Did you know that there is only one human activity which taxes dynamic vision skills more than tennis?

The answer will amaze you and should play a role in your choice of eye protection/sunglass products for tennis. Understandably, few sunglass manufacturers produce product which has the necessary visual accuracy that tennis demands.  The task of watching a small ball go from optical infinity to reading distance on such a continuous basis is enormously difficult for the visual/motor system.  Pictured below is the miraculously complex visual system with only a couple of its nearby muscles.  Don’t forget the brain needs training to interpret what this system sends it, then a call to action is initiated, then the muscles in the rest of the body try to comply!

As background, “static vision skills” are those tested by a typical Optometrist. They are used to read efficiently or see objects clearly at a variety of distances. For example, though this page does not move, your eyes have still learned to recognize the letters, comprehend their meaning, and move smoothly from line to line. A set of skills that can be improved if desired. The movement in these “static” movement skills are related to those required for tennis.

“Dynamic Visual Acuity” is a more complex set of occular muscle skills needed to track moving objects efficiently.  Only a handful of eye care professionals are trained in evaluating these skills in the United States. Even fewer have the experience to improve these skills predictably.  For the actual list of eye skills used in SVT, see the original research below called, “Visual Skills of the Human Eye”.

Amazingly, even the most skilled athletes can improve their visual skills with highly specialized and supervised computer exercises. Dr. Polan even guarantees improvement in batting percentage for baseball players! For more information on his incredible work, go to: http://www.DrGaryPolan.com

The key to understanding this new science is that: ALL VISUAL SKILLS ARE LEARNED, NOT INHERITED!

Q.  So, what is the most challenging human activity to the “Dynamic Visual Acuity” skills for the eyes?  Even more than tennis?  A.  Jet Fighter Pilot!

Original Research

Visual Skills of the Human Eye

by Jonathan Bailin, Ph.D. & Dr. Gary Polan, O.D.
Exercise Physiology/Biomechanics/Ergonomics
Sports Medicine & Ergonomics Associates

Submitted in 1997

The author has collaborated with his associate, Dr. Gary Polan, O.D. many times.  Dr. Polan is a pioneer in the field of Sports Vision Training (SVT) and/or Vision Training (VT) since 1984 (*).  In 1996, his work received corroboration by the staff at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at the UCLA Medical School (**).  Here, we will outline all the individual skills required by the visual system to perform at its peak that now form the science of VT and SVT.

Dr. Polan’s experience in training and improvement of visual skills has resulted in “surprising” advances in most learning disabled cases.  Improvements in intellectual activity which are generally unexpected, but very welcomed by parents, have not been well documented by rigorous research designs to date.  Still, we are confident that a product like Sportwall will play a significant role in improving reading skills, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Dyslexia.

Few realize that reading is a motor activity like sports!  Just one of the many common reading flaws is transposing letters like “ea” to “ae”.  When the number or severity of flaws effects performance or comprehension, VT or SVT is warranted.

So, before any improvement in reading or athletic performance can take place the visual system must be engaged.  What are the exact skills that the eyes posses that can influence performance?

Introduction to Visual Skills

First, readers of this proposal should realize that ALL visual skills are learned. From infancy, the vision skills that we take for granted have been built gradually over time.  Contrary to folklore, the are not precisely genetically predetermined and can be improved.

Fact:  visual skills, no matter how polished by a our activities or sports, can be improved in a clinical or private practice setting.  Sports careers, worth millions of dollars, can be improved and lengthened past their usual expirations.  One of Dr. Polan’s more famous patients Carl Lewis, says that more of his records would still be standing today had he experienced SVT during his competitive career.

Visual skills can be divided into 3 sub areas: Visual Acuity, Visual Efficacy, and Visual Processing. Visual Acuity is measured by standard optometric tests commonly used for eye prescriptions including standard eye chart examinations.

Visual Efficacy can be measured by testing among the 24 areas listed below which include focusing, convergence, divergence, etc. Visual Processing can be evaluated by tests which measure the extent of learning disabilities such as Reading Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Dyslexia as found in items 2, 7, I5, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, and 24. Most ADD and Dyslexia is responsive to treatments for visual/perceptual deficiencies in these areas of training thus often diminished or alleviated completely.

Visual Efficacy Skills

All movement mechanics during sports are enhanced by eye skills and eye health.  In turn, improvements in several areas of eye skills will enhance eye performance during motor activity.  For example, reaction time is first dependent on the visual accuracy and recognition skills listed.  To acquaint the reader with the proposed research, a brief review of each eye skill which can positively effect motor performance must be considered.  Please note that Visual Efficacy Skills are a subset of all the visual skills listed below.


1) Visual Acuity-your ability to achieve a sharp resolution of an image can be divided into static acuity (stationary images) and dynamic acuity (resolution of images in motion).

Static Visual Acuity–Corrected or not, your eyes should have 20/15 vision for high speed activities. “20/15” vision means that is you see at 20 feet what the average person only sees accurately at IS feet away.

Dynamic Visual Acuity–the ability to see sharply while the player, opponent, and ball are all in motion. This ability is made up of many other skills such as Convergence, Focusing, Tracking, and Interpretation, etc. Following the action with the eyes rather than the head or body is more efficient and puts less stress on the balance and muscular-nervous system.

2) Visualization—is the ability to plan, imagine, and prepare for upcoming motor skills and movements.  Some sports scientists believe visualization of needed skills is more efficient than coaching “pep talks”.

