Originally Posted by kiteboard
The whole issue for me, was the fumbling nature of the energy/in the hands and in the mind, while learning the new knots, and that relation to the increased brain activity, and how it also probably relates to any new learning experience, and our own felt failures on the court. All of us can relate to it. We all have the same feelings of disconnection and frustration when learning and losing.
Some of us experience unconscious play, in the so called zone. The small red dot, versus the whole purple field lit up. So how do we access thoughtless, natural zone play? Lots of reps so the shots and strategies are second nature. Lots of match play with the same guy so we can get used to his style. Lots of reps on our own strengths, returns, serves, etc. Memorization isn't everything, or we would be able to zone out any day. So what makes the energy we feel zoned out special? Why is our level higher than normal? No one really can explain it, why the energy is faster (so our experienced energy is slower), why the ball gets as big as a grape fruit, like it's on a T. Desire is related to it. Emotions are also. Desire is both an emotion, and an adrenalized state when zoned. If I could bottle that energy I'd be a billionaire already. It's an unconscious connection to the zone energy field we normally don't access. We are all in pursuit of the red dot.
I'd like to see the scan when I'm in the zone. I'll bet it's on the horizon, that we will be able to zone out on command, not just due to the talent some have in obtaining that felt energy, but as an exercise we are all able to polish just like normal practice.
As an undergrad, I minored in psychology, and I recall writing some paper on what's called procedural memory. Basically there are three stages to learning a new motion. The first stage, the cognitive stage, is where you observe and learn the material at hand. The second stage, the associative stage, is where you practice what you've observed. The final stage, autonomy, is where you can perform the task without conscious decision making or attention. The middle stage is crucial, as it's there that you learn what is fundamental and is not fundamental to whatever it is you're doing. Being able to discriminate between said things is important because it lets you have greater attention on only the important bits. Once you're in the autonomous stage, your ability to perform a task depends on how well you learned to discriminate between important and unimportant stimuli in the associative stage.
Here is a good example before I get into how it relates to sports. As a 15 year old, you start learning how to drive a car. You've been through the first stage which is watching someone drive for many years. However, when you first get behind the wheel, EVERYTHING requires attention. How hard to grip the wheel, where to hold it, how to turn it, how hard to press the pedals to make the car do something (hence why people stall manual transmission cars when learning, it's not because they're not able to, it's because the smoothness of the transition between the pedals isn't learned yet). Then there's what to pay attention to with your eyes: the speedo, the tach, the rear-view mirror, the side mirrors, the dividing line, the type of road surface, the distance between you and cars ahead, behind and to the sides. Objects incredibly far in the distance, etc.
After you've been driving for a few years, you don't think about anything but the fundamentals: following distance, glance at the speedo, glance at the mirrors, and that's about it. This is, of course, assuming you went through the second stage and learned properly. A bad driver, for instance, is hunched up on the wheel, eyes bulging going extra slowly, not noticing that they're going 30 in a 50 because all they think is important is how close they are to the edge of the road. Teenagers likewise crash often because they neglect other things: glancing at the speedo and mirrors, learning proper following distance, etc. This is just one example of this psych theory, but it applies to sports.
In tennis, you watch a fuzzy yellow balls video and see how Federer hits his forehand. You watch the video over and over and over. Cognitive stage. You then go onto the court, but you have to focus on every single aspect of his technique when not all aspects are important because they happen naturally: you force the follow through, you grip the racquet too tightly, etc. Only once you practice it over and over and over again do you get to the autonomous stage, and depending on how you practiced and what you decided was important to pay attention to, that determines how well, when you see an incoming forehand, you are able to prepare your feet, torso and arms and stroke the ball.
You have these algorithms stored in head for various actions and you pull them out when you need to. How well you execute them depends on the interaction between what you learned and the external stimuli: how much spin is on the incoming ball, is it low or high, fast or slow, far from you or not. Regardless of any of the above, your forehand will always be your forehand. It's just if something can cause your algorithm to break down that would lead to errors.
Interestingly, according to this theory, choking is when stress causes your automatic "map" to break down into individual steps that you must focus on to make it work. Since the action is no longer one fluid execution, you become tight and the action breaks down further. Once that happens, you can start neglecting important parts of the procedure which leads to errors. Continual errors lead to increased anxiety and stress, which lead to more errors, and in tennis terms, you blew 3 match points and a two break lead. Being able to break that cycle is often the best way to get back into "auto" mode, hence you smash a racquet, or in the case of Nalbandian, a line judge's shin.
Now, I do not believe that psychology is a science. I think it's a pseudo science in that it comes up with theories which explain repeatable phenomena, but there is no way to actually test and repeat the results. Whether the procedural memory theory explains choking and the zone (the opposite of choking according to this school of thought, where you are able to focus on even fewer stimuli or neglect more external ones), I have no idea nor will anyone ever be able to prove it. Nonetheless, I do think it's quite interesting since as I said, you can apply the theory to any repetitive motor situation: driving, sports, playing an instrument, typing, sleight of hand, chess moves, martial arts forms etc.
Just thought I'd share a spot of sports related psychology since it seemed relevant. :)