Visualization Power

Most of us are shut down from actually playing tennis; so what can you do to keep your game sharp?  How about just thinking about tennis, can that work?  Here is an incredible story that might shed some light.

A Vietnam P.O.W.

According to espygolf.com, “Colonel Robert Hall was a P.O.W. at the North Vietnam Hanoi Hilton for over seven years, after he was shot down during an aerial combat mission on September 25, 1965. Colonel Hall explained how the mental game of golf was key to his survival. Bobby Jones’ quote- Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears.

“Colonel Hall attended the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, for one year before accepting an appointment at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he was the captain on the golf team with a handicap of four (4).

“The Colonel, along with the other prisoners, was mentally and physically tortured, starved, and kept in solitary confinement. At the Hanoi Hilton, Colonel Hall’s world consisted of a seven-and-a-half square foot cell, without basic necessities. The prisoners had little or no contact with the outside or  each other. The only lifeline the prisoners had was their virtual world that they created in the theater of their minds.

“In Colonel Hall’s case, his virtual world was the golf courses that he mentally created and played in his confined cell. He memorized every aspect of each course that he had played, down to each hole, tree, rough, fairway, and the speed of the greens.

“Every day Colonel Hall would go through his routine until he was released on February 12, 1973. He mentally dealt with his nerves on the first tee box and played each and every shot and hole of his home course and others. Without missing a single trajectory of each shot, Colonel Hall played out each hole, including taking in account wind conditions. He counted the steps that he would have walked between each shot and mentally wrote down the score for each hole.

“Using a stick, Colonel Hall mentally maintained his golf swing muscle memory, even as a P.O.W. far removed from the golf course. Upon Colonel Hall’s release from the Hanoi Hilton, the first thing that he wanted to do was to play his first round of golf, and have his first cup of ice and Coca-Cola .

“Colonel Hall did a little better than that. In less than six weeks from his release on February 12, 1973, he was playing on one of the biggest stages in golf. On March 21, 1973, Colonel Hall, within six weeks, was invited to play in the 1973 Greater New Orleans P.O.W. Pro-Am Open, where he shot a 76, his handicap of four (4).”

Have you ever used visualization to help your tennis game?

P.S. Thanks to friend Rick Barletta for the tip on this story.

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

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to Amazon.com, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

6 thoughts on “Visualization Power

  1. Great topic George! I am constantly visualizing both on and off the court! I seem to be constantly painting pictures. It’s so deeply ingrained with me. I have never stopped visualizing tennis. I started playing at 8 and I’m 69, and have never put the racket down, (except to have surgeries) I suppose the
    se visualizations of mine are very much connected to my “muscle memory” and what actually happens to my body while I’m playing if that makes any sense. It’s gotten so crazy with me that I sometimes dream that I’m playing a match and my wife has told me she sees me hitting forehands in my sleep! lol.

    Jim, sounds like a weak defense for spousal abuse to me! thanks, george

  2. When I was in college, where I first played tennis, I would practice my foot work in the hallway of the dorm. I would image someone hitting the ball at me and having to decide whether I was going to hit it with my forehand or my back hand and then shift into that position. I think this drill helped my anticipation which has helped me greatly at the net.

    Walt, … and also drove your dorm mates nuts! 🙂 thanks, george

  3. Great story George. I live in the same city Col George Robert Hall lived in. It is Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and I knew him and his family. I remember when he came back to Hattiesburg after he was released from the North Vietnam Hanoi Hilton. Seems like the whole city turned out to welcome him home. The event was held in the basketball coliseum at the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a very good golfer along with his brother Sam who won multiply state championships. They were not only great golfers but great people.

    Billy, sounds like you were one of the lucky ones to know him! thanks, george

  4. Thanks George for resurrecting this story. Great idea for quarantine days. I shared it with some of our Pelican Marsh Tennis and Pickleball players.

    Bob, better than watching Covid news all day! thanks, george

  5. When I’m playing my best, I play at the same rhythm between points. But when it comes to a crucial point or needing to hold serve, l slow down a bit. I spend a few seconds between points to take some deep breaths, look at the ball, and visualize where I want to put the serve. These little rituals help me stay positive, focused and relaxed. The key is to make sure you’re mentally  ready to go before you begin a big point.

    Glenn, good thoughts … I picture Maria S walking to the back fence and back. Thanks. George

  6. I’m jealous of Billy, above, who got to meet this incredible POW/golfer. What a great story. If he can survive a Vietnamese prison, we can survive sheltering in place!

    Scoot, yup, helps to put it in perspective. Thanks. George

Comments are closed.