eyes on the ball at contact

Hi folks, How do you practice tracking the ball, especially at contact? Is there any drill that I can do to improve this? Every time I manage to keep eyes on the ball, it feels so good. But it's so hard to do that the whole time. It's like my brain gets lazy or tired after a while.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
I read somewhere that the first step is to turn the head towards the ball, not face somewhere else and look at an angle. Seems obvious, but is very common. That should happen automatically with the unit turn, but ...
 
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Chas Tennis

G.O.A.T.
I asked that same OP question many years ago for group lessons. George gave some very good instructions and drills.

Return the ball and if you see it crossing the net you failed on that return. If you see it bounce, that's good, your goal This means that you keep your eyes on the ball at impact, head still for more time than you are now doing. After impact, you are looking at empty space for a distinct time, new to you. And you say to yourself 'I'm looking at the ball'. Well after you are trained, you might shorten the time a little.

Study Federer as he is the flagship of watching the ball.

Test for ball watching during a match. Here's a good test to use when playing and missing balls. After missing a shot ask yourself 'What part of the ball did I first hit?' Often, if you missed the shot, you will not be able to recall an image of the ball. On the other hand, if you hit a great shot, you can often recall a clear image of the ball. This is particularly good in making you believe in the importance of watching the ball.

As for that part of the ball that you first hit - don't fool yourself for a long time as I did. The part of the ball that is first touched by the racket face is totally determined by the orientation of the racket face at first contact. I used to think that I was hitting the bottom half of the ball with a closed racket face. That's impossible. Try it holding the ball and racket in your hands.

Ball Watching on Serve. Some ATP players watch the ball to impact on the serve. Most do not. Most break off watching by bending their neck/head down just before impact. Look at 10 servers with high speed video from the side camera view and observe the head. For Tsonga, it is very hard to tell, he is so fast bending his head down.

For the kick serve, the toss is into the court, the head moves forward considerably and the ball is impacted over the head. You can't be looking. There's another technique involving the head on its side with one ear down. You could probably be seeing the ball with your head on the side. Stosur.

Kick serve. Stosur.
 
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Joe Garfield

Semi-Pro
@johnmccabe there’s some text on this in “The Inner Game of Tennis.” It says it’s hard to repeatedly “keep your eye on the ball” because the conscious mind wants to do so much more and therefore needs more stimulation. The author’s solution was to make it more challenging or stimulating: see if you can find the seams on the ball, or notice which way it’s spinning.

I focus on (trying to identify) what the spin looks like after the bounce - is it forward or backward, fast or slow? I might not always be able to answer those questions - sometimes I just recognize that It’s spinning - but I can tell you it keeps my eyes glued to the ball! The ball usually looks big, bright, and slow when this is going on. It also works for me because it let‘s me think about other things between contact and when the ball comes back. But if you (I) do this, I naturally start to track the ball earlier so I’m ready to identify it.

I would say this works for me 100% of the time I remember to do it - which of course is not 100% of the time I’m playing. When I’m not making good contact, or when I find myself thinking or trying too much, I try to resort to paying attention to my breath between strokes (to stay in the moment,) and the spin of the ball before I hit it. At the very least, my subconscious knows enough to get the ball back over the net in that situation, but usually I find even better things happen.
 
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sureshs

Bionic Poster
I have also read that you should narrow your eyes when you look at the ball. The natural instinct is to make them wider.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Hi folks, How do you practice tracking the ball, especially at contact? Is there any drill that I can do to improve this? Every time I manage to keep eyes on the ball, it feels so good. But it's so hard to do that the whole time. It's like my brain gets lazy or tired after a while.
Keeping the head still during the "contact phase", rather than actually watching the ball, is of utmost importance. I would find myself fixing my gaze on my contact point (again, not the ball) before, during &, for a short time, after impact. I would be pretty good about keeping my head still during this phase for 2 sets or so. But then, late in the 2nd set or early in the 3rd set, I would find myself mis-hitting more balls. At that point, I would realize that I was moving my head, looking up, prematurely.

Occupational hazard. As a coach, I would often watch my student rather than fixing my gaze and keeping my head still on my own CP.

Note that Roger (and Rafa) gets his eyes to his expected CP (contact point) very shortly before the ball gets there. That means, shortly after he starts his forward swing, he is no longer watching the ball but is fixing his gaze on his expected CP. Roger & Rafa keep the head still both before and after contact. They are not looking up to follow the outgoing ball for a little while.

