Using Bifocal Vision

What is one of the prime reasons we all don’t have consistent ground strokes and volleys?  The answer: Not hitting the ball consistently in the center of the racquet.  So, what can you do about it?  Here are answers from two veteran pros.

Recognizing the Problem

The issue came up after I watched an online video about “off center hits”.  My frustration was the instructor was teaching how to KNOW when you are hitting off center.  His keys were to listen to the sound of the ball on your racquet and to feel the slight twisting in your hand.

But that is not my problem… I am usually very aware that my volley or ground stroke is going shorter than I wanted because it was not struck in the middle of the racquet.  But what to do about it?

Use Long and Close Distance Viewing

Former Dartmouth tennis coach Chuck Kinyon, says that most people play tennis only using their “distance vision,” i.e. watching their opponent strike the ball 60-70 feet on the other side of the court.  And keeping that same vision even as the ball approaches them and their racquet.

What he says you need to do is then switch to your “close vision,” as if you were reading a book, and follow the ball into your racquet face.  That close-in concentration he says will allow you to hit many more shots solidly in the center.

Know Where Your Racquet Head Is

Former touring pro Hank Irvine has given me many great pointers.  One particularly relevant to this topic involves solid hits on the volley.  Hank says, “You have to know where your racquet head is.” 

What he means is that most of us amateur senior players are inconsistent on the angle of the racquet and wrist on the volley; therefore will be inconsistent on where the ball strikes the racquet face.  So when hitting the volley, not only do you need to watch the ball all the way in, you must know where your racquet face is – and the angle of the face — so that you can strike it in the center.

What about YOU, any tips on more consistent ball striking?

And, speaking of “bifocal tennis,” how many of you play with corrective lenses and what impact does it have?

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at GeorgeWachtel@gmail.com

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13 thoughts on “Using Bifocal Vision

  1. Many mis-hits are caused by our eyes moving off the point of contact too soon. On all of your shots, after you strike the ball, focus on keeping your eye on the point of contact for one recovery step. You’ll find you’ll hit the ball much more cleanly.

    greg, right: picture The Fed on his backhand! thanks, george

  2. Very interesting topic George! I remember pros and coaches in Jr. tennis yelling “WATCH THE BALL”, but it was way to general. For me, I go back to Tim Gallway’s Inner Game exercises on following and actually “seeing” the ball. The two exercises were “Follow the Trajectory” and “The Ball is the Moon”! Those 2 exercises really helped me focus on sighting the ball properly, and I find these exercise reduced my unforced errors. Thanks!

    Jim, and Chuck suggests try to see the writing on the ball. Thanks. George

  3. I have been wearing bifocals with progressive lenses for at least 30 yrs. The key for me is getting the right eye doctor to prescribe the right prescription and then to have my glasses made and fitted accurately. I then have to keep my mind focused on watching the ball to make the right contact..

    Barbara, good optics can make for good sight. thanks, george

  4. Vision has been a limiting factor for me since I started competing in open , age group tennis in the 45’s. I could extrapolate on a ground stroke and do OK with contact being in front and towards the middle of the strings but volleys were always an adventure. So many times I would be in advantage in the point and have a routine volley only to mishit.
    Contacts helped some but …
    A few years ago at my annual eye exam with the usual “small cataracts but no need to do anything yet”, I asked if the surgery would be covered if I elected it now. The answer was “yes” and I broke all the rules and had surgery early rather than as long put off as possible.
    I selected an eye surgeon who was overqualified for simple cataract surgery (she does eye transplants). I told her I had had 20-15 vision as an adolescent and could that be attempted instead of the usual 20-20 result. She said she would try and I tested 20-15 afterwards! Now when I miss a volley, I am surprised.
    You can use all the techniques like looking for the writing on the ball you want, but if you cannot see well, your results will be limited.
    Good luck during this unique time – be smart – with my lungs, no tennis and complete isolation is appropriate. Not so bad, plenty of time for Yoga and making comments here.

    Winder, be well and keep the cogent comments coming! thanks, george

  5. I advise those who I instruct to see the ball in these ways:

    I ask people…”What color is this ball?” The answer, of course, I usually hear is “Yellow.” I correct them. “It’s yellow AND black. (or yellow and red) Look for that black (or red) as the ball approaches.” Baseball players (batters) look for the red seams on a white baseball as it comes out of the fingers of the pitcher to determine if they’re going to need to deal with a fastball, a curveball, or a slider. Do the same when receiving serve as it comes off the strings of the server’s racquet…Flat, kick, or slice.

    Another tip…Think about your eyes focusing like a camera lens. That yellow blob that comes off the opponent’s racquet should come into increasingly clearer focus as it approaches and you approach it. By the time the ball hits the court (or if volleying when it’s close enough to punch or chop or simply block with your strings) it should be in crystal clear focus.

    Alan, two great analogies! thanks, george

  6. I believe hearing is key to anticipation. Often it makes up for not seeing as well as as we need to.

    Steve, for me, when there is loud lawn care noise near the courts, i have trouble playing my game. thanks, george

  7. In my understanding, mis-hits occur because there is a lack of stillness due to mental activity around the point of contact.

    It is not a physical phenomena, especially with good athletes, it is a mental issue. When players are tight, nervous, or trying to be careful or safe, that is when mis-hits happen.

