    I have had some better views of the ball with a closed stance. In that case maybe discontinuing tracking and redirecting to the ball impact, as described by Knudson in my earlier reply, might work better. The pros often do an extremely rapid head flick at the last split second that is hard to see.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2012
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  10. vChRiSv

    vChRiSv New User

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    Thanks for comments there Charlie! Really helpful stuff, I'm going through the split step videos now. :p

    Hopefully I'll be able to start incorporating some of the stuff you've mentioned, little by little.

    Basketball is definitely possible. I have a lot of friends that are into it. Soccer not so much, I couldn't play soccer to save my life. Do you find the transfer of skills that you develop in basketball/soccer move easily to tennis? Are they conscious things you keep in mind, or does it happen subconsciously for the most part?
     
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  11. vChRiSv

    vChRiSv New User

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    Those are some fantastic videos, thanks for posting them. Very informative and clear. Got me subscribing to Essential Tennis now. :p

    Definitely pointed out a key mistake that I make often, which is letting my heel drop down. Although I think this has a lot to do with the timing of my split step as well. Will be focusing on just split step and eye on ball tonight when I'm hitting, and see where that gets me for now.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2012
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  12. SystemicAnomaly

    SystemicAnomaly G.O.A.T.

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    Note that the one thing that your peripheral vision excels at is detecting motion -- it's a survival mechanism. It is much less effective in determining detail such as color and shape.

    Keep in mind that it is much more important to precisely determine the location and movement of the ball (and contact point) than it is the exact location of your opponent. However, it is possible to do both it we learn to trust our peripheral vision to detect the motion of your opponent(s).

    When you are at the baseline and the ball is crossing the net and, subsequently, the back service line (on your side), you should still be able to see the location and motion of your opponent even tho' you are tracking the ball. Even when the ball is several meters/yards away from you, your peripheral vision should still have a pretty good fix on location/motion of your opponent(s).

    Most of us can still pick their motion when our eyes are fixed on the contact point. During your forward swing, do not be tempted to move your head/eyes to look at your opponent -- your peripheral vision should take care of that. It is imperative to keep your head still during your forward swing so that the swing path of your racket is not adversely affected (by head movement). Even after the ball has left your strings, try to keep the head still for most of your follow-thru. It is not usually important to see the outgoing ball or your opponent before it crosses the net. Stay the course and keep your head still -- an attempt to follow the ball coming off your strings will probably result in head movement at contact (or even prior to contact).


    That sounds just a little too extreme. If you keep your head quiet during your forward swing (until you follow-thru), you should still be able to see the ball bounce on the other side. My take on the drill is that, if your see the outgoing ball before it crosses the net, you fail.

    It is important to see the bounce location and height. You also want to the see the spin & trajectory of the ball just before and after the bounce.

    If you are hitting on a wall. do not look up until you hear the ball hit the wall -- this would be equivalent to the ball crossing the net.
     
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  13. vChRiSv

    vChRiSv New User

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    No doubt about this. I just used to do more of the opposite, I'd have a focus on my opponent's location and rely on my peripherals to keep track of the ball. :p

    It's a habit ingrained from badminton... which is sort of useless in tennis. I've found that I don't really need to know where my opponent is going anyway, since that doesn't change my shot placement. In badminton you can change shots midway with subtle movements in the wrist, but it's definitely not something that should be done in tennis (for the most part).

    I hit on Saturday and got some good results with the split step and keeping my eye on the ball. The split step was the biggest improvement now that I have a better understanding of it. I found that when I focused on the split step and tracking the ball... the rest of my movement becomes more automatic, and I rarely got jammed or caught off guard by shots.
     
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  14. SystemicAnomaly

    SystemicAnomaly G.O.A.T.

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    Actually some of the focus/gaze habits of elite badminton players is not completely different from elite tennis players. Badminton players will track the shuttle coming of the opponent's racket and will often fix their gaze at or near the contact point as the shuttle gets into hitting range.

    A big difference is that the forward swing or the upward swing in badminton is typically much quicker/shorter than a tennis swing. The head stays relatively still during that part of the swing. Because the swing time is quicker/shorter than tennis, the head does not stay still quite a long. Take a gander at the gaze of this elite player from the UK.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhe_rRJR9_Y&t=1m10s

    You are correct that it is easier to make a late change the swing path in badminton than in tennis. Something else that may interest you with regards to badminton. Many people wrongly emphasize the wrist too much as a primary source of power in badminton. Most of it usually comes from the shoulder, forearm rotation and finger action (finger power).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua0OH9e8OZk&t=8s

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T7KFQ-cC8w
     
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  15. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    You mentioned yourself that you let your heels touch the ground too often in tennis.

    There is no way play defense in basketball and let your heels touch the ground. You need to be constantly moving on the balls of your feet to keep up with the person you are guarding. You have to be ready to move in any direction or jump straight up,

    So the skill is transferred "subconsciously" as it just becomes a habit to move on the balls of your feet, and to get lots of practice moving backward, and side to side as well as forward.
     
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  16. SystemicAnomaly

    SystemicAnomaly G.O.A.T.

