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SEE the ball!!!

Ron Waite Photo
Ron Waite, USPTR

As I begin this column, I want to give the reader some brief background. I have played tennis for six and a half years. In that period of time, I have achieved several USTA sectional rankings, successfully coached men's and women's NCAA Division III teams, competed in a USTA National Championship, and passed USPTR certification as an Instructor. Like most players, I wanted to compete and win as quickly as possible. Like most players, I found an abundance of tennis advice and information...much of which just didn't work. I wanted the act of playing tennis to be fun and the act of competing to be rewarding. I learned early about the frustration of refining strokes, developing strategies, and losing matches. Through an intense and intensive trial and error process, I began to see the path toward achieving my goals. My work as a photographer at the Volvo International, SNET Classic and Pilot Pen International Tournaments provided a unique opportunity to visually analyze the play of most of the top professionals on both Tours. I began to separate fact from fiction, reality from myth...and my game began to soar. As I brought more of this information to my team members, I saw marked improvement almost immediately.

That is why I have entitled this column, Turbo Tennis. It is my firm belief that any conscientious and reasonably dedicated player can improve her/his game at warp speed. This is not simply an instructional column. First, not all players hit the ball the same way. Something like grip can completely dictate the manner in which you must strike the ball. My belief is that self-analysis through videotape and individual instruction from your local tennis pro are the best ways to fine tune the strokes. What I hope to provide in this column is a mixture of tennis tips, strategic considerations, training and practice regimens, mental mindsets and exercises, and what I term, tennis universals which I hope will work as well for you as they have for me and my players.

Finally, I invite feedback using this form. I hope to establish a dialog with you, as I do with my players. I want your comments...pro and con. If something doesn't work or ring true, let's find out why. Socrates knew the value of questions and answers in the quest to learn.

So, let's begin with a tennis universal...

SEE the ball!!!

How many times have you heard someone say to himself/herself..."watch the ball!" You've probably said it to yourself on one or more occasions...usually in anger. It seems straight forward...if I watch the ball, I'll hit it and probably hit it better. Well, it really isn't that simple!

I try to teach my players to see the ball...not simply watch it. What do I mean by "seeing?" Here are the key elements:

  1. See the ball hit the strings of your opponent's racquet. Don't try to figure anything out by doing this. Simply see the contact. If you do, your non-conscious mind will quickly, and without any interference by you, begin to record things in its memory bank. Soon, you will begin to notice that you can anticipate without having to concentrate.

  2. As your opponent's shot crosses the net make a note of its spin...flat, top or slice. Again, don't try to figure anything out. Just notice the spin at this point of its flight. Eventually, your non-conscious mind will begin to give you cues on what to do.

  3. See the ball bounce on your side. If you saw nothing else but this bounce your game will greatly improve. Why? First, you'll really know if the ball bounced in or out (How many times are you really uncertain?...too many!). Second, your body will automatically begin to move and position itself properly for your own stroke. Finally, it reduces the "surprise" response that funny bounces, etc. can create.

  4. See the blur of your arm(s) and racquet after you strike the ball. No one can actually see the moment of impact as she/he strikes the ball...especially on groundstrokes. But, you can try!!! I pay extremely close attention to the ball when it is 2 or 3 feet before I make contact. Then I look to see the blur of my racquet after contact. This action forces me to keep my head still through the shot, and equally important, to freeze my head for a fraction of a second after the hit. Whether its a baseball hitter, a basketball shooter, a golfer or a tennis player...you must quiet the head!!! To illustrate my point, try this:

    Using some wadded-up paper balls and a waste basket, shoot some free throws. When you have found a distance, etc. that allows you to make at least 8 out of 10 shots in the basket, try some while nodding your head "yes" and then, while shaking your head "no." You probably have more misses out of every 10 throws especially, while shaking your head "no." Why? The more head movement (no usually involves more than yes) the more likely the error.

    Finally, freezing your head through the impact enables you to make a more consistent finish...another important "tennis universal."

  5. See your shot bounce in the opponent's court. This completes the vision cycle. Just be careful about being too eager to see this. If you missed seeing this component it would not be critical. The danger in trying too hard is that you lift your head too soon and negate the goal of step 4 above. How many times have you missed a shot...groundstroke, volley or approach, because you were to eager to see where it was going?

    I spend much of time with my students and players developing proper sighting and the necessarily related quiet head. When I find that I am missing bread and butter shots, I always resort to a drill that I ask all of my students and players to practice. It goes like this:

    Quietly or silently say the following to yourself as you see the ball. Say "hit" when the ball makes contact with your opponent's strings. Say "flat, top or slice" when your opponent's shot crosses the net. Say "bounce" as the ball bounces on your side of the net. Say "blur" as you strike the ball. Say "in" when the ball bounces in the opponents court...don't worry he/she will say "out" if it doesn't. Then repeat the process. When performing this exercise, I recommend tracking the ball with your eyes. Try to minimize the amount of head movement.

    (A note on volleys: The drill is the same, but obviously the ball doesn't bounce on your side.)

    At the beginning of a practice or a match, I strongly encourage you to perform the above drill for about five minutes or so. After this initial period, you will probably be seeing all the steps without having to try. If something breaks down, go back to this oral ritual. Rituals are what keep you steady or bring you back...another tennis universal.

    Try this and let me know how it works. Hopefully, it will help turn you into a tennis overdog!!!

    Green DotGreen DotGreen Dot

    Turbo Tennis Archives:
    1996 - 2002 | 2003 - Present

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    This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

    Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

    In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


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