Sports Vision And Tennis
The following is a comprehensive outline of the most important dynamic visual skills for tennis.
Focusing and Tracking
Well developed accommodative (focusing) skills are important in tennis because both the ball and the opponent are in constant, rapid movement and the player has to be able to shift focus from near to far or to intermediate targets instantaneously throughout the contest. Eye-tracking ability is also important. Quick, accurate saccades (or eye movements) are needed to rapidly survey the changing locations and movements of the opponent and the ball in relationship to the net, boundary lines, etc. The ultimate goal, regarding this visual skill and tennis, is to track the ball until contact can be made, and not flinching on impact.
The visual system provides a player with the information needed in order to appropriately act as well as the information needed to decide exactly when to act. For example, when receiving a serve, you have mere 100th’s of a second to read and react. You have to properly recognize the type of serve your opponent has chosen, as well as choose and prepare for your response. You can’t swing too soon or too late or you will miss the opportunity to make your shot. Timing must be perfect. The ability to anticipate is a major factor in high level competitive activities and even superior speed, size and reflexes cannot compensate for the insufficient processing of the visual information regarding when to perform.
Maintaining a high level of concentration/focus in a fast moving sport like tennis is essential, especially when receiving a serve or playing at the net. Even a slight lapse in concentration may mean losing a point in a game in which every point is important.
Depth perception is necessary for accurate shot placement, evaluating the defensive positions of the opponent and judgment of whether a ball hit to you will land in or out of bounds, thus helping you decide whether or not to play the ball. It also assists in judgment of the speed of the opponent’s shot.
This skill is vital in any racquet sport since the process of hitting a moving object with a racquet primarily requires eye-hand coordination. Our hands, feet and body respond to the information the eyes have sent to the brain. If this information is incorrect, even to the slightest degree, there is a good chance that we will err in our physical response. Almost every sport error, or poorly executed play, can be attributed to faulty visual judgment, and it is visual judgment alone that determines eye-hand coordination.
This is an essential skill for a tennis player whether on defense or on the attack. The attacking player has to be distinctly aware of the speed and position of the oncoming ball in order to secure correct contact as well as remaining peripherally aware of the opponent’s position and the location of the court boundaries, etc. The defensive player must concentrate centrally on the attacking player’s court position and the likely direction the ball will come off his opponent’s racket. Meanwhile, he must be peripherally aware of the net and boundary lines of the court, etc. These factors all hold true for doubles, too. However, in doubles, the players have the additional complications of being peripherally aware of where their partner’s body and racket are.
Speed and Span of Recognition
Andy Roddick’s serve has been clocked at 150 mph. This doesn’t allow much time to react. Even the speed of a normal rally shot requires a player to detect the speed and spin on the ball as quickly as possible in order to make the proper return. This means that he/she must pick up the ball visually as it comes off the opponent’s racket. Opportunities to make that proper return shot only present themselves for fractions of seconds and in order to be effective (i.e. quick, accurate and efficient), the reflex action or response must be automatic, not thought out.
Visual Reaction Time
The more rapidly a tennis player processes visual information, the faster he/she can position their body to hit the ball effectively with power. Excellent visual reaction time helps a player return a serve, a smash, play effectively at the net or simply return the ball into the opponent’s court.
Typical Symptoms That May Be Related to Poor Dynamic Visual Skills:
- Making too many unnecessary mistakes in high pressure situations.
- Trouble with concentration, particularly under stress.
- Reacting too slowly.
- Difficulty judging the distance, the speed, the direction or the revolution of the ball.
- Not hitting the center of the racket.
- Difficulty judging the speed of the ball, or where it will land.
- Difficulty tracking the ball all the way to your racket.
- Difficulty in shifting your focus from far to near when returning a serve.
- Difficulty maintaining court awareness.
- Poor eye-hand coordination.
- Forehand better than backhand or vice-versa.
- Early fatigue is still a problem in spite of increased physical workouts.