So, What Are The Pros Thinking?

anchorage

Rookie
There was a good thread earlier on watching the ball and what the pros may (or may not) be doing. But how about what they’re thinking going into a shot?

Most of my competitive sporting career has been golf-related and I am quite new to tennis, so indulge me a bit. I have played with and against many golf pros over the years. On that topic, I would say, the better you are as a player, the less you think about mechanics – makes sense as the best players have the most repetitive swings. The best can pretty much do what they like (close their eyes, stand on one leg etc, because the basic swing is so ingrained and repeats with a high degree of accuracy). Therefore, you hear a lot of pros saying that they simply visualise each shot (flight and shape of the ball to the target).

So, what about the top tennis players? I’m pretty sure they’re not thinking “watch the ball, swing low to high….” So, rather like a lot of good golfers, are they simply visualising the shot (path, flight of the ball to a specific target)?

Needless to say, I’m still at the stage where I’m thinking at least as much about mechanics. So, a typical routine would be something like, “hit this one cross court. Now, watch the ball, swing low to high, oh, don’t forget to rotate the shoulders ……..” That’s a lot to be going on.
 

albino smurf

Professional
check out the thread on Wardlaw Directionals. I'd say they are thinking about those and not a lot else. Prob very similar to golf pros.. repetition until it is so ingrained it is natural.
 

Ross K

Legend
Well, I'm guessing that even pros would start concentrating on some pretty basic mental trigger cues when their game starts breaking down.

Oh and BTW, on that 'Signature Shot' TV show (or whatever it is) James Blake's been filmed recommending the 'sit and lift' technique for the fh (and that's a pretty basic!)

Interesting topic...
 

snvplayer

Hall of Fame
Good players are incredibly aware of their situation; what shot has just been hit, where his opponent is positioned, what he needs / wants to do with the shot, etc. They have been doing this for so long that it would be more or less second nature to them. This is during the point.

Between the points, they are thinking about the score, how he wants to play the next point, and so on. If a stroke is not working on the day, they will probably think a little bit about techniques as well...toss more out in front or higher..

You read interviews of Lleyton Hewitt, Roddick, Federer or whoever, they remember what happened at specific moment during the match...Hewitt would say something like "at 4-4 in 2nd set tie breaker, he made an incredible get on the drop shot that I hit.....I wanted to put more pressure on him."
 
Anchorage: your assumptions on the similarities between high level golfers and tennis players are correct. The higher the level of play, the less conscious thought is occurring during the actual technical process. This is true for any physical or athletically learned skill, to begin you have to be conscious and aware of your movements and technique in order to learn it. The better you become the more unconsciously the skills are repeated, which is absolutely necessary to playing at a high level. I wrote about this process a few weeks ago at the link below

http://essentialtennis.blogspot.com/2008/03/four-phases-of-learning-tennis.html

Cheers and welcome to tennis. I'm currently working on my golf game actually.....ever play at Congressional Country Club?
 

Bungalo Bill

G.O.A.T.
check out the thread on Wardlaw Directionals. I'd say they are thinking about those and not a lot else. Prob very similar to golf pros.. repetition until it is so ingrained it is natural.
Albino, although I will promote the Directionals to players looking to improve their skills in tennis tactics and strategy, I would not subscribe to the notion that pros are "thinking" about the Directionals.

The Directionals are a fundamental aspect of tennis tactics and strategy and nothing more. It is the first step in understanding the risks involved in changing direction of the ball and it helps you understand when is the most opportune time to do so. It also teaches when is the best time to not change the direciton of the ball as well.

The pros training has taken them beyond "thinking" about directionals although they may abide by the principles without consciously thinking about them to setup their key matchups and to execute their game plans. Further, the pros are well trained, have exceptional timing, and can take greater risks then we can.

Pros are mainly looking to take advantage of something the other player made a mistake in or is lacking in. A game plan is usually developed around key matchups (both good and bad) and are reviewed.

Although, the Directionals are an excellent foundation for tennis tactics and strategy, if one only uses the Directionals they can become predictable. A stronger player can take advantage of this. So there has to be something other then the Directionals in a players game plan development ritual.

For example, if I am a lefty and you a righty, my key matchup is my forehand to your backhand. This is a crosscourt rally. My goal is to take time away from you and to move you further from your recovery point as much as possible. The crosscourt rally favors both of us because of the longer court, lower net, etc...However, my forehand is very strong and I believe I can win more points then you in this setting. Your goal is going to be to avoid this matchup. However, if you are in this matchup, you need to consider when the most opportune time to change direction would be. In other words, you need to be alert for it. If it doesn't come, you might have to take more risk in order to get out of this unfavorable matchup which favors me since tennis is a game of errors. This also favors my game plan whch is to win more points then you on this side.

