Three important visual skills that can be easily enhanced for tennis players are eye movement accuracy, dynamic visual acuity and eye-hand coordination. The following are a few exercises that I send home with my tennis-playing patients to help them keep these skills as sharp as possible.
Skill #1: Eye movement accuracy
Eye tracking in tennis is the ability to locate the ball precisely on your opponent’s racket and follow it to your racket as you return the shot. This should be done with as little head movement as possible. Head and neck movement is inefficient, increases stress, uses extra energy, and causes the athlete to lose balance because of stimulation of the inner ear. The athlete should try to free their eyes, independent of head movement and use visual information in concentrating on the ball while controlling balance. It certainly is easier to move two eyes that weigh several ounces, instead of a head weighing 15 pounds!
Place an ink dot on the center of each thumbnail and stand comfortably with one arm loosely extended in front of you. Now, move your thumb continuously in a circle while keeping your eyes on the dot on your thumbnail. Do this 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise, then repeat using the other arm. Concentrate on keeping your head and neck muscles still while you are following the dot on the thumbnail. As you improve, change the size of the circular pattern that you are making.
After one week of daily practice, start taking small steps forward, sideways, backward, and diagonally while following the dot on the thumbnail. Increase your speed to simulate dynamic movements on the tennis court. Use this as a visual warm-up.
Skill #2: Dynamic visual acuity
The ability to see clearly while following a moving target is extremely important in sports such as tennis, baseball, hockey, racquetball, squash, football, and all other sports that require following a moving object while also moving your body.
You will need a children’s record player with speeds of 33, 45, and 78 RPM. Cut out various headline-size letters from a newspaper and tape them to various parts of a record. Turn on the record player at the 33 RPM speed, disengage the record arm, and read out the large letters as they turn. Pick one large letter in the center of the record and try to keep it in clear focus for five minutes. After one week of daily practice, change the letters, increase the speed to 45 RPM, and use smaller and smaller letters. Continue to 78 RPM, remembering to use only your eyes without moving your head.
Skill #3: Eye-hand coordination
Eye-hand coordination is the integration of eyes leading and directing hands in order to perform a task. This integration is of critical importance in tennis, as the two eyes tell the hand where the ball is, when it will be there, and they direct the swing for an accurate hit. It is a learned skill, highly dependent upon eye movement accuracy, dynamic eyesight, and the two eyes coordinating together.
Take off the cap of a pen and hold it directly in front of you, using your dominant or preferred hand for tennis. Close one eye and move the pen into the cap. Steer the pen with your eyes all the way into the cap. Repeat five times, moving the cap further and closer each time. Close the other eye and repeat five times. As you improve, move the cap to different positions (up, right, down, left, etc.), simulating the positions of hitting a tennis ball. After daily practice for one week and once improvement occurs, continue the exercise using smaller targets (such as a toothpick and a drinking straw).