Saturday, March 26, 2022

Tennis and Implicit Bias

"Sometimes, we don't even know our blind spots,
until we first start seeing."

I. Introduction
The science of Implicit Bias is a developing and growing field of study in society. Implicit Bias often surreptitiously affects people and their behaviors, sometimes for good but more often for ill. Many people operate with Implicit Bias in different activities in life, sometimes without even knowing it. We as fallible humans probably can never escape it altogether. But recognizing it, and finding ways to overcome it, offers us the promise of more productive, improved and happier lives.

II. What is Implicit Bias?
Implicit Bias is an preconceived attitude about something based on past experience -- and it's often something we are not even aware of. Implicit Bias refers specifically to an unconscious preference or aversion to a person, group, culture, trait, idea or thing.

Our human brains operate everyday on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Think about it. Do you make your daily coffee or tea without thinking much about it? Have you driven to your favorite local store or lunch spot without remembering the drive or the directions? We thus cannot help but spend a lot of our waking hours engaged in actions on an unconscious stealth platform.

Indeed, our senses are continuously flooded with information from our world which can never be fully processed. Did you know that the human brain intakes about 11 billion bits of incoming data every second? But that only about 40 to 50 bits of data are actually processed logically and rationally. In fact, it's widely known that we only use about 5% of our brain's grey matter.

Therefore, brain scientists say that we intuitively use what are called "Cognitive Shortcuts" to process data -- a preconceived psychological framework to understand things quickly based on our past experiences. Sometimes, these shortcuts are driven simply by our own fears and laziness.

Still don't believe it? Try taking the Project Implicit test, offered by Harvard University. 


It's free. You may be surprised at what you find out about yourself. Most of us have pre-formed attitudes of one sort or another about a range of things: including for example gender, race, culture, language, sexual orientation, single parents, unemployed people, handicapped persons, and many other topics.

III. How does Implicit Bias show in tennis?
So how does all this apply to tennis?

As a sporting activity in life, tennis is not immune from Implicit Bias.

Let's take three (3) simple examples from the practice and match courts.

1. Tennis is a racket sport played by swinging the arm with a racket at the ball.
For most non-tennis lay people, this is the way the game looks - arm-y and racket-y. But high-level players know the real truth: Tennis is a game of body and core rotation, and footwork. At its best, it's actually played in the lower half of your body, and from the ground up.

2. I'm a baseliner, not a volleyer.
Many players learn the baseline game first. And when they enjoy some success with it, they stick to it and don't bother with the net game.

3. I'm not a good server (or I'm not a good returner).
Some players know, even before tennis, they never had a very good throwing (or serving) motion in baseball, football or other school sports. Others never has much success returning a tennis ball served by a high-level server, and the image sticks.

IV. How do you overcome Implicit Bias?
The good news is that the human brain is malleable and not hard wired, say brain scientists. In other words, we can become aware of our biases and then re-program our brain. Often, Implicit Bias is based on certain past experiences. By engaging in new experiences, we can form a basis to alter our biases. 

Ways to De-Bias ourselves:
*Educate yourself about Implicit Bias, and take the Project Implicit test
*Be on guard for any possible biases in your thought processes
*Slow down, and write out what your biases might be
*Expose yourself to different and diverse experiences, events and people
*Try Micro-messaging: this refers to surrounding yourself with messages, symbols and objects to remind yourself about overcoming bias (In one example, the U.S. Congress began to display statues of women leaders of color such as Rosa Parks to remind legislators of the important contributions of American women in history)

Let's take our tennis examples.

Bias: Tennis is an arm and racket sport.
False. Be on guard, aware and observe closely every time you see players in action that the game is actually one of body & core rotation and footwork.

Bias: I'm a baseliner. No need to volley.
False. Learn, drill and experience the power and success of volleys, and re-program your self-image. Bring along in your tennis bag small pictures of top players executing a successful volley to glance at between sets.

Bias: I'm not a good server.
False. It's only limiting yourself. Learn , drill and experience new and different types and styles of serving. Keep watching videos of favorite top servers serving aces to build confidence and develop role models.

V. Conclusion
Implicit Bias presents itself in many activities in life, including even tennis. In tennis, Implicit Bias can hinder our play level and results by limiting our self-image. But we can be on guard and re-program our brains to overcome it, and reach higher performance levels. 

1. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think and Do, By Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Ph.D., (Viking: New York, NY, 2019)
2. Project Implicit, Harvard University at
3. Implicit Bias in Law and Lawyers, Geeta N. Kapur, Esq. (Video Lecture: 2019)