Friday, May 31, 2013

Tennis and the Art of Misdirection

Have you ever heard of Harry Houdini? Well, he wasn't like today's magicians . . . He was an artist. The greatest of all-time. He could make an elephant disappear in the middle of a theater filled with people. And do you how he did that? Misdirection. What is misdirection? What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.
--"Gabriel", played by John Travolta, in the movie Swordfish (2001)

Think about the many weapons you might have in tennis -- speed, power, spin, strategy, fitness and even mental toughness.

Of all the weapons on the tennis court -- and for that matter, in life -- the one least often considered is: misdirection.

Indeed, misdirection may be the most devastating weapon of all.

If speed or power kills, then misdirection obliterates. If spin or strategy overwhelms, then misdirection vanquishes.

What is misdirection? And how does it apply on a tennis court?

Misdirection is subtle and sophisticated. It's smooth and suave. It's brains over brawn. It's more about the mind than the body.

And it more then defeats the opponent -- it humbles him.

Misdirection is created when the opponent either:

1. expects one thing to happen and then sees another, or
2. has no clue as to what will happen and thus by definition suddenly sees what he does not anticipate.

Let's look at some of the ways misdirection might apply on a tennis court.

Misdirection in shot direction: cross-court vs. down-the-line
The most common example of misdirection is a change in expected ball direction. Your opponent expects you to hit the ball cross-court, then suddenly sees the ball down-the-line, or vice versa.

Misdirection in spin and pace
Another example of misdirection is when your opponent expects a topspin shot, and then sees a flat or underspin shot. Or expects a fast-moving or slow-paced ball, and then sees the opposite.

Misdirection with inside-out vs. inside-in forehands
Misdirection is also obvious when a right-handed player quickly moves to his left to take a backhand as a forehand shot, angling his body to create an expectation that he might hit an inside-out forehand (cross-court shot). Then, he produces an inside-in forehand (down-the-line shot).

Misdirection in direction of serves: out-wide, into-the-body and down-the-T
Misdirection is also commonly created when, from an identical toss motion, the server can disguise his service direction. How often has Pete Sampras fooled his opponent with one of the best disguised serves in tennis history?

Misdirection in hitting behind the opponent
Misdirection is starkly apparent when a player hits a ball in the opposite direction in which his opponent is moving, "behind the opponent."

Misdirection with the Drop Shot
One of the most devastating examples of misdirection on the court is when a ferocious rally concludes with an unexpected drop shot (volley or groundstroke). One player simply raises his racket head above the level of the ball and angles it downward, producing a gently floating ball dropping into the court just over the net on the opponent's side.

Misdirection with the Disguised Offensive Lob
An experienced and savvy player with ball control can misdirect his opponent by appearing to prepare a standard passing shot, but then suddenly launching an offensive lob over his opponent's head.

How can a player help create misdirection?

One way might be to deliberately shape your opponent's expectation -- and then suddenly offer up something quite different than what was expected.

The best way to do that is simply to keep all your body's movements exactly the same until the very last second, thereby creating disguise

Then, by a quick angling of the shoulder, wrist and racket head, a very different shot is produced than expected.

Another way to produce misdirection is to deliberately offer up no clue as where and what type of shot you will hit. Then, any shot you hit will, by definition, be unanticipated. 

The classic way to do this is to keep your head down as long as possible through the shot. This minimizes any message about where and how your ball will be hit.

Another, less common, way to produce misdirection, is a simple head fake -- looking with your eyes (and thus positioning your head) in the opposite direction from where you are aiming.

What can help any player keep his head down or look the other way easier?

Answer: Develop an intentionality to every shot, without regard to the position of your head or eyes.

Never hit a shot without first having a clear and powerful intention about the shot you are hitting - where you want it to go and with what spin and pace.

If you can create a belief in the opponent, by your movement and body language, that he will see one thing -- and then you suddenly execute the opposite or different action, you will begin to develop the subtle but devastating art of misdirection.


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Power of Three: 3 Ingredients for Tennis Success


In his 100th Podcast Episode, Certified Professional Instructor Ron Miller of reflects on the three aspects of any tennis player's success.

"When I Do 3, the Winner is Me!"
Podcast Episode #100

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tennis Great Jimmy Connors Releases His Autobiography "The Outsider: A Memoir"

Photo: Getty Images
It's not what you accomplish; it's what you overcome to accomplish it that sets you apart.
--Jimmy Connors
The Outsider: A Memoir (Harper: May 14, 2013)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Quote of the Day on "How to Close Out the Game": The Universal Closing Principle

"You don't have to be perfect to win. You can't be perfect anyway. You just have to hang in there, put the bad stuff behind you, think good thoughts and more than anything be good enough to make your opponent perform under pressure. Then, more often than not, they will make the big mistake. [In other words], be the mirror to make your opponents face themselves - their fears, arrogance, doubts, flaws and history . . . Minimize your mistakes and let time and pressure do their thing. Time and pressure are your friends."

Tiger Woods knows this. He won 52 of the 56 times in which he was ahead in professional tournaments. New York Yankees superstar pitcher Mariano Rivera knows this. He closes out with a win 89% of the time. Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi knew this. He closed out to a victory 75% of the time. Tennis champion Chris Evert knew this. She won 7 French Opens and 6 U.S. Opens.

--Joe Posnanski, & (May 12, 2013)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Grand Slam Diet? Make it Gluten-Free . . .

More sport scientists and nutritionists are being persuaded about the dramatic potential of a gluten-free diet.

Though not all are yet convinced, the rise of tennis superstars Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, two gluten-free advocates, have prompted many experts to convert. 

Many now say that gluten, not sugar and fat alone, may be at the heart of many health and conditioning issues. 

A gluten-free diet is believed by advocates to boost energy levels, assist in weight control, and improve recovery and mental clarity.

What is gluten? It's a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.

Where is it found? It's found in pasta, pizza, cereals, biscuits, cakes, chips, dips, beer, flavored milk and other foods.

What does it do which is harmful? It slows the digestive tract. This is because gluten forces the body to break it down - and the foods carrying it - into sugar. 

The digestive tract is thus diverted from one of it's natural functions - naturally breaking down fat in the body. 

And over time, it is thought the digestive tract might even be compromised. Long-term effects: bloating, abdominal discomfort, muscular and joint problems, fatigue, lack of focus and many others.

Solution? Remove gluten. Says tennis coach Pete McGraw, who has helped develop top players such as Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic:

"Cutting out wheat-based products such as bread and pasta could be the best thing you ever do. The energy level you which have is something I have never experienced before. It's a completely different energy source your body is operating from. The ability to maintain a lean athletic figure is effortless."


For more see:
"Grand Slam diet: How to Supercharge Your Body", Gary Morely, CNN

Tips for Going Gluten-Free, CNN Health