Sunday, May 15, 2011

Anticipation: Tennis' Answer to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976, German, Nobel Prize Physics 1932)

Werner Heisenberg is one of the 20th century's greatest physicists. He is the founder of the Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is probably the most successful scientific theory in history. In fact, it is the basis for today's modern electronics, including smart phones, microchip processors, GPS devices and bar code scanners.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle was developed in the area of sub-atomic particles, and essentially makes a statement of probability. It states that the more is known about the position of a sub-atomic particle, the less is known of its momentum and velocity, and vice versa.

It is often stated another way: We can only know the probable position of a moving particle such as an electron. Therefore by extension, we can only know its probable destination. Thus, we can never know with absolute certainty where it will go.

Similarly, in tennis, can we ever know with absolute certainty where the ball will go?

Probably not - at least not on real world tennis courts where extraordinary electronic measurements of the ball before every shot are not feasible.

But we can anticipate where the ball will probably go based on the human cognitive skill of anticipation: by perceiving its spin, speed, direction or height over the net.

Can anticipation be improved and developed? Most coaches say yes.

Anticipation can be developed through knowledge, experience and repetition.

It's a matter of closely watching the ball and its spin, speed, direction and height over net, over and over again. And repeatedly observing your opponent's body position and racket face and swing path.

And over time building up an innate feeling for the geometry of the court and its boundary lines. And learning where and how to move in response to all of these components.


Take this video test of your tennis anticipation skills!

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