Can you train yourself to see the ball at faster speeds or is it more about natural talent?

FRV2

Professional
I can barely ever return even 80-90 mph serves. Probably the biggest flaw in my game in many sports is my reaction time and hand eye coordination when objects are moving very fast. Especially back when I played baseball. I know with practice I'd be able to return the 80 mph serves, but I am wondering once it gets to 90-100mph+ if some people just won't be able to return the serves, even with practice.

It must be awesome to just be gifted enough to see everything in slow motion.
 
I can barely ever return even 80-90 mph serves. Probably the biggest flaw in my game in many sports is my reaction time and hand eye coordination when objects are moving very fast. Especially back when I played baseball. I know with practice I'd be able to return the 80 mph serves, but I am wondering once it gets to 90-100mph+ if some people just won't be able to return the serves, even with practice.

It must be awesome to just be gifted enough to see everything in slow motion.
I think you can train yourself although I have no data to back up that conclusion nor by how much you can better your reaction time.

And you have to balance the time spent on this training vs what else you could be practicing: maybe those other things will help you more.

Make sure your footwork is active.
Don't take a huge backswing.
Stand back a little further; 5' makes a big difference
Practice with the server standing on the SL rather than the BL.
 

user92626

Legend
Probably take talent to see a very fast object, like this guy can, though I'm not sure about dodging it.








Well, you can always end up like this, which is still pretty fun:

 

fuzz nation

G.O.A.T.
I can barely ever return even 80-90 mph serves. Probably the biggest flaw in my game in many sports is my reaction time and hand eye coordination when objects are moving very fast. Especially back when I played baseball. I know with practice I'd be able to return the 80 mph serves, but I am wondering once it gets to 90-100mph+ if some people just won't be able to return the serves, even with practice.

It must be awesome to just be gifted enough to see everything in slow motion.
Something to consider as you build your experience with playing against harder hitters is that you can get better at reading an opponent's move and swing at the ball to help you with anticipating its direction. This isn't just the case with returning serve - reacting more quickly at the net depends very much on this "reading", too.

Federer gives opponents fits with his 115-120 mph serves because he is a master of disguise. He can go anywhere with his serve placement using the same set position and the same toss location. Opponents can't get a jump on the ball until after he hits it, so those more "average" serve speeds are plenty fast with no warning of their direction.
 

BallBag

Semi-Pro
Reaction time is about 200 ms for most people. You cant really train it. You can improve your reaction time test score with practice but then your just practicing for the test. Pros can react to 120 MPH serves because they know where the ball is going before it gets there. They know where the contact point will be very soon after the bounce. A 120 MPH serve is around 60 MPH after the bounce. That's 88 ft/s and the ball travels 17.6 ft in 200 ms. Distance between the service line and the base line is 18 ft for reference.
 

Enga

Hall of Fame
Speed is relative. I know that my reaction times arent faster, but my perception of the ball has improved. I think it has to do with frame of reference. Sometimes by standing at different angles or looking at different spots I can track the motion of the ball with my eyes. Other times I limit my vision to one spot, and let my the ball pass through my peripheral vision, and track the ball that way. So yeah, Im not sure if reaction times can be changed, but for sure you can try different things for what you already have.
 

Nostradamus

Bionic Poster
I can barely ever return even 80-90 mph serves. Probably the biggest flaw in my game in many sports is my reaction time and hand eye coordination when objects are moving very fast. Especially back when I played baseball. I know with practice I'd be able to return the 80 mph serves, but I am wondering once it gets to 90-100mph+ if some people just won't be able to return the serves, even with practice.

It must be awesome to just be gifted enough to see everything in slow motion.
Yes you can train yourself to return fast shots and big serves. as long as you can reach them
 

Chadalina

Legend
Reaction time is about 200 ms for most people. You cant really train it. You can improve your reaction time test score with practice but then your just practicing for the test. Pros can react to 120 MPH serves because they know where the ball is going before it gets there. They know where the contact point will be very soon after the bounce. A 120 MPH serve is around 60 MPH after the bounce. That's 88 ft/s and the ball travels 17.6 ft in 200 ms. Distance between the service line and the base line is 18 ft for reference.
Agassi and ken griffey jr had a sports study that found it was more about their minds interpreting( translating reaction in ms) what they see vs how fast they can see it.
 

