If you've ever taken a tennis class, you've probably heard your coach tell you to "watch the ball." But what do tennis legends like Federer and Nadal do when a serve at 150 mph comes at them? It takes 700 milliseconds for a serve to reach the returner and 500 milliseconds to process the information. Even after your brain takes the hint, it takes 150 milliseconds to swing the racket.
Here is a tennis serve coming at you with 150 mph.
It can't be that their brain processes everything faster than us tennis amateurs.
So what's the secret?
The best players don't watch the ball. They:
1. Watch the opponent's hips, shoulders, and feet move
2. Pay attention to the spin of the ball
3. Anticipate where the ball is going to bounce
Pro players don't leave anything to chance. They anticipate. By observing and predicting the ball's path, tennis players can move faster and hit winning returns. With hours of practice, they are sensitive to movements average players don't even notice.
Thinking ahead and reflecting makes the most out of each decision or experience. High performers don't just work harder. They approach practice differently. By predicting, observing, and later reflecting on each training session, they develop stamina, intuition, and decision-making capabilities much faster.
Take two runners, Sally and Julia. Sally makes a plan to sprint up hills, observe her body while doing it, and at the end, reflect on her effort and outcome. Julia goes out to jog every few days and stops when she feels tired. Who is going to is better prepared for a race, Sally or Julia?
High performers have a structure for each practice. First, they make an intention about what to accomplish. Each session begins with setting a clear and actionable goal. Then, they go through training and observe themselves from an objective view. How do they feel? What doesn't feel right? How would they correct it? They examine themselves as a scientist watches a specimen. Once the practice is over, they reflect on the intention. How do they compare? Did they achieve their goal? Did they deviate from it? What could be the reason? Reflection internalizes what happened on the field and distills complex interactions into actionable steps for the next day.
So for the next class, start by looking further ahead. It's an advantage that will not only make you better on the court but better prepared for difficult times (cough cough 2020). Most people look at what is directly in front of them, usually the news and trends. But all it takes is lifting your gaze a little to get a new perspective.