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Myth: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Most likely, the most often heard comment in lessons is, 'Keep your eye on the ball until it hits the strings'. If that's so important, why do we have thousands of shots of famous players looking over the net while the ball is being struck? The simple answer is, no human has ever seen a ball hit the strings because (1) the ball is on the strings approximately four milliseconds, and (2) the human eye can't record a four millisecond event.

The swing you make is a product of some electrical signals sent from the brain to the muscles. Send the signal too late, and you're in deep trouble. The message for muscles is normally sent down from the brain at about the time the ball bounces. Depending on the speed of your opponent's shot, that's often approximately 150 to 200 milliseconds before impacting the ball. Thus, your eyes trying to follow the ball into the strings is useless because the nature of the swing has already been determined. Don't you remember how silly you looked one time when you tried to change your swing at the last minute and the ball went over the heads of players on the next court.

To make matters even worse, most people suddenly become legally blind on the last 5.5. feet of incoming ball flight because the rapid eye movement trying to track the ball normally generates blurred vision. Dr. Bernie Slatt, after doing some post doctoral studies on eye displacement, wrote a book titled, 'Hitting Blind'. Vision specialists have looked into this issue for the last twenty years, but the myth continues.

But hold on, your coach may have something else in mind. If you pretend as though you are watching the ball into the strings, your head will remain quiet and will not disturb your swing pattern. In biomechanical studies in the Coto Research Center in the early 80's, Dr. Gideon Ariel and I would constantly notice the swing pattern changing when a player's head made a sudden shift. That's partially because your head weighs more inch per inch than any other segment of your body. Thus, even though your brain has sent down a signal for a perfect stroke, it has also sent a message to shift your head, and the stroke pattern is destroyed. Most coaches call it, 'Pulling off the ball too early'. It's not uncommon to see a professional player do this and hit the ball into the stands.

It's really difficult to convince players that they can't see the ball hit the strings. 'Your wrong, Vic; my next door neighbor, Helen, says she can see the Wilson logo as clear as a bell when it's on the strings'. That a statement I've heard quite often and my response is always the same; 'You just live close to a liar'.