FiReFTW

Legend
First time returning 110+mph serves i was missing late alot and misshitting, but quickly got used to it and once i got it all down it was not that hard, of course if placed hard its hard to get to, but returning it is not that difficult.

I have much more trouble with returning 80-100mph serves that have heavy spin/slice on them
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
First time returning 110+mph serves i was missing late alot and misshitting, but quickly got used to it and once i got it all down it was not that hard, of course if placed hard its hard to get to, but returning it is not that difficult.

I have much more trouble with returning 80-100mph serves that have heavy spin/slice on them
For baseball batters, late-breaking pitches are usually more problematic than fast ball pitches.

Also note than a 110 mph serve is about 50 mph by the time it reaches you. Looses a lot of speed on the bounce in addition to losing speed due to air drag (over 75-80 feet or so). A 90-95 mph ball possibly reaches the batter at 70-80 mph.
 

Sir Weed

Rookie
Return of serve is not so much about reaction, IMO. Try to improve your anticipation.

Some of the information I collect when I return:

* Ball toss -> estimate point of contact (POC)
* Focus on racquet head i.e. its speed so I can time my return accordingly and its path relative to POC which helps to anticipate the balls trajectory
* Put my focus on the ball and its trajectory at POC

There are plenty of other things going on of course. For instance in practice I might focus on just the sound during impact to get a sense for spin and pace. Then I try to anticipate what the server is going to do by just looking at his/her body and not look at the ball or racquet.
So I isolate a couple of things and then switch back to the whole thing again.
Visualize return when in bed before sleep (relaxed upper body, split step into court while you watch what's going on on the other side, get the feel that it takes ages for the ball to finally arrive on your end, look forward to hit the return). That may be too out for some people but I think this helps.
 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Interesting
Interesting but not sure that much of it, if any of it, is useful. Even elite tennis players will (almost) never see the ball at the contact point. Our eyes and vision tracking abilities are not capable of see an incoming (or outgoing) ball when it is in close proximity. Have heard it said that a baseball batter is unable to see/track the incoming ball when it is within 2-3 meters of the plate. For a tennis player, this is might be closer to 1 meter of "invisibility" on incoming groundstroke balls. For volleys at the net, this invisible zone can be even greater than that.

And this demonstrator appears to move his head & eye too much -- at the wrong time. High speed HD film reveals that Roger Federer's eyes gets to his contact point shortly before the ball does. This means that his head and eyes are very still (no longer moving) as he makes contact with the ball. We can't see the ball leaving our strings either. No need to look up to watch the outgoing ball until it (almost) reaches the net. Very important to keep your head (and eyes) still during the contact phase -- just prior to contact and for a short time after contact. Moving the head during the contact phase usually alters (throws off) your swing.

It might be even better to copy Andre Agassi's gaze strategy. He had incredible hand-eye and one of the best serve returns of all time. He would actually fix his gaze slightly ahead of his contact point. He appeared to be looking at at point 2 to 3 in front of his contact point. This means that Andre did not need to move his head as much as Roger does. A bit easier to keep the head still during the contact phase with Andre's gaze strategy.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@FRV2
Reaction time is about 200 ms for most people. You cant really train it. You can improve your reaction time test score with practice but then your just practicing for the test. Pros can react to 120 MPH serves because they know where the ball is going before it gets there. They know where the contact point will be very soon after the bounce. A 120 MPH serve is around 60 MPH after the bounce. That's 88 ft/s and the ball travels 17.6 ft in 200 ms. Distance between the service line and the base line is 18 ft for reference.
The average (simple) visual reaction time (RT) for humans is probably closer to 250 ms according to numerous sources. For elite athletes, simple (non-choice) visual RT is quicker than this -- possibly in the 150 to 180 ms range. Auditory and touch RT is faster than visual -- something on the order of 50 ms quicker. It takes the brain longer to process visual images than it takes to process sound or touch. Athletes will often have an auditory RT < 150 ms. It makes a lot of sense to listen to the sound of the ball on your opponent's stringbed, Elite athletes will often have an auditory RT in the 100-130 ms range. (Note that 100 ms is the 'false start' criteria for sprinters).