Novak does not appear to have this habit. Sometimes he's fixated on his CP, sometimes he's already looking up. I do not recommend this, at all, for most students or rec players.

Andre Agassi employs a gaze strategy that I like even more than Roger's gaze technique. It requires less head movement prior to contact. Andre fixes his gaze on a point that is slightly forward of his CP (perhaps a meter or a foot or two). This is a bit easier on the neck and requires less movement of the head to set up. He also keeps his head still for most of his forward swing -- before, during & after contact. It might also help to detect movement (of his opponent) with his peripheral vision a little bit better. But the temptation is to look up prematurely when we detect movement. We need to suppress that urge and just trust our peripheral vision to do its job -- no need to look up early to see detail. Either gaze technique (by Roger or by Andre) are well worth considering.


Tons of repetition should help to correct your problem. Do this frequently with shadow swings -- at home, during practice sessions and between points (during a match). Initially, look forward, as if watching an incoming ball. Once your forward swing is well underway, fix your gaze on your CP or slightly forward of your CP. Keep your head still until your follow-thru is nearly complete. Ok to look up again shortly before your FT is finished.

I will provide another drill for you in my next post (coming up shortly).
 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Hi folks, How do you practice tracking the ball, especially at contact? Is there any drill that I can do to improve this? Every time I manage to keep eyes on the ball, it feels so good. But it's so hard to do that the whole time. It's like my brain gets lazy or tired after a while.
In addition to the shadow swings I mentioned above, you can practice keeping your head still with an easy (self-feed) drop-hit drill. You can use either the Federer or Agassi gaze technique I mentioned above.

Standing on the baseline, drop a ball and hit it over the net. Keep your eyes on your CP during your contact phase & for a while longer to ensure that you are not looking up prematurely. No need to see the ball after contact until it is about to cross the net. If you see the ball 2-3 meters (less than 10 ft) before it crosses the net, that might be okay. If you are looking up much before that, you may be compromising your swing. Ok now, here it comes:

BEST DRILL EVER (if I do say so myself):

Set yourself up about 3-5 meters (10-16 ft) from a fence (or hitting wall). Drop (bounce) and drive a ball into the fence with a Fh or Bh stroke. Intially, watch your self-feed long enough to determine your CP. Then, converge your eyes on your chosen gaze point (either at the expected CP or a bit ahead of it).

Now, do not move your head or shift your gaze, until you hear the ball hit the fence (or wall). If you see the ball hitting the fence at this short distance, you are probably moving your head too early (or looking up too early).
 
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RVT

Rookie
I'm kind of in disbelief that the myths I was dealing with almost 30 years ago are still prevalent today!

You can't see the ball at contact, no matter what you. There is no benefit to trying.

Federer keeping his head (and gaze) behind the racket is an exception; pretty much every single other player has their head moving forward and looking ahead. He's an outlier, which suggest his success is more in spite of this than because of it.

I think these both do a good job of summing it up: https://www.patcash.co.uk/2018/08/h...you must,brain work it seems counterintuitive.


Personally, I think the key is ball recognition, not "watching the ball". That means knowing what the ball is going to do before it even hits the court, and certainly when it hits the court. One you start moving the racket forward, your brain better have all of the information it needs, or you're not going to make solid contact with the ball--unless the ball is traveling at a very low rate of speed. As far as "how to improve ball recognition", the only real way is to play a lot, with a lot of different people, and on different courts. There's no magic bullet.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
I'm kind of in disbelief that the myths I was dealing with almost 30 years ago are still prevalent today!

You can't see the ball at contact, no matter what you. There is no benefit to trying.

Federer keeping his head (and gaze) behind the racket is an exception; pretty much every single other player has their head moving forward and looking ahead. He's an outlier, which suggest his success is more in spite of this than because of it.

I think these both do a good job of summing it up: https://www.patcash.co.uk/2018/08/how-to-watch-ball-like-pro-tennis/#:~:text=The idea that you must,brain work it seems counterintuitive.


Personally, I think the key is ball recognition, not "watching the ball". That means knowing what the ball is going to do before it even hits the court, and certainly when it hits the court. One you start moving the racket forward, your brain better have all of the information it needs, or you're not going to make solid contact with the ball--unless the ball is traveling at a very low rate of speed. As far as "how to improve ball recognition", the only real way is to play a lot, with a lot of different people, and on different courts. There's no magic bullet.
Keeping the head still, like Federer does, during & after contact is not actually about seeing the ball better. It's more about not sabotaging your swing path. Lifting your head during the contact phase, can also lift the torso or hitting shoulder a bit and could, possibly alter the intended forward swing path.

