I started playing tennis again last year. I played for fun when I was younger but had pretty much been a non-player my entire adult life. I started again a few years ago but life got in the way and I stopped. I decided I needed a de stressor in life and tennis was going to be it! I had a tennis racquet I ordered off of Amazon because I order everything off of Amazon. Quick, easy, 2 days later you have it but that’s another story! All my friends told me to go to Bryan’s Tennis and Bryan would find the perfect racquet for me. It’s in a little obscure strip center off of Westgate Rd, near Angus Barn, so off I went. I went in and talked to Bryan. He looked at my racquet, watched me swing, and told me to go back to my club, take some lessons with the pro, and practice. I said “wait, I want a new racquet!” He said it wouldn’t help my game yet and come back after I had played some.
It made me start thinking about all of the players (the newbie, the weekend warrior, the every day player) that are always looking for an edge to improve their game. We all want to be the best we can be. We get the best racquet, we get the best shoes, we even have to have the best ball because we think certain brands will help us hit better. We take lessons, we use the ball machine, we are on 3 leagues so we get to play more. But how many players are thinking about their eyes? Not their eyesight, even though that is a critical component of seeing the ball.
We’ve all been told to “watch the ball” but what does that mean? There are several visual skills that are important for tennis but the most critical is probably eye movement. The two eye movements critical for playing tennis are tracking and saccades (səˈkäd). Tracking involves following an object with your eyes. The goal is smooth and accurate eye movements with little to no head movement. Tracking is used in tennis to follow the ball to its target, either to you or away from you. Saccades are rapid eye movements between different objects. The goal is accurate eye jumps that don’t overshoot (go past) or undershoot (stop too soon) your target. Saccades are used in tennis to make quick, eye movements to judge the changing locations and movements of the opponent and the ball in relationship to the net, boundary lines, etc. Studies have shown that if the head has to move to aid the eye tracking and saccades, not only is it less efficient, but balance is thrown off too. If you take your eyes off the ball as it is coming towards you, you have now “lost it in space”. Watch the ball the entire time into your racquet. Some people’s eyes track better than others but it is a trainable skill. We work with patients in our office to help train and improve tracking and saccades. There are numerous exercises (both in office, at home, and on the court) that can be done which will help you enhance your visual skills and see the ball better.
In your next tennis session, really practice “watching the ball”. When you are looking at the ball, try to see the letter P or W on the ball. Of course, the ball is moving too fast for you to actually see it, but try to fine focus on the ball looking for the letter. As you implement this into your playing, it will become second nature and eventually you will not have to think about it as much. You can progressively add different drills to address other areas of visual processing into your game! Your eyes tell your brain to tell the body where to move!
Contact me anytime with questions about vision and sports at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Alecia L. Barnes, OD