Before beginning, you should know that I am NOT against science or any of the stunning discoveries science has made. The application of science to tennis has been both useful and confusing. Often the missing link to clear up the confusion is common sense. In fact, anything you learn from anyone, including myself, must be couched in common sense.Ê
For instance, many of you know that I teach with little technical information and a lot of repetition. A tennis stroke is more about developing a feel through repetition than forcing a host of different technical skills on a player. A player should develop his or her own game with his or her own individual style, form and personality. What I often hear about this concept is, "No technical skills?! You just let players do whatever they want? What if a player chokes up on the racket and holds it on the throat? Then what do you do? Let them do whatever they want?" My answer is, "I would tell that player to hold the racket on the handle." You must apply common sense procedures to the knowledge that anyone teaches you. Just because I place repetition and individuality first does not mean I cannot give a player common sense information and correct guidelines.Ê
With this in mind, what you learn from scientific studies and the many scientific devices (like slow motion video) must be couched in common sense. Although, I must admit, applying this to science can be difficult. Mainly because science is so sophisticated and so exacting that the tendency is to believe that whatever it tells you must be right! And it often is right, but this does not mean the application to a given field is correct. And herein lies the problem!
For example, what I call the "professional model syndrome" is a source of much confusion and misapplication. Doing a scientific study using sophisticated slow motion, you can take excellent videos of professional tennis players in action. Then you can watch as a pro hits the stroke this way or that way with the wrist firm or the weight forward, etc. With this "professional model" you are now supposed to do the same. A pro may hit a forehand groundstroke out in front with his wrist in a certain position and this now becomes the 'technique' you should emulate.
Not a bad idea! The problem is that scientific studies cannot measure the PROCESS by which a pro has reached that point! The video just shows the final RESULT. What science is breaking down is the RESULT of all those months and years of experience and placing it in a 'technique' category. Somehow you are now supposed to take this technique WITHOUT THE PROCESS OF EXPERIENCE OR REPETITION and begin keeping the wrist firm or the weight forward. Sorry, but this is just not going to happen. Not unless you have gone through a PROCESS OF EXPERIENCE AND REPETITION which will prepare you correctly to assimilate and apply that information according to your OWN INDIVIDUAL STYLE AND FORM.
What is left out of the scientific equation is the thousands and thousands of times a pro mistimed the forehand before he mastered it. Science cannot measure all the internal human elements that come together to develop a top-notch professional stroke. The process is too intricate, too personalized and too individualized for science to categorize. This is because you learn a stroke by the blending of many different senses unique to you, in order to develop a feel for a given stroke. Steffi Graf was notorious for hitting the ball with her forehand farther back than most players. This may not be scientifically correct, but she had one of the most explosive forehands in the game!
You may be thinking, "how much better she would have been if she had performed the forehand according to the scientific study." Well, maybe yes and maybe no... who knows! If she was forced, against her natural instinct, to hit the ball in front with her forehand maybe she would have become frustrated and quit the game of tennis! Or maybe because it was not her natural feel to hit like this she would have had a horrible forehand. Again, who knows! Who cares! Science does not play the game of tennis, humans do! That's why you can use science or slow motion videos of pros to help your game, but do not eliminate the fact that it was the process more than the exact technique that is the unsung hero! Use your common sense and develop your own unique game.
I remember watching a video by Vic Braden called, "The Science and Myths of Tennis." In the video, Vic points out that when serving, the best height to toss the ball is approximately to the top of the racket when reaching up. According to science, tossing the ball to this height makes it easier to time the serve. If the ball is higher, then your timing would be more difficult because of the extra drop before you hit the ball. Vic then adds that the debate goes on about the correct height to toss the ball on the serve. What do the pros do? Some toss the ball lower and some toss the ball higher than the scientific mark. Again, you must add individual feel, style and form into the equation.Ê
So there you have it, science says this is the best way and science says that is the best way... but is it? USE YOUR COMMON SENSE AND TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS AND YOU WILL AVOID SCIENCE FICTION!