Roger does keep his head still longer than most. Rafa appears to have emulated this gaze technique starting around the early/mid 00s. While most players are not quite as extreme as Roger, many are still keeping the head still during the contact phase (and for a brief time afterward).

Did you see my description of Andre Agassi's gaze technique? He looks slightly forward of his CP rather than directly at his expected CP. This enables him to, more readily, pick up movement on the other side of the net. He keeps his head still for a while (after contact) but not as long as Roger or Rafa does. I recommend the AA gaze sequence over the RF technique.

Sure, some players like Novak, do look up early quite often (not all the time). But I do not recommend this for students or rec players for the reasons stated about. Here is an example of contact where Novak is fixated on his CP (he is not looking up during contact)

 

RVT

Rookie
I can pretty much guarantee that Novak is hitting a pickup in that shot--and keeping the body parallel to the fence and head in that position to stop torso rotation makes perfect sense. He's certainly not hitting normal groundstrokes with the rear shoulder way behind the front shoulder...

What I often see out on the local courts here are guys exaggerating the "head down" thing, obviously imitating Fed, and not rotating their torso. As a result, the torso gets in the way and they do this loopy arm/elbow thing. I agree that head position can sabotage the swing, but often it seems a result if keeping the head locked down (on full groundstrokes); pick-up shots and volleys, I totally agree that moving the head prematurely results in bad things most often.
 

Curious

Legend
Average size human head weighs around 5kg. It’d better stay still than move around contact. Similar to keeping the whole torso from displacing in space but rather rotating around its long axis during the forward swing. I doubt it’s a random idiosyncrasy that Federer does these two in an excellent way.
 

RVT

Rookie
when you consider that 99% of other professional players do it a different way, I'd say that it's absolutely a random idiosyncrasy that Fed looks behind the racket on contact on all of his forehands. Keep in mind, I'd not saying that one should be randomly moving the head upon contact; what I am saying is that moving the head prior to contact in a consistent way is exactly what the other 99% of high level players do when making contact on the forehand side, as well as the serve.

Bigger picture though, I think it's important to realize that "head position" has nothing to so with "eyes on the ball at contact". No one can see the ball at contact, and from what I've observed, the desire to try and do this seems to often be counterproductive. If you have Fed's flexibility, it may work and you can keep your head in that position and still rotate your torso. Few folks do.
 

Fintft

Legend
I agree that head position can sabotage the swing, but often it seems a result if keeping the head locked down (on full groundstrokes); pick-up shots and volleys, I totally agree that moving the head prematurely results in bad things most often.
That's why you are not supposed to see the ball if it hits the net, but rather "hear" it, do you agree?

I agree with @Chas Tennis @SystemicAnomaly and other:
Keeping the head still, like Federer does, during & after contact is not actually about seeing the ball better. It's more about not sabotaging your swing path. Lifting your head during the contact phase, can also lift the torso or hitting shoulder a bit and could, possibly alter the intended forward swing
 

Joe Garfield

Semi-Pro
I took the original question to mean 'keep the eye on the ball long enough.' I'm sure we all know it's common that many/most people take their eye off the ball too early, usually looking at where they expect the ball will go. It's common in pretty much any activity where you move from one thing to the next.

There are tricks to help with this. One I recently learned is to blink after you hit but before you look away. This could be similar to what Federer was taught early on that became part of his style.
 
In addition to the shadow swings I mentioned above, you can practice keeping your head still with an easy (self-feed) drop-hit drill. You can use either the Federer or Agassi gaze technique I mentioned above.
Appreciate it very much. I'm no where near perfect keeping head still. but I consciously try to do that for sure. Sometimes, I didn't move my head, mishit the ball and then realize I couldn't remember a picture of ball/racquet at/near contact point. almost like I blacked out for a moment, maybe more like my head slacked for a moment. I definitely can remember a blur picture of the contact when I did things correctly, as another post was saying.
 
when you consider that 99% of other professional players do it a different way, I'd say that it's absolutely a random idiosyncrasy that Fed looks behind the racket on contact on all of his forehands.
I wonder if it's because Fed's contact is further in front of the body compared to others.
 
I'm kind of in disbelief that the myths I was dealing with almost 30 years ago are still prevalent today!

