Are You Watching the Tennis Ball?

Guest Authored by Michael Emmett, Tennis Professional, Mayfair Lakeshore

Watch the Ball


Teaching the sport of tennis is a complicated thing.  There is so much to focus on!  It helps to break the fundamentals of the sport into 4 main categories – technical, tactical, physical & psychological.  But how do you know which of the 4 are the most critical to focus on?

In my lessons, I tend to spend a lot of time with my students covering the many different technical necessities – contact point, stance, footwork, grip, grip pressure, breathing, racquet face, finish, body position, rotation – however – none of these techniques are relevant – if you’re NOT watching the ball!

What Do the Best Coaches Say?

It sounds so simple.  But few tennis players watch the ball all the way to the strings. “90 percent of amateur club players are NOT watching the ball 90 percent of the time.”  This statistic is a number generated by tennis coaches who attend tennis conferences and make educated guesses on what they see on the courts.  This is what the greatest coaches in the world are saying.  There is no scientific proof that these statistics are spot on – but as a coach who is on court for many hours of the day – I am sure there is a lot of validity to these numbers.

Why Should You Watch the Ball?

Watching the ball is the most basic, elementary concept, however, it is incredibly difficult for so many tennis players.  If your eyes leave the ball before the ‘finish line’ you have ZERO percent chance of hitting a clean, penetrating shot. You can’t generate power or precision if your eyes are wondering near the contact point. Players who don’t watch the ball are wild, erratic, inconsistent & lacking in confidence.

When 2 players are playing singles & not watching the ball on a consistent basis – the rallies are painfully short.  As a result, in a 60-min session, there might be only 7 or 8 minutes of activity.  That’s a lot of walking and chasing balls just to start the next rally. Ten (10) ball rallies should be the norm with an opponent of equal skill.  Rallies of 10 or more is great for fitness, technique and point construction.

Look for the Logo

In a feeding scenario (repetitive feeds with similar height, speed & spin) when the objective is simply to work on technique, the student has a decent shot at watching the ball where he or she might be able to read the label on the ball as it gets in range.  Watching for the logo or the seams on the ball is a great tool used to calm one’s nerves and relax in some of the most nerve wrecking situations that tennis can present.

However, if the situation is a ‘real’ point then the likelihood of the player watching the ball off the strings is virtually zero.  Tennis players pull their eyes from the ball before contact for so many reasons – fear, doubt, nerves, habit, change of direction, moving parts & slowness of ball – but it’s impossible to hit a good shot if you’re focusing on the target and not the yellow object that travels through the air – sometimes – at crazy speeds.

Don’t Get Distracted!

When I ask my students why they are not watching the ball I most often hear – that there are too many distractions and moving parts.  Distraction is difficult to avoid, especially in doubles, but it’s essential if you’re going to be a 4.0+ tennis player.

It Takes Discipline!

There is so much technique involved to be a great tennis player and as coaches we are equipped to give you that knowledge.  But if the foundation isn’t properly in place (watching the ball) then there is no point in going the extra mile with all the extras.  Learning to watch the ball takes time and effort.  It takes discipline, commitment and tons of reps for this to become second nature.  Watching the ball in non-stressful situations is relatively easy compared to pressured packed situations when the things around you seem to be moving at lightning speed.  The higher the stakes the more likely you are to NOT watch the ball, and this leads to unforced errors and frustration.

Quick Tips to Get Started

In the short term, the most important thing is to determine if you are or are not watching the ball.  If your eyes are moving off the ball even slightly before contact –  your shot is being compromised. This seems like an easy fix.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  This is a tricky technique that takes time to overcome.  Stay with the process and make it an objective going forward.

You will reap the rewards if you make this vital change to your game.  3.0 tennis players can jump up all the way to 4.0 with this necessary adjustment.  Stay the course and talk to your Mayfair Clubs tennis professional if this issue is giving you trouble or if you need advice on how to fix this nasty habit permanently.  Once this becomes routine then you can move on and start working on all the other 1000 things that need to be mastered!

Don’t forget to watch the ball!

If you’d like to speak to Michael or learn more about our tennis programs at Mayfair Clubs, email us at



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