The Wardlaw Directionals simply provide a good foundation to tennis strategy and tactics.
 
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paulfreda

Hall of Fame
Great post by BB here.

I would say two things.
1/ All performing artists including athletes do not think during the physical performance. They play by feel automatically and depend on their training to ingrain the correct instincts to make decisions automatically.
2/ Tennis players SHOULD/MUST think before each point to have a plan about how to set up this next point just before serving or returning. Watch Sharapova and you will see her turn away from the court just before she walks to the baseline to serve. She is thinking about how she will serve to set up the that particular point.

So there is a time to think and a time to act/do/play.
 
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anchorage

Rookie
Thanks for the replies guys.

I understand that good players are always working to an overall strategy. Thinking about it some more, there's probably something about conscious and unconscious thought in all sports. By that I mean the good players don't have mechanical thoughts in the forefront of their mind since they're so ingrained. The brain processes that information all the same, though individuals aren't conscious of it. Therefore, the brain can 'process' other, more developed conscious thoughts on the outcome of a shot rather than its process.

If I can add one other observation from golf on mechanics as it may apply to tennis. A good friend of mine is a teaching pro and takes regular group clinics across a range of standards. Early on in the clinics, he always asks his pupils what they focus on when they swing. Over many years, the results have been the same. Over 80% of the replies deal with the golf swing up to contact of the ball (i.e. straight left arm on backswing, full shoulder rotation, weight transfer, elbow in on downswing, hands at impact, etc, etc). In other words, if you think of the overall golf swing as a circle, most people focus overwhelmingly on only one hemisphere, the right part of the circle. He has gained good results by getting people to change those thoughts to be far more conscious of the left side of the circle; the swing after contact. You then start to see the swing as a unified whole.

In another thread, I think someone mentions the importance of finishing every stroke. Certainly, you can see the pros do this. I’m going to try to have a more complete picture of the stroke each time I play, making sure I always finish properly. It’ll be interesting to see what effect that has.
 

Bungalo Bill

G.O.A.T.
Thanks for the replies guys.

I understand that good players are always working to an overall strategy. Thinking about it some more, there's probably something about conscious and unconscious thought in all sports. By that I mean the good players don't have mechanical thoughts in the forefront of their mind since they're so ingrained. The brain processes that information all the same, though individuals aren't conscious of it. Therefore, the brain can 'process' other, more developed conscious thoughts on the outcome of a shot rather than its process.
Yes, you must practice with discipline in order to take conscious learning into automatic execution. It is very easy in tennis for us to go out there and just "hit" the ball without really working on our mental aspects and becoming disciplined in developing and consistently executing a game plan when we win or lose a point.

This goes for all sports.

If I can add one other observation from golf on mechanics as it may apply to tennis. A good friend of mine is a teaching pro and takes regular group clinics across a range of standards. Early on in the clinics, he always asks his pupils what they focus on when they swing. Over many years, the results have been the same. Over 80% of the replies deal with the golf swing up to contact of the ball (i.e. straight left arm on backswing, full shoulder rotation, weight transfer, elbow in on downswing, hands at impact, etc, etc). In other words, if you think of the overall golf swing as a circle, most people focus overwhelmingly on only one hemisphere, the right part of the circle. He has gained good results by getting people to change those thoughts to be far more conscious of the left side of the circle; the swing after contact. You then start to see the swing as a unified whole.
Yes, that is good. However, the key is doing it for every swing. :) Just as executing your game plan must happen on every stroke you take in a match. That is difficult because we get distracted, we are thinking about that ice cold beer, the pretty lady on court two, or are dwelling on our last mistake!

In another thread, I think someone mentions the importance of finishing every stroke. Certainly, you can see the pros do this. I’m going to try to have a more complete picture of the stroke each time I play, making sure I always finish properly. It’ll be interesting to see what effect that has.
Well that is good. When you get that down, you will need to rise above that and start thinking of what you are doing in your rally and what your opponent is trying to do to you. In other words, you have to find the keys to his game before he finds the keys to yours. :) That takes discipline and practice.
 

anchorage

Rookie
Thanks for that, Bill. I must say I always do have a game plan. This might start along the lines of, "I'll serve this one wide to his backhand" before somehow managing to blast it down the middle! In rallies, my aim is to move the other guy around, make him hurry and reach as much as possible. Seems to me, most people screw up when they have to move. I'm also conscious of playing the angles and improving on that.

On the mechanics side, I'm certainly getting better. Occasionally, I'm conscious of not completing the shot or swinging properly on very short balls. That's probably a control issue at this stage, i.e. trying to be too careful. Need more practice there.....
 
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