Blessing or curse?
We have often heard players in any sport highly praised for their anticipation when playing. There is no doubt that when you are “in the moment” everything slows down and you seem to be able to almost sense what is going to happen. A great feeling for certain.
I want to offer another view however. We always notice the times when anticipation comes off. What about all the times a player prematurely moves in a direction only to see the ball go in another? Often the credit goes to the opponent for hitting a deceptive shot. Perhaps that is the case. But how many times do you prepare for a shot, see your opponent move in one direction and hit it in the other direction for a winner?
Why do players try to anticipate? I suggest it is an attempt to “get ahead of the game.” If it comes off fine, but if not you lose a point you might have been in if you had waited for the ball to be hit.
What is the answer? I go back to the proposition of the three basic actions every player goes through.
WATCH – MOVE – STROKE
Each action takes place in order. You watch the path of the ball and see your opponent hit his reply. You quickly calculate the trajectory of the ball and move to a position suitable to then stroke the ball. If you follow this sequence you will successfully compete. Problems occur when you violate the sequence. Let us examine what we do during a point. We watch the ball as your opponent approaches it to make his shot. You see it travel from his racquet and observe its path. You move to where the ball is going to be and then you stroke.
Sounds wonderful in theory doesn’t it? Not so simple in practice. Many are anxious as to whether they can get to the ball in time so they search for something to “get ahead of the game.” Many players give a clear indication where they are going to hit the ball. They may draw back their front foot to hit a cross court or rotate the body in preparation for a boast. Or you may hit a deep tight ball and, in your judgement decide the only reply can be a defensive boast. These are the clues we use to predict the next shot. We then move before the ball is struck.
But what happens if your opponent holds his shot and then changes direction? You lose the point.
It is important to watch your opponent to gain the clues you need. It is far more important to watch the ball as it strikes your opponent’s racquet. If you do this you will have hard evidence as to where the ball is headed. In a crime investigation the police find as many clues as they can but in the vast majority of cases they will not arrest anyone without hard evidence.
By all means act on a hunch based on clues, but be prepared to lose many points you otherwise may have been competitive in.
You need to WAIT until the ball is stuck and then MOVE. I can hear you say “Then it’s too late.”
I run drills for my students where they are not allowed to move until I hit it. At first they are everywhere and miss getting to the shot. Then they start to realize that they only have to move far enough to make their return shot. There is no second guessing and they only take essential movement.
The result is they stop over running the ball and don’t get too close. This results in better timed shots and great confidence in their ability to get to the shot. I know it doesn’t “feel right” to wait until after your opponent strikes the ball but, believe me, if you do, you will not make the positional errors you currently make trying to get ahead of the game.
Operate in the present and act in real time and you will be very effective.