With the publication of The Athlete Centered Coach, Bill Patton is working hard to influence sports culture globally. There is a revolution going on in coaching, and Bill has always colored outside the lines, so he is ready for new lines to be drawn. He used to take his toys apart to see how they worked. He turned those experiences into a strength. Now he creates innovative templates so that others can build on success and make it their own.
He is most proud of winning an NCS Championship and becoming a published author for the first time. Once when trying to speak another language to a player, he thought he was asking if she was embarrassed, but he used the word for pregnant. That got sorted out later.
Bill Patton is Tennis Professional and is currently coaching his 10th different high school with 30+ years of experience in the field. He has coached at several schools with many great results. Mainly, the players had a great time maximizing their games and playing on the teams. He is now featured on coachtube.com, with three different tennis courses.
Bill and his business partner Styrling Strother have started USATennisCoach, LLC, which trains, certifies, mentors, and collaborates with high school tennis coaches.
Bill, a Maverick Leader, is co-founder of USATennisCoachl, a Catalyst for Omni Athlete: The Future of Sport, a PTR and MTM Professional.
7 Ways to Grow Tennis with Visual Training
By Bill Patton
Visual Skills Are Crucial and Rarely Taught
Visual Skills in Tennis are the most crucial and most neglected in helping players to begin to play matches or ascend higher than a 4.0 level. They are also deeply connected to mental and emotional competencies. There are two major problems in our sport. A large percentage of people who would love to play the game, come to it without adequate visual competency. Sadly, the use of the phrases ‘Watch the Ball’, or ‘Keep Your Eye on The Ball’ do not solve players' issues. Players who have challenges sighting the ball then have a less than ideal experience in meeting the game, and thus they soon leave, unsatisfied. Tennis is too hard for those without trained visual ability. Some players quit, or live lives of quiet desperation, because they get to a certain level, and don’t seem to be able to get over the hump, even though they have the athleticism to play much better. If those people learned how to use their eyes, they likely would have a much better chance to move from 4.0 to 4.5, instead of beginning to plot how to win a 3.5 National Championship. I hope we all agree that it’s better for better players to matriculate up, populating the upper levels of the game, rather than sandbagging, which creates a difficult and frustrating glut, especially at the 3.0 and 3.5 levels. Vic Braden famously said, ‘If there are no 4.5s at your club, it’s your fault.’ How can better visual skills enable new players to succeed, and good players to become great?
Visual Training for Tennis Book and Online Course
I am in the midst of putting together a two-hour course called Visual Training for Tennis. In collaboration with Brent Abel of webtennis.com, we created a conversational, interactive resource to learn a wide variety of skills, and some valuable understandings about how the eyes work, both for the player and the coach. That course will be launching in July 2020. If you want early access to some of the free materials that come with that, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. What I want to do here is give you some value right now, and I will send you more and more detailed information if you email me. In the subject line simply put Visual Tennis or All Things Tennis Instruction. I will then put you on the appropriate list.
7 Things You Can Do Today to See the Ball Better
So now, here are 7 things you can do today to see the ball better, and teach visual skills much better to beginners, and help those who can get above 4.0. This information barely scratches the surface of the Visual Training Course.
1. Beginners generally suffer from anxiety levels that make it hard for them to really see the ball well. Make the teaching court an easy-going relaxing place to be. 1 in 4 people suffer from some kind of mental illness, and those are mainly issues of anxiety. Helping players to be less anxious, will also help them to see more clearly.
Locate the Ball
2. One of the main problems in moving from 4.0 to 4.5 is the transition is one of the greatest shifts in the speed and spins of the incoming ball. I know from having moved up from being a not very good 3.5 to one of the very best 5.0 players (3 consecutive years top 8 finish) in my section in just over 5 years of playing. The key issue is to give up analyzing what kind of shot it is and instead simply finding the ball. The pathway to the brain to find out WHERE it is, is faster than the pathway to find out WHAT it is. Locate the ball out of the opponent’s strings and voila!
Teach From Day One
3. Beginners can apply this same concept and actually begin learning the skills that might allow them to advance rapidly if an emphasis is placed on seeing the ball coming out of the hand or racquet. Avoid teaching a new player any kind of checklist of ideas to form technique. If you or your players are trying to perform a checklist of two or more items in relation to technical development you are on the wrong track. It’s amazing how well a beginner can do when they read the ball out of the hand or frame.
Tracking Is Almost Never Taught
4. Visual Tracking, where your eyes see the ball as a blur, as it crosses your peripheral vision is the least understand and undervalued ability in tennis. Peripheral vision is everything outside the 3-degree band of vision where true focus occurs. When you say ‘keep your eye on the ball’ or ‘watch the ball’, you are leaving it up to the student to discover on their own how to do it right. The most common visual error I see with players of all abilities is trying to maintain pinpoint vision of the ball. This creates a saccadic eye movement, creating a gray blank spot in their vision. So for the umpteenth time, a player thought they were looking right at the ball only to lose sight of it and dump that volley into the net. They feel like they are losing their minds. Tracking is a simple solution.
Cutting Down on Verbal Everything
5. When there is too much talk on a court either from a coach, a doubles partner, or a chatty opponent, that verbal activity creates a shift away from seeing to trying to process words. some players who have verbal processing issues that really it occupies their brain’s CPU, some recent research seems to suggest that whatever you are engaged in as activity, the blood flow to your brain goes into the area of that function. Any activity that diverts the flow away from seeing and/or feeling is most likely not going to be helpful. That’s why great coaches speak in images or analogous language to a feeling you might experience in the stroke. If you are playing doubles, talking about where to hit is a safe bet.
The Importance of Knowing and Using Dominant Eye
6. Knowing which is your dominant eye and making sure you point that eye in the direction of the ball is crucial. You can do a very quick eye dominance test. With both eyes OPEN, make a small hole in between your two hands fully extended away from you. Move the hole in your hands until you can sight a small object, like a ball on the other side of the net. Close one eye. If you still see the ball, that is your dominant eye. To test to see if you did it properly, open both eyes again and then close the other eye, you won’t be able to see the ball. Your non-dominant eye follows your dominant eye, but many players spend their time in between the two. Intentionally look through your dominant eye, it gets 80% of the visual information. Remember, your nose is in the way of your dominant eye seeing all, so you might have to turn your head to see what you need.
The Mystery of Pure Dextral and Cross Dextral
7. About 50% of the population is Cross Dextral. Some people believe that Cross Dextral people learn tennis easier than Pure Dextral people. Pure Dextral (PD) are right-handed and right eye dominant, or left-handed and left eye dominant. Cross Dextral (CD) are the opposite, Right/Left, Left/Right hand to eye dominance. Look at the graphic and you will see that perhaps Roger is Cross, and Serena is Pure. There are different sighting strategies for each. While most people hold up Federer as the paragon of all tennis technique, it’s simply not true that everyone is a good fit stylistically or as a predisposition to do what he does. CD players seem best served by focusing on the ball from the bounce all the way into the frame with that famously still head with eyes trained at contact. PD players run counter to conventional wisdom and should focus on a place halfway between the ball and the contact point, using their peripheral vision to track the ball into the strings.
These are some quick tips, and I am sure you have questions, in this space, there is no way I can answer them all, but the course will do that. Soon I will be making an offer, and I want to provide a ton of value, to make you more valuable as a coach, adding more richness to your player’s tennis experience and ultimately adding more players and improving more good players to greatness. Email me today!