3) Peripheral Vision–is critical to awareness of other important things while watching the ball such as your teammates, boundaries, or opponents.

4) Depth Perception—is the ability to quickly and accurately judge the distance between yourself and your opponent, teammates, targets, and boundary lines while judging the speed, rotation, and flight path of the ball.  Billy J King rates this above court speed and eye-hand coordination for junior tennis players.  Quickly diminished by those who stare during the day-students, programmers, and executives may play poorer tennis during the week than week end for this reason.

5) Visual Pursuit—is the ability to use the eyes to follow a moving object smoothly and accurately. This critical skill is based on good eye teaming and eye muscle balance but it cannot track a ball smoothly at high speeds where Saccadic Movement takes over.

6) Saccadic Movement-is the ability of the eyes to “jump” from one point to another when speeds exceed those of visual pursuit. This skill is used in reading to jump from one word to the next. If this skill is poor, reading ability is affected!  Quick, accurate saccades are used to survey rapidly with as little head movement as necessary. Head movement is a less efficient method of eye tracking and can confuse balance.  Unnecessary head movements, and eyelid reflexes to flinch, must be overcome with training.

7) Visual Concentration-describes the cooperation between Visual Pursuit, Saccadic Movement, and Visualization in the “minds eye” or imagination. This skill is not scientifically well defined yet, but is exemplified by tennis players who must switch concentration rapidly from target, to ball, to processes of planning and prediction which are critical to performance.

8) Speed Of Focusing-is the ability to shift focus from near, intermediate, and far distance. This eye muscle skill is subject to the same fatigue which affects other muscles over the course of exercise.

9) Glare Recovery Speed-is the ability to see clearly after looking toward intense light. Focusing near sun, and at tennis court lights, causes “dazzle” to the retina.

10) Sight in dim illumination.

11) Eye Muscle Stamina-is the ability to withstand fatigue without decreased performance in a variety of eye tasks.

12) Color Perception—is not critical but may play a role in optic yellow against white lines and line calls.

13) Eye Dominance—is the ability of the sight in one eye to dominate images from the other.  Tennis players generally prefer strokes on the same side as the dominant eye which is usually the right, for right handed players, over 80% of the time.

14) Fixation Ability-is the skill of preventing eye fatigue which comes from staring at objects too long. Receivers with poor fixation skills fatigue within a few seconds of staring at the server.  Other players do not, but staring should be avoided.

15) Visual Memory—is the accumulation of past experiences such as the number of proper swings logged in a players “motor program file”. This combined with visualization for future swings is probably a major factor in consistency during competition. Visual memory fades with time.

16)  Spatial Localization-Knowing your position relative to other objects especially while you, ball, and opponent are moving.

16a) Esophoria—players who see the world CLOSER than reality, tend to hit/throw shorter.

16b) Exophoria–players who see the world FARTHER than reality, tend to hit/throw longer.  We believe Shaquille O’Neal was a good example of this.

17a)  Speed of Recognition Time-is how fast can you identify images.

17b) Reaction Time–How fast can you react to those images.

18) Eyes to Body Coordination–is the ability to integrate what you see into an appropriate and coordinated response from your body parts (aka: Visual/Motor Integration).

19) Contrast Sensitivity—the ability to pick out an important object against a field of other objects.

20) Visual Attention-is the skill used to prepare the eyes and brain which heightens its readiness for an upcoming task. This is a precursor to Visual/Motor Organization.   Of course, the body can influence this system which is one reason why elite tennis players bounce during the opponents contact.

21) Figure/Ground–is the ability to pick out an object in the foreground against a variety of background fields; to discriminate the figure to be attended to and to see the interrelationships to its background information.

22) Visual/Motor Organization–is the ordering and organization of motor skills; to choose from a “catalog” of motor programs for meaningful and productive action.

23) Jump Duction–the ability to move from visual tasks that require convergence to divergence of the eyes and back.  Jump Duction deals with vergence; the activity of the extraocular muscles to diverge for distance, and converge for near objects rapidly and efficiently.

24)  Auditory/Tachistoscopic Skills— are those which help sound and sight skills complement each other during visual processing. It is the auditory/visual integration ability of an individual which coordinates inputs into a meaningful perception and to shift priority and attention from one to the other when necessary.  Years ago, preventing air traffic over the US Open tennis tournament in New York was initiated for this reason.  Players had to hear the serve as well as see it.

Auditory specialists can better assess the ability to discern background from foreground sounds similar to the way we will assess background to foreground objects. This is an area worthy of much more study. There is much potential to design audio triggers, cues, and scoring tones here.  Consider the bell for a horse race!


The list of “Visual Skills” above items 1-24 is Copyright (c) Jonathan Bailin. Ph.D. 1997. Reproduction by author’s permission only.

* Hoflinan, L., Polan, G., Powell, J. The relationship of contrast sensitivity functions to sports vision” Journal of the American Optometric Association 55:10,747-752, Oct 1984.
** Laby, Rosenbaum, Kirschen, Davidson, Rosenbaum, Strasser, Mellman “the visual Function of professional baseball players” American Journal of Opthalmologv 122:4,476-485. Oct. 1996.

Keywords:  sports vision training, SVT, vision training, VT, eye skills, reading skills, sports performance, sports career enhancement, visual acuity, visual efficacy, motor learning, eye performance, eye health

Take Home Tennis (THT)

“Take Home Tennis” and “THT” are copyrighted expressions of Jonathