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January 2017 Article

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Slowing Down a Speeding Tennis Ball

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Tom Veneziano

In high-level tennis, even when a tennis ball is hurtling toward the pro at 80 to 130 miles an hour, to him (or her) the ball appears much slower. Not only that, but the ball can seem as big as a basketball! How does this strange phenomenon happen? Can the same happen for you? Yes it can, and it will bring more benefits to your game than you think.
With time, determination, and massive repetition, you can accomplish the uncanny feat of slowing the ball down (relative, of course, to your playing level). The trick is to allow your unconscious mind to see the ball at different speeds and trajectories over and over and over again. To train your brain in this way, you must put yourself through a host of drills for weeks, months and years.
Recently I was reading an online discussion about how to slow down the ball in tennis. Two posts in particular gave some excellent advice:

"If you want to go about this systematically use a ball machine. Every time you fill up the hopper, turn up the speed a little. It's amazing how even over the course of an hour the eyes/mind/body reacts. Balls that seemed fast at the start now are slower than routine. Keep it up over a period of weeks and the difference is amazing. Keep it up for years at 3,000 balls a day and you have Agassi's boyhood training mechanism under his crazy dad's instruction."
"Simply put, the more you are exposed to fast-paced shots the better. Your eyes and body will naturally get used to the speed and you'll be able to see it in "slow motion." If there is one thing amazing about living things, it's the ability to adapt. Use that to your advantage! As for what to do, you can use a ball machine and set it to the fastest pace and shorten the interval between each feed. If you don't have access to a ball machine, find someone who can consistently hit fast-paced shots. If you can't find anyone who can do that, get 2 buddies and get a rally going with 2 balls at once."

The bottom line is that intensive training with many different speeds and trajectories will help you begin to see the ball slow down. Now here is the best part, the added benefit I mentioned earlier: Seeing the ball slow down has a direct connection to increasing your options in match play.
John McEnroe gets this right when he says, "Things slow down, the ball seems a lot bigger and you feel like you have more time. Everything computes - you have options, but you always take the right one."
You have more options! You begin to see a more complete picture of the court in the middle of a point, allowing you to clearly note where your opponent or opponents are positioned. You can intuitively sense and find openings to place the ball. You even begin to anticipate where your opponents will hit the ball. Obviously, these new options are a huge advantage! But why do they emerge around the same time the ball starts to slow down for you? Why were these skills not developed before? I'm sure many coaches have told you to hit to the open court, to notice where your opponents are positioned and to anticipate certain shots. Why didn't you just do it?
The answer is, you couldn't. If the ball was not yet slowed down for you, executing those tasks all at once was practically impossible. This is because your unconscious mind was completely consumed with its job of analyzing what appeared to be a fast-moving ball. There was no room to fit all those other informational skills into the overtaxed unconscious. However, once you reach the level where the ball has slowed down, your unconscious mind is ready to do some multi-tasking. No longer overburdened, the unconscious mind automatically begins to detect the movement of your opponents, their shot selection, and any court openings. As a result of a more efficient unconscious mind, you instinctively sense all kinds of action on the court that you previously found impossible to see!
Do you remember my telling you in other newsletters that with enough repetition you will develop your tennis game through self-discovery? Well, the ball slowing down is an example of a skill learned from repetition and self-discovery. All you have to do is put yourself on automatic and keep swinging and swinging and swinging. One day you will notice that the ball seems to hang in the air just a bit longer. After that, new options open up and new skills emerge. This will all happen automatically. Stay with the intense practice, give your unconscious mind enough time to learn and pro-like sensations can be yours!

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This column is copyrighted by Tom Veneziano, all rights reserved.

Tom is a tennis pro teaching at the Piney Point Racquet Club in Houston, Texas. Tom has taught thousands of players to think like a pro with his Tennis Warrior System.


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