You can't see the ball at contact, no matter what you. There is no benefit to trying.

Federer keeping his head (and gaze) behind the racket is an exception; pretty much every single other player has their head moving forward and looking ahead. He's an outlier, which suggest his success is more in spite of this than because of it.

I think these both do a good job of summing it up: https://www.patcash.co.uk/2018/08/how-to-watch-ball-like-pro-tennis/#:~:text=The idea that you must,brain work it seems counterintuitive.


Personally, I think the key is ball recognition, not "watching the ball". That means knowing what the ball is going to do before it even hits the court, and certainly when it hits the court. One you start moving the racket forward, your brain better have all of the information it needs, or you're not going to make solid contact with the ball--unless the ball is traveling at a very low rate of speed. As far as "how to improve ball recognition", the only real way is to play a lot, with a lot of different people, and on different courts. There's no magic bullet.
I'm a huge fan of Nic at intuitive tennis. I saw this video. Still think Top Tennis makes a very good point on this topic.

you point of ball recognition is certainly important. Maybe ultimately, I have to focus on three moments during the ball travel: 1) ball leaving opponent's string bed, to tell it's going to my forehand or backhand; 2) the bounce, to tell the depth/spin; 3) my contact point to avoid mishitting.
 
@johnmccabe there’s some text on this in “The Inner Game of Tennis.” It says it’s hard to repeatedly “keep your eye on the ball” because the conscious mind wants to do so much more and therefore needs more stimulation. The author’s solution was to make it more challenging or stimulating: see if you can find the seams on the ball, or notice which way it’s spinning.

I focus on (trying to identify) what the spin looks like after the bounce - is it forward or backward, fast or slow? I might not always be able to answer those questions - sometimes I just recognize that It’s spinning - but I can tell you it keeps my eyes glued to the ball! The ball usually looks big, bright, and slow when this is going on. It also works for me because it let‘s me think about other things between contact and when the ball comes back. But if you (I) do this, I naturally start to track the ball earlier so I’m ready to identify it.

I would say this works for me 100% of the time I remember to do it - which of course is not 100% of the time I’m playing. When I’m not making good contact, or when I find myself thinking or trying too much, I try to resort to paying attention to my breath between strokes (to stay in the moment,) and the spin of the ball before I hit it. At the very least, my subconscious knows enough to get the ball back over the net in that situation, but usually I find even better things happen.
I can see whether the ball was spinning or not, probably less than 10% of my baseline shots. I'll try to focus on that more. Thanks
 
I'm kind of in disbelief that the myths I was dealing with almost 30 years ago are still prevalent today!

You can't see the ball at contact, no matter what you. There is no benefit to trying.
My goal of watching the ball is not so I can see contact [I agree with you that my eyes can't pick up that 4ms event]: it's so my head doesn't swivel up looking towards where I anticipate hitting it, thus causing me to change my balance and focus and probably hit a less optimal shot.

Many coaches probably abbreviated this explanation so it simply became "keep your eye on the ball".


Federer keeping his head (and gaze) behind the racket is an exception; pretty much every single other player has their head moving forward and looking ahead. He's an outlier, which suggest his success is more in spite of this than because of it.
I don't see [no pun intended] how Fed's technique could be hurting him whereas I do see how looking up might hurt [more shanks, more off-sweet spot hits, etc].

I think he's a good model to follow. Yes, great players have great hand-eye coordination and can afford to not focus on the contact point. I, OTOH, cannot.

John Hilibrand [former multiple GS participant] gave me the same advice after watching me hit drop feeds from an adjacent court.

The same advice is given to baseball players fielding a ball or football receivers about to make a catch.
 
I have also read that you should narrow your eyes when you look at the ball. The natural instinct is to make them wider.
I haven't tried in tennis but I do know that narrowing my eyes allows better focus when I'm not wearing glasses and want to see something far away [I'm nearsighted]. Probably has to do with limiting the amount of ambient light and thus causing the eye to constrict.
 
you will not be able to recall an image of the ball. On the other hand, if you hit a great shot, you can often recall a clear image of the ball.
this is so true.

I used to be able to track the ball on flat serves with my wrong technique. after correcting my racquet drop, I'm now struggling to see the ball at contact. will have to leave this to another day.
 

Chas Tennis

G.O.A.T.
I believe that keeping the head still is a very good way. But its more complicated and interesting.

