Multi-tasking is a common term used by busy people. Often the brain is asked to do several things at once but when playing tennis and other racket sports this is just too much to expect without significant repetitive practice. Understanding what practice is required and how the brain can be trained to visualise the target and then focus on the ball at the point of contact is a game changer for kids and adults of all ages and abilities.
Point of contact training ensures the player can train their brain to focus on the tennis ball when it hits the racket and not be distracted by the target they are aiming for. Roger Federer is the master of this skill and keeps his focus on the ball at the point of contact with the racket for 0.3 of a second. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams also do this. This means their bodies are perfectly balanced when they hit the ball increasing their percentage of powerful accurate returns. For those who enjoy tennis history, Billie Jean King was one of the first to exploit this technique and remained at the top of the game for many years.
Every top player is unique but learning this technique is open to all. Whether you are just starting out as a red ball player, have been playing club tennis for some time or are hoping to become a pro, Point of Contact training is a very relevant additional technique to learn alongside the other skills, agility and fitness taught by tennis coaches. Tennis is not an easy game to learn – research shows that our brain needs 5,000 – 10,000 correct repetitions to learn and improve keeping the eye on the ball at the point of contact and then needs regular practice.
Humans are born to track; even a child can track a long distance but will struggle to focus at close distances. Whilst tennis players can track a tennis ball 78 feet from the other end of the court, their eye needs to be coached to focus on the last three feet as the ball travels to the racket and maintain that focus for one-tenth of a second. Roger Federer retains his eyes at the point of contact for three-tenths of a second and maintains superb balance for his next shot.
In all two target sports such as tennis, golf and squash the player’s attention is too often pulled from the ball to the second target (e.g. the other side of the court where they intend to place the shot) too early. This takes the body off balance, breaks the kinetic chain and increases the risk of an error. If we can train our eye to stay on the point of contact for a 1/10th second we dramatically increase the chance of the ball hitting the sweet spot and maintaining balance.
The kinetic chain is critical for transferring power from the lower body through the upper body maintaining balance and powering into the shot. The kinetic chain is only as strong as its weakest part and if the player’s head shifts the chain is broken, resulting in reduced balance and power. By stabilising the head the kinetic chain is strengthened, balance is maintained, the ball is struck in the sweet spot and the chance of a miss-hit is significantly reduced.
The challenge with tennis is that there are two targets: the ball and where you want it to go. The eye naturally goes to the second target too early. This creates a head shift, in other words while the player is still hitting the ball their head is moving. This breaks the kinetic chain (resulting in a loss of power) meaning players hit off balance, putting the shot at risk of a miss-hit and therefore potentially an error. When a coach uses a fed ball there is no easy way to train the eye to remain at the point of contact. Most coaches use verbal instructions such as ‘head still’ or ‘focus on the ball’ but the instinct to look to where the ball is going is too strong for this to be effective.
So how can we achieve more? With Billie Jean King’s Eye Coach Tennis coaches now have a solution which, when used in partnership with their knowledge, dramatically improves results. The Eye Coach which can significantly increase the rate of learning by at least 40%, leading to fewer errors and less frustration. It eliminates the fly away ball, simulates the rhythm of match play, is calibrated to suit all players from red ball to pro players and provides consistent perfect practice.
The key to this learning is having fun whilst improving agility, reducing head shifting and increasing the number of balls hitting the sweet spot. Coaches can design high energy drills and games for kids that keep all the class moving all the time using two or three Eye Coaches and feeding a ball themselves. Or the exercises can be designed just using the machines so the coach can be hands free to observe, give encouragement and leave feedback until the end of the exercise. Kids particularly enjoy less talk so they can concentrate solely on the ball and their ability to hit it correctly. For coaches, hundreds of balls are hit over a short period and neither the players nor coaches spend time collecting them up!
To find out more about Point of Contact Training register for the Webinar on 26th July at 8:00pm GMT. The Webinar will be led by Lenny Schloss – Founder of Billie Jean King’s Eye Coach and former pro and Hugo Allen – Tennis Coach.