Everyone knows that shot visualization is an immensely powerful tool in tennis, and consistently utilizes it to, more or less, always play their A-game. Right?
Merriam-Webster's defines visualizing this way: "to form a mental image of."
Photo by Shaun Ondak
The first preparation for a backhand return is visualization of the shot.
Legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus, once baffled reporters who, way back when sports psychology and its techniques were still a curiosity, wanted to know what he was thinking about on the course after a spectacular round. He responded succinctly, "I think in pictures."
Roger Federer, in the Q and A section of his website a few years ago, when he still wore a cape, commented on what he thought his greatest skill was: "My ability to 'see' my shot faster than anyone else." Whoa, this coming from one of the most humble superstars sport has ever known.
Visualization Rog? Really?
Yes, it's that important - the mind body connection - but, then, with proper respect for "The Federer," as Marat Safin used to call him, you still have to come up with the goods.
I continually remind players at every opportunity what the best player of all-time, Rod Laver (winning the Grand Slam twice makes him the undisputed #1), once said about playing well: "It's a simple game. It's just not easy."
Seeing your own shot in your mind's eye before you hit it, not only covers both ends of Laver's view, but gives you a clear insight into the Federer magic, the greatest shot maker ever seen - whatever he could conjure up, he could make.
In the adjacent image my opponent's head-cam shows my shot about to pass over the net. At this juncture they should have, first, immediately recognized a backhand opportunity and, second, then know how they're going to play it - on its descent in their wheelhouse, at its apex up high after the bounce or on the rise - based on its approaching speed, trajectory, spin and projected depth.
That done, the all-important visualization response instantly follows in the shot-making chain of events - specifically the direction and margin to the net of their shot including its pace and spin - leaving the remaining two-thirds of time solely, without inner conflict, for timing the shot.
If you're shot-making goal is typically nothing more than approximately over there somewhere - ready, fire, aim - that's what you'll get, at best. But you can do far better.
Having a crystal clear image in your mind of precisely what your shot intentions are does indeed connect that mind and the body, and, regarding the latter, triggers whatever muscle memory, ball striking skills that already exist on your hard drive without the undermining "thinking" those reporters were referring to.
Do your best. Always aspire higher. Love the game.