Keep this example in mind. If a ball is arriving at an angle near the sideline, you should first contact it on its outer side to keep the return in the court. Imagine the ball and the racket's impact spot.

I found two distinct worlds for thinking about hitting the ball after I started watching it because of George's lessons.

I became very aware of the back surface of the ball and where I intended to contact it. I was conscious only of a cubic foot of space around the ball. I looked at the back of the ball and thought about the impact spot and thought less in terms of aiming the stroke. For myself, I named this "playing on the back of the ball". I picked spots on the ball to aim the ball. But at that time, I did not fully understand that where you actually first contact the ball depends only on the angle of the racket face, not on what you think or the racket path.

Now I look at the ball very well but don't think that I'm 'playing on the back of the ball'. I more think 'aim the stroke'. I'm not sure which is the best way, think on the back of the ball or think of aiming the ball. But in either case, look carefully at the back of the ball.

Has anyone else experienced this 'playing on the back of the ball' vs 'aim the shot' choice?

What are the top pros conscious of at impact?
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Head Flick. If you watch ATP players, some quickly turn their heads to look at the ball for impact and then quickly turn it back. You have to watch high speed video carefully and an overhead camera view is a plus.

D. Knundson, in his book on tennis biomechanics, describes watching the ball coming toward the pro players and their breaking off and looking at the anticipated location of ball impact. SystemicAnomaly described some pro player ball watching in post #6.

I believe that we should always know some statistics about what the best players are doing. What percentage have a still head and what percentage flick their head very briefly?
 
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Injured Again

Hall of Fame
The fact that you may be able to see the ball at contact does nothing to actually help hit the ball. The benefit to trying to watch the ball as long as possible is as has already been said - to keep the head still so the rest of the stroke is not altered. It's basically not useful on a faster ball to try to watch it any closer than about six or eight feet from the contact point, because even if you can see that it's not where you expect it to be, you can't do anything to correct it by that time. No pro, for instance, can adjust their racquet to make solid volley contact on a fast hit ball that just ticks the net.

There have been numerous studies done on baseball hitters watching the ball. They are standing still versus a tennis player and still lose sight of the ball around ten feet from the contact point.

 

Abel

New User
Here’s a drill I learned and teach kids which is pretty simple and effective. Get a sharpie and make some dots on the seams of the ball and while hitting, serving, or volleying try to focus on the dots before making contact. Hopefully this will help train your eyes to read the ball coming at you and to focus on the ball. I find this really helpful during rallies. I know a lot of spin will effect the way the ball comes off but try to concentrate on looking for the dots. Give it a try and I hope this helps.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Appreciate it very much. I'm no where near perfect keeping head still. but I consciously try to do that for sure. Sometimes, I didn't move my head, mishit the ball and then realize I couldn't remember a picture of ball/racquet at/near contact point. almost like I blacked out for a moment, maybe more like my head slacked for a moment. I definitely can remember a blur picture of the contact when I did things correctly, as another post was saying.
I have, at times, seen a yellow (green-yellow) blur near my contact point. It's always a little bit forward of my CP (not right at the CP). It happens so quickly & so briefly it is not apparent if the blur I'm seeing is the incoming ball or the outgoing ball. It is possibly a combination of both.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
I'm a huge fan of Nic at intuitive tennis. I saw this video. Still think Top Tennis makes a very good point on this topic.

you point of ball recognition is certainly important. Maybe ultimately, I have to focus on three moments during the ball travel: 1) ball leaving opponent's string bed, to tell it's going to my forehand or backhand; 2) the bounce, to tell the depth/spin; 3) my contact point to avoid mishitting.
Part of "ball recognition" is watching your opponent's forward swing path (upward swing on the serve). You should be closely watching this anyway in order to properly time your split step.

An even larger part might be the sound of your opponent's contact. We actually react to sound much quicker than we react to the visual. Our auditory RT (reaction time) can be 50 ms or more quicker than our simple visual RT. And much, much quicker than our choice / complex visual RT.

It takes our brain longer to process visual information than to process auditory information. Furthermore, we need to watch the path of the ball for a while before we can determine characteristics of the ball's spin, speed and trajectory.

If we listen closely to our opponent's contact, we can tell how cleanly they hit the ball. We can get some semblance of how much spin they put on the ball. And we can get a pretty decent idea of the speed of the ball. Using this auditory information, in conjunction with visual information, helps us to predict where the ball will bounce and where we need to be in order to intercept the ball.
 
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Chas Tennis

G.O.A.T.
The fact that you may be able to see the ball at contact does nothing to actually help hit the ball. The benefit to trying to watch the ball as long as possible is as has already been said - to keep the head still so the rest of the stroke is not altered. It's basically not useful on a faster ball to try to watch it any closer than about six or eight feet from the contact point, because even if you can see that it's not where you expect it to be, you can't do anything to correct it by that time. No pro, for instance, can adjust their racquet to make solid volley contact on a fast hit ball that just ticks the net.

There have been numerous studies done on baseball hitters watching the ball. They are standing still versus a tennis player and still lose sight of the ball around ten feet from the contact point.

Motion Blur. The eye is not fast and motion blur is present. Shake you hand in front of your face and the fingers are blurry.

Consider the accuracies of working with motion blurs -

Suppose the eye is observing a ball from perpendicular to the ball's trajectory. When the ball is blurry you have a lot of blur in the direction of motion - it's a smear - and little blur in the direction perpendicular to the ball's trajectory. We'll see that this little blur allows accuracy in where we first touch the ball.

Racket Face Angle & First Touch Location on Ball. If you contact the ball with a specific angle on the racket face then the spot on the ball to first be contacted is determined. For example, the pro forehand top spin drive is impacted with the racket face closed 5-10 degrees. That assures that the first spot on the ball to be touched by the racket face is on the top half of the ball. There's an internet calculator that shows exactly where on the top half of a circle that a tilted line will contact. The racket face closed tilt angle affects the projection angle of the ball's trajectory (projection angle is between the ball launch trajectory and the horizontal, up-down). The projection angle is a very important factor in biomechanics that determines if the ball will be long or in. Also, the azimuthal angle on the racket face determines more the side-to-side direction. Try touching the ball with a racket and look at first contact and racket angles.

Racket Angle & Motion Blur & First Touch Spot on the Ball. I would say that the racket face tilt and azimuthal angle in front of the ball determines accurately the location of the first touch on the ball. You do not have to see the print or a sharp ball image, you can work with the little blur and racket angles to reproduce the first touch location on the ball.

Perpendicular viewing of the ball's trajectory produces the greatest motion blur. It is located a little after impact for ground strokes. There is less motion blur for other distances and angles. For example, if the ball is 4 meters away, approaching, and the eye is 1 meter off the ball's trajectory, then the motion blur at 4 meters is much less.

I once got nailed by a hard overhead between the eyebrows. I recalled seeing - or thinking that I saw - the spherical ball - in time to guess where it was going to hit.... If you just see the ball getting bigger without much motion blur, it is coming directly at you.

Other Factors Beyond First Touch. The location of the ball impact away from the centerline of the racket face (shaft centerline) will tilt the racket face rapidly. How off centerline hits affect the ball is another factor. ? Racket head path, impact effects and other things will be more factors affecting the ball's pace, spin and trajectory.

Timing. There are also timing considerations that indicate to me that training must have to deal with them. When we feel and see things there's been a considerable delay since those things happened. For example, there are many millisecond delays between seeing something, deciding some action and getting nerve signals back to muscles to respond in time. But we can also predict things ahead of time, based on experience and observing the earlier parts of the ball's trajectory. That's how we catch a ball. Our brains learn to make sense of the timing issues during training.
 
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Here’s a drill I learned and teach kids which is pretty simple and effective. Get a sharpie and make some dots on the seams of the ball and while hitting, serving, or volleying try to focus on the dots before making contact. Hopefully this will help train your eyes to read the ball coming at you and to focus on the ball. I find this really helpful during rallies. I know a lot of spin will effect the way the ball comes off but try to concentrate on looking for the dots. Give it a try and I hope this helps.
Trying that today! sounds like an excellent tip
 

RVT

Rookie
I'm a huge fan of Nic at intuitive tennis. I saw this video. Still think Top Tennis makes a very good point on this topic.

you point of ball recognition is certainly important. Maybe ultimately, I have to focus on three moments during the ball travel: 1) ball leaving opponent's string bed, to tell it's going to my forehand or backhand; 2) the bounce, to tell the depth/spin; 3) my contact point to avoid mishitting.
I watched the video above. He makes some good points on the preparation phase, but imo loses the plot a bit regarding "looking at the ball at contact". First, while he kind of admits that it's impossible to see the ball at contact, it seems like he still doesn't believe it... There's a lot of weasel words in there..."almost impossible" etc. No, it's not possible... It happens too fast. Likewise, you can't "see the ball off of the strings", for the exact same reason. As a poster mentioned above, if you see the ball hit the net on a hard-hit ball, something is wrong... You typically can't pick the ball up until it crosses the net (give or take, depending on speed).