    The more you try and develop or focus on some particular technique to avoid mis-hits, the more you’ll mis-hit the ball.

    On the contrary, If you drop any concern about mis-hitting the ball and are able to simply throw your racket at the ball without too much ‘intention’, your timing will be as good as your athletic ability allows.

    Executing strokes is about embracing risk and if doubt creeps in and you are unwilling to accept this reality of uncertainty, things will go wrong!

    Happy, if that is the answer to your beautiful strokes, it is worth doing! So, in other words, “you don’t need to see the ball … you need to BE the ball!” thanks, george

  8. i think a lot of miss hits have to do with reaction time and pace of the ball. as we age and play younger players (not much choice) the ball comes at you faster and your reaction time is slower. this is why we have miss hits, even on groundstrokes, in my opinion.

    Joe, no doubt, the faster the ball comes at you, the tougher it is to hit it right. thanks, george

  9. I needed glasses at a very early age. When I was 43 and needed a reading correction, I got progressive lenses, which I wore full time, including for tennis. It took a month or to to get used to them for tennis. After that, I found them very beneficial for tennis, indoors and outdoors. With a slight head adjustment, the ball was clear both at a distance and at contact point. After Lasik surgery, I no longer need the progressive.

    Tom, i have heard anecdotes about corrective eye surgery doing wonders! thanks, george

  10. All good advice and comments, George. I have nothing to add or subtract, beyond noting that it is far easier to describe what we SHOULD be doing than it often is to do it.

    But on the issue of corrective lenses, I can only offer my personal experience. A few decades back, I started having to wear what are called progressive lenses in my eyeglasses, which is common among older farts. The progressives are just a fancy version of old fashioned bifocals, with the bottom part of the eyeglass for reading and close up vision and the top part for long distance vision. As we get older, it is common for us to have trouble reading even if we are still myopic, so bifocals/ progressives were invented.

    I had previously worn only glasses for nearsightedness, or myopia, and I have worn them all my life. So, literally since I started playing tennis as a kid, I always played with glasses. If I did not, I could not see the ball. Aside from occasionally having my eyeglasses slip off my nose or getting beads of sweat on the lenses in mid point, I never really thought much about not wearing glasses. Overall, I could see the ball well and they worked just fine.

    However, when I had to switch to progressives, all hell broke loose on the tennis court. For the longest while — at least several months — I started to have big problems trying to track the path of the ball with my eyes when I first started out with the progressives. I could see the ball all right 60-70 feet across the net, but I started having a devil of time being able to focus on the ball as it got closer to me, especially during that critical phase of each stroke when the ball bounced on the court upward for me to swing at it. No matter what I tried to do, I was shanking the ball a lot and just not seeing it up close as well as I could see the ball farther away.

    Eventually I figured out the problem was the new progressive lenses. So I did a little experiment, I put back on my old “just for myopia” glasses and went out to play with them. Even though they were no longer the proper distance vision — in fact, the ball looked fuzzy to me at distance, which the new glasses had corrected — I still played much better with the old glasses.

    So, back to my eye doctor I went. And the solution was very simple: Get fitted for contact lenses, which I have been wearing when I play ever since.

    Marty, i too wear progressives and they took some getting used to. thanks, george

  11. On the issue of striking the ball in the center of the racquet, I have found the most helpful things to do or not do are: set up as early as possible; keep your eye on the ball all the way to the strings (and the one step after contact as suggested), or another way of saying that is don’t look where you are hitting to; point with your non-racquet arm to the spot you want to make contact with the ball (way out in front); and keep you feet planted while hitting the ball. The last one I believe is a major problem for a lot of recreational players including myself. Think about it, if your feet are moving as you are making contact you will have to adjust for that by moving your racquet head.
    I have been wearing glasses for sports for decades and I could not see anything clearly beyond the net without them. I have been wearing progressive lenses for everything except sports and public theatre movie going. I experimented with wearing my progressives for tennis a number of times but I always get feel funny/dizzy because I am concentrating on my tennis game and not moving my head.

    David, great tips! Thanks. George

  12. Great advice, and I remember Agassi saying many times: “only 2 things to remember: watch the ball and move your feet”!

    Scoot, which is the same, exact thing Roy Emerson tells me at Newk’s camp every year! So, it must be true. thanks, george

  13. Hi George, Roy tells me the very same things. Maybe someday it will finally sink in! I have two thoughts about eyeglasses for tennis. (1) I love my progressive lenses for everything except tennis. They make me move my head a bit up and down to find the right spot as distances change and they don’t focus well off the central “stripe”. For tennis I prefer single-vision distance-only glasses. (2) While getting my nose rebuilt after surgery for melanoma (use your sunscreen, folks), I had to wear contact lenses for a few months. I didn’t like putting them in and taking them out, but I was amazed by the increased peripheral vision on court. Therefore, I now wear prescription sports glasses for tennis with the largest lenses that are still comfortable. I have one pair with clear lenses and another with polarized tinted lenses for bright sun (protect your eyes). I hope to see you again at Newk’s in October. Stay safe in the meantime.

    Joe, yes, it will be VERY disappointing if this Thing impacts our time at Newk’s in October! thanks, george

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