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    I've been saying the same thing for quite a few years and often receive quite a bit of static for making the claim. Thanks for providing this additional resource that backs up my assertion. I have cited gaze control studies by Joan Vickers and others that discuss this. Vickers talks about the "Quiet Eye" technique for various sports.

    In the past I've observed some high speed, slow-motion footage of Federer hitting a forehand and have noticed that his eyes (gaze) jump to the contact point slightly before the ball gets there. His eyes do not follow the ball all the way into his strings as many would suggest. His eyes lie in wait for the ball shortly before it arrives at his contact point.

    Likewise, he does not attempt to follow the ball off his strings. He keep his head still with his eyes fixated on the contact point for all/most of his forward swing. This ensures that the swing path of his racket remains true. Moving of the head to sneak a peek at the ball or the opponent can adversely affect the swing path of the racket.

    Following is an additional source that discuss gaze control with tennis strokes. Thist is a reprint of a journal article from Knudson and Kluka. I also provide an excerpt from that article.

    http://sportsci.org/news/ferret/visionreview/visionreview.html

    "In striking sports (baseball, tennis) teachers often use cues telling players watch the ball till it hits the bat/racket. Ball/bat collisions in baseball and softball only last 1 or 2 milliseconds ... It is unlikely that any athlete can consistently see the ball hit the bat. Batters cannot use smooth pursuit to track the ball to the point of impact, even in slow pitch softball(Watts & Bahill, 1990)! Coaches should develop attentional cues that do not ask athletes to concentrate on doing things that may not be possible. The cue "watch the ball hit your bat" could adversely affect performance by encouraging exaggerated head motion and less visual attention earlier in the trajectory of the ball."


    Here is a journal article on gaze control for a tennis volley:

    The Change of Gaze Behavior, Eye-Head Coordination...

    "...it is required not only for the line of gaze to track the ball but also for the eye-head coordination to move toward the impact direction with stable alignment in advance. This implies that two visual systems (i.e., eye-head system and image-retina system) are needed in order to obtain information on the ball during the volley stroke..."
     
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  17. danno123

    danno123 Rookie

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    I have the same problem with footwork. I've been trying to make the split step a habit. Whenever I remember, I consciously split step every time my opponent hits the ball (especially during warm up and when he's practicing serves). I've also done some footwork drills with the ball machine, practicing split stepping when I know the machine is going to fire one. It's not quite a habit yet but I'm hopeful it will be soon.
     
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  18. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    See also...

    ...SystemicAnomaly's thread on seeing the contact point, not watching the ball.

    All good suggestions in this thread, here are two more:

    - Start playing proactive rather than reactive tennis. After I've rallied with someone or played a few games against him or her, I should have a pretty good idea of what he or she is going to do in a specific situation. If I'm basically hitting balls over the net and essentially saying "Gee...wonder what he/she is going to do with that one?" I'm not being observant and I'm playing reactive tennis, which is always catch-up tennis and tends to make you late for everything regardless of how well you're seeing the contact point or how well you're moving your feet.

    If, for example, when you hit a cross court forehand, the guy on the other side (let's make it a guy for the rest of this example), who knows Wardlaw's Directionals, almost always returns the ball cross court, as soon as you complete your shot, start moving toward where you think the next ball is going. If you're wrong, you can backpedal, but you're probably going to have correctly anticipated what's about to happen, and you're playing proactively.

    - In much the same way, never stop moving your feet. This doesn't mean run around like a crazed rabbit all the time, what it means is that if you come to a complete stop, you have to start up again, which is harder than changing direction or accelerating if you're feet are already moving. At least for highway driving, where there are no stop lights, you don't stop the car, then start it up again. It's much more efficient to change gears as necessary.

    So in concert with what I said in the first bullet, once I see where the ball is coming, I accelerate to get there as quickly as possible. As I near the contact point, I slow down (but don't stop) and gather myself for the stroke, I accelerate through the stroke using my legs and trunk for power (tennis is not an arm sport, it's a leg sport), then I keep the feet moving at a brisk pace to where I think the net shot is coming.

    - Third, your upper body can't run for you, but it can help what the legs and eyes have to do. In a groundstroke rally, when you see the ball come off your opponent's racket, what's the first thing you do? The obvious answer is, "Start running!" but it's incorrect. The first thing you do is turn the shoulders, clockwise for a forehand, counterclockwise for a backhand. That's the first preparation item, and if you do it first, when you get to the ball, you'll already have most of your backswing done. Most players run like crazed gerbils, get right on top of the ball, then start the backswing, which is way too late.

    So you say "Oh, yeah...I remember now! Get the racket back!" Don't think about getting the racket back, just think about turning the shoulders. The racket will come back with the shoulders, and now you have the trunk wound up, which gives you easy power as opposed to "arming" the ball, which is what happens when you get the racket back but don't turn the shoulders. Turning the shoulders also tends to get you looking at the contact point. If you just get the racket back, you can be looking at your opponent (this is what most players do), or off to Owego, or anywhere else, for that matter, except the contact point.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2012
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