I think there are two separate issues here: 1) head position relative to swing path, and 2) recognizing the ball so you know where it's going to be.

As far as #1, It's clear than on the backhands, volleys, and traditional forehands (typically employed by even "modern forehand" players with pickup shots at the baseline), keeping the head still seems the best way to avoid the swing breaking down. One the forehand drive and the serve, it's a bit more complicated. And, on the forehand, I can absolutely see a disadvantage to keeping the head locked in behind the ball after contact (namely, impeding torso rotation). That's why you see the overwhelming majority (like, almost all) players hitting with their head fixated at roughly a position slightly in front of where they make contact.

Regarding number #2, I think a lot more research has been spent here on baseball than tennis. With teams valued in the billions of dollars, that's not surprising! It's pretty well understand that a baseball player has all of the information he needs by the time the ball is halfway to the plate. By that time, the batter could have no more visual information and it will not affect the outcome. The same is true in tennis, though it occurs a bit later depending on speeds and depth. On a pick-up shot at the baseline, it's before the ball bounces--on a hard shot mid-court, it's pretty much as soon as the ball bounces. Once you initiate the forward swing, you better have all of the information you need.

That's why watching the opponents swing path/speed and tracking the initial flight path of the ball is so important. The complex algorithms being calculated in your brain are pretty remarkable, and the more balls you see, the more quickly you'll be able to recognize where the ball is going to go and how it's going to bounce; but understand, it's all about predicting where the ball is going to be more than it is "seeing exactly where it's it". It's an important distinction, and I think one that gets lost in old platitudes such as "watch the ball".
 

Raul_SJ

G.O.A.T.
I asked that same OP question many years ago for group lessons. George gave some very good instructions and drills.

Return the ball and if you see it crossing the net you failed on that return.

I will often hit a return into the tape and believe I see the ball just before it strikes the tape. I could be mistaken and maybe I am seeing the bounce off the tape a millisecond later (acceptable?) But if true, this suggests that I am not watching impact long enough. Although I feel like I am hitting the sweet spot; no mishit.

Will try not to look up so soon. But it is very tempting to see where your shot is going.
 
Imagine- you have just hit the ball into the opponents court- you watch the ball-
you (without really thinking) note its speed, rotation, the point where it will
likely land- and then where it actually lands. Meanwhile, you "tennis brain"
is (without really thinking) calculating the probabilities of possible/probable so that you can
position yourself for best effectiveness.

Then the opponent hits the ball- you watch- not just the ball- but his body position, how he leans,
adjusts his feet, the take-back of the racket and the forward stroke- you are watchig all this
because everything you see, remember and have learned over the years is a clue to
how you will respond.

He hits the ball- and you watch and notice the force, direction, spin, trajectory- you watch the ball,
anticipating the landing point so that (without really thinking) you move to meet the ball- and get yourself
in positiion. As you watch the ball you are taking in the whole scene and (without really thinking)
making mental calculations based on experience. Things are going on in your brain, but your focus,
your whole world is that moving pellet. You are like a dancer and your partner is the ball.
At some exact moment (which you know without really thinking) you drive the ball back and....

And yes, sometimes attention fails, you do get mentally weary, your mind wanders to other things (so many possibilities).
That is when you need to remind yourself to watch the ball.
 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Djokovic and Federer are top players and have very different ball watching techniques. That proves that there are two very effective techniques for watching the ball.
Novak gets away with stuff I would not recommend /:suggest for the average player. I'd be much more inclined to use Andre Agassi's gaze technique. After that, I would recommend Roger's technique -- for those who can pull it off.
 
Novak gets away with stuff I would not recommend /:suggest for the average player. I'd be much more inclined to use Andre Agassi's gaze technique. After that, I would recommend Roger's technique -- for those who can pull it off.
Thanks. Is there any video explaining the Agassi gaze? I couldn't find anything in a quick search.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Thanks. Is there any video explaining the Agassi gaze? I couldn't find anything in a quick search.
I don't know if there are any videos out there that go into detail Andre's ball gaze technique. I figured out much of it on my own from looking at images and videos of Andre hitting his shots.

