Watch the ball
Marcin Bieniek explains how watching the ball can help you prepare for your return shot.
Every coach has used or uses the phrase "Watch the ball". Is this what we want the player to do, or is there a reason for watching the ball that will initiate an action by the player? In my opinion, this phrase is helpful if it is connected with the movement. The most important thing in watching the ball is not to see it in detail but to help the player decide to move in the appropriate direction and prepare for their return shot.
The coach tells the player to "watch the ball" because he/she is late in playing the return shot. The player starts watching the ball as the opponent strikes the ball. The ball crosses the net, and the player still watches the ball. Effect - late again with the return shot.
What should we do? We need to connect watching with physically moving. It is the connection between eyes-brain-legs. Watch the ball, assess its potential path and move to the appropriate position to play the return shot.
We have to explain to our players that when they see the ball is going deep, they have to move back immediately. When they see the ball is going short, they have to move forward as fast as it is possible.
Players are agile with side-moving but not so active with forward-backward movement. We have to teach from the beginning how to perceive the ball. It is all about developing a new observational skill.
Why is it so important? Firstly, better-watching results in faster moving. Secondly, the quicker we move, the more time we have for preparation, which means we can play a more accurate shot. The next advantage of "good watching" is shortening the opponent's reaction time.
As you can see, there are a lot of advantages to properly watching the ball. If you watch your opponent prepare for a shot, you will see clues as to the potential return shot. If you then watch the ball as the opponent strikes it, you will get additional clues that will help you move more quickly. The quicker you can make the connection between what you see, your analysis, and decide to move, then you will play more effectively.
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About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.