Choice visual RT can possibly/likely be improved thru training. Simple visual RT improvement, perhaps. As you suggest, it is quite true that RT scores can be improved on tests. One simply gets better at performing the tests. But does this carry over at all to tennis and other sports? To some (lesser) extent, it appears that it is possible that it will transfer. In the late 1980s, I was doing Sports Vision Training with a behavioral optometrist. It helped simple and choice RT, hand-eye coordination, eye convergence, tracking, peripheral awareness, subliminal awareness and other cognitive-visual skills for both my badminton and tennis games.

In the 1990s, I came across a software suite of elementary cognitive tasks (ECT) known as ThinkFast. (Sadly, this ECT software has not been available since 2007). I would often perform a set of my ThinkFast tests for 10 minutes or so prior to heading out to the tennis or badminton courts. These ECT tests served as a barometer (feedback) for my mental state and visual skills (auditory skills to a lesser extent). Performing select TF tests also served to get the cobwebs out. Unless I was very seriously sleep-deprived or mentally fogged, the tests had the ability to "wake up or energize my brain". By doing so, my RT and other visual skills were heightened (close to my peak).
 
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ubercat

Semi-Pro
When I'm watching pro tennis on the TV I always try and work out if the serve s going to the forehand or the backhand instantly.

I do the same thing when I am returning in a match. The ones that gets me r spin serves that spin back into the body. I should sidestep and take them as four hands but I never do
 

BallBag

Semi-Pro
@FRV2


The average (simple) visual reaction time (RT) for humans is probably closer to 250 ms according to numerous sources. For elite athletes, simple (non-choice) visual RT is quicker than this -- possibly in the 150 to 180 ms range. Auditory and touch RT is faster than visual -- something on the order of 50 ms quicker. It takes the brain longer to process visual images than it takes to process sound or touch. Athletes will often have an auditory RT < 150 ms. It makes a lot of sense to listen to the sound of the ball on your opponent's stringbed, Elite athletes will often have an auditory RT in the 100-130 ms range. (Note that 100 ms is the 'false start' criteria for sprinters).

Choice visual RT can possibly/likely be improved thru training. Simple visual RT improvement, perhaps. As you suggest, it is quite true that RT scores can be improved on tests. One simply gets better at performing the tests. But does this carry over at all to tennis and other sports? To some (lesser) extent, it appears that it is possible that it will transfer. In the late 1980s, I was doing Sports Vision Training with a behavioral optometrist. It helped simple and choice RT, hand-eye coordination, eye convergence, tracking, peripheral awareness, subliminal awareness and other cognitive-visual skills for both my badminton and tennis games.

In the 1990s, I came across a software suite of elementary cognitive tasks (ECT) known as ThinkFast. (Sadly, this ECT software has not been available since 2007). I would often perform a set of my ThinkFast tests for 10 minutes or so prior to heading out to the tennis or badminton courts. These ECT tests served as a barometer (feedback) for my mental state and visual skills (auditory skills to a lesser extent). Performing select TF tests also served to get the cobwebs out. Unless I was very seriously sleep-deprived or mentally fogged, the tests had the ability to "wake up or energize my brain". By doing so, my RT and other visual skills were heightened (close to my peak).
Speed of sound steals 70 ms from auditory response time so it might come out the same as visual.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Speed of sound steals 70 ms from auditory response time so it might come out the same as visual.
Not exacty. Sure, it might take some 70 ms for sound to travel the full length of the court. Perhaps only 40 ms or so if one player is at the net and a lot less than that if both players are at the net.

But how far must the ball travel before you have enough visual information to determine its trajectory, how fast it is moving, how much spin it has, what type of spin it has, its direction and a good estimate of where it will bounce? You won't be able to glean all of that, visually, when the ball has made contact with your opponent's strings.

I'm thinking the ball will travel several meters before yoy have enough visual info. I suspect that the ball needs to travel more than 70 ms before your visual system can yield enough information

The auditory system will provide some early info, from the sound of the impact, on ball speed and the amount of spin on the ball. You should also hear if the opponent has framed the ball almost immediately. This is all important info.

And, of course, you will be able to determine the approx ball speed, amount of spin and quality of your own contacts in just a few milliseconds. Visually, your eyes won't be able to pick up the ball again until it has moved away from you a considerable distance. On many shots hit from the baseline, I won't be able to pick up (see) the ball again until it is 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the net. On a fast serve, I might not see the ball again until it is crossing the net. But I have heard the sound of my contact long before that.
 
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bostontennis

New User
anything less than 100mph are trainable. you certainly have the capability doing it.
the real problem is, most often, armatures don't have 90mph ball service to them and they cannot train themselves.
if you really want to train yourself, just stack up a ball machine, that will do it.
 
The movement of nerve signals through the body is not very fast, compare to times of sub-motions of strokes, many to 10s of ms. But I believe that I read that the time for the sensation that your foot has hit the ground may be transmitted to the brain much faster than by nerve signals, maybe by bone sound waves of some sort, 7 ms? If you strike the ball some sensation may reach your brain much faster than through the nerves that transmit feeling. ? Maybe that feeling part, that reaches the brain well after impact is one thing that you train, associating that nerve or other feeling with what you just did for that stroke? Check the nerve and bone timing information as I don't remember it well.

If I shake my fingers in front of my face my fingers get blurry and I guess the finger velocity is low. But to consider motion blur think about how fast the image moves on the retina. How fast the ball image moves on the retina depends on the head and eye tracking and the ball motion. If a ball goes by across your field of vision that maximizes the relative motion of the ball on the retina, large motion blur. But if the ball comes toward your eye at some angle, or a small angle when you see it across the court, the motion of the ball image on the retina can be much less, much less motion blur. For a ball coming directly at your eye the image of the ball does not move but just gets bigger. I can remember getting a pretty good look at a hard hit overhead that hit me between the eyes on my eyebrow. Close call.

An interesting issue is how far in front of your eye the incoming ball is being struck. It often looks as if Federer is looking through the back side of his racket strings before impact.


You need the right camera angles to see this. The rare overhead camera view is the best.

I've seen other players that appear to be looking through the racket strings at the ball. If the impact of the ball is farther out front, the ball should be easier to see because the image of the ball would move slower across the retina. ??? On ground strokes, I've looked through the back of my racket strings and hit the ball, but it does not feel or look like what I'm used to. If we had more overhead camera views we would see how often the players look through the strings. %

When a ball has heavy pace, I often decide it is too fast to watch carefully and don't watch as carefully - as if that would help...... Technique flaw.
 
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Bender

G.O.A.T.
I can barely ever return even 80-90 mph serves. Probably the biggest flaw in my game in many sports is my reaction time and hand eye coordination when objects are moving very fast. Especially back when I played baseball. I know with practice I'd be able to return the 80 mph serves, but I am wondering once it gets to 90-100mph+ if some people just won't be able to return the serves, even with practice.

It must be awesome to just be gifted enough to see everything in slow motion.
I could barely return a decent 60 mph serve a few years ago, when I started playing tennis seriously at the age of 23.

Yesterday, a new guy joined our group. Muscular fellow, received proper training until he was 18 but stopped playing for whatever reason for a few years. Said at his very best he was clocking 210 km/h flat serves. He didn't hit any of those yesterday night, but he was hammering flat and slice serves left right and centre at around 160-190 km/h, and yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to swing through them on the return (abbreviated takeback) and place them nice and deep into the corner. Lost the points anyway because he went for broke and smacked it at my partner who had never seen that kind of ball before.

But I've been playing 4-6 hours a week after work mostly against guys who are better than me, yet are happy to play with / against me, so YMMV.
 

5263

G.O.A.T.
I can barely ever return even 80-90 mph serves. Probably the biggest flaw in my game in many sports is my reaction time and hand eye coordination when objects are moving very fast. Especially back when I played baseball. I know with practice I'd be able to return the 80 mph serves, but I am wondering once it gets to 90-100mph+ if some people just won't be able to return the serves, even with practice.

It must be awesome to just be gifted enough to see everything in slow motion.
Sure you can.....remember how bad a calling you were when you started tennis compared to where you are now?
 

TennisDawg

Professional
It’s easier for the eyes to track the ball as it’s coming over the net and after the bounce. It’s pretty much impossible to see the ball when the racquet is making contact. But, watching the ball prior to contact allows better contact. You also have peripheral vision at contact, though it’s very brief.
 
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