I had also heard & read accounts of Andre describing how he watched the ball. I don't recall his exact wording but I recall that he talked about how he takes one last look at the ball, before losing sight of it, shortly before contact. It sounded like he was taking a "snapshot of the ball", while he could still see it, very shortly before he actually made contact. "Snapshot" might be my own interpretation rather than his words. But he has indicated that the ball appears "larger than normal" with this last look at it.

I 1st became aware of differences in the gaze strategies between Roger, Andre and other players some 15+ yrs ago (back in the the mid 00s). Back then, I started hearing about the "gaze study" work of Joan Vickers. She spoke of the "Quiet Eye" techniques by elite athletes in various sports. She had done a bit of investigation of tennis with Alan Alda (actor & tennis enthusiast). But more of her work had been with table tennis, basketball, golf and other sports. Article from 2004:

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/TECH/03/21/spark.quiet.eye/index.html


Book published in 2007
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Joan Vickers (Quiet Eye) has been doing gaze studies of elite and non-elite athletes since the 1980s/90s. I first became aware of her work and her Quiet Eye in 2002 in a program she did with Alan Alda, On the Ball (2002).


After that, I started looking at gaze studies on tennis, cricket and other sports from other researchers. I recall reading a very interesting gaze strategy employed by elite cricket batsman. Don't recall if it was from Vickers or someone else. But after reading this account, I decided to use this cricket gaze sequence for watching & returning the serve in tennis. I've had some very good results with this alternate gaze strategy. I can provide more details on that if you are interested.

Around 14-15 yrs ago, I had read an interesting study / discussion by the late Mark Papas (Revolutionary Tennis) on the Federer Vision Technique. He went into great detail with numerous images of Roger, Andre, Bjorn Borg and others. Well worth checking out:

 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru


Can anyone find the full hour episode of On the Ball? It is episode 6 of season 12 of the Scientific American Frontiers series.
 

Chas Tennis

G.O.A.T.
Different Stroke techniques and advice. It should never be assumed that advice applies regardless of stroke technique.

The high level pro forehand and one hand backhand typically are two phase strokes where the first phase involves uppermost body turn (AKA known as 'shoulder turn'). The second phase of the stroke involves the shoulder joint. The rotation axis for uppermost body turn appears to be through the neck area for the one hand backhand and forehand. (I have not looked at the 2HBH that much.) Rotation axis through the neck area keeps the head still while the uppermost body turns.

To see for yourself if this is true or false, study high speed videos of ATP & WTA players for forehand and 1HBH techniques.

For other lower level techniques, that involve less uppermost body turn and more shoulder joint actions, who knows ??? Look at the uppermost body turn of rec players.

Video of rotation axis initially through the neck then shoulder joint on the 1HBH drive. Notice the two phases. Note that there is not much uppermost body turn for the one slice.
Full screen. To single frame on Vimeo, hold down the SHIFT KEY and use the ARROW KEYS.

Love Tennis video with ball viewing for Djokovic's forehand and 2 hand backhand.
Full screen. To single frame on Youtube, use the period & comma keys.
 
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toth

Professional
What can be the main reason once i can see easily the incoming ball but another time i can not:
faster incoming ball or nerven?
I mean usually what is the reason...
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
What can be the main reason once i can see easily the incoming ball but another time i can not:
faster incoming ball or nerven?
I mean usually what is the reason...
At point during the ball's flight can you not see the ball? When the opponent hits it? When the ball is crossing the net or bouncing? When the ball is in close proximity to you? Ball speed? Ball spin rate? Blue or green windscreens as a background for high balls? Court color contrast for low balls?

Is the ball coming straight at you? Is it away from you? Is your head moving a lot while you're trying to track the ball? Is your body moving as you're trying to track the ball? Is your opponent wearing colors that are similar to the ball color?
 
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toth

Professional
At point during the ball's flight can you not see the ball? When the opponent hits it? When the ball is crossing the net or bouncing? When the ball is in close proximity to you? Ball speed? Ball spin rate? Blue or green windscreens as a background for high balls? Court color contrast for low balls?

Is the ball coming straight at you? Is it away from you? Is your head moving a lot while you're trying to track the ball? Is your body moving as you're trying to track the ball? Is your opponent wearing colors that are similar to the ball color?
At the moment of contact or a little before contact.
I usually see the ball without difficoulties.
The question, what can be the main reason, if i have difficoulties with it.
Faster incoming ball or nerven?

At higher thbh my arms causes diffocoulties, they are between the contact and my eyes, how can one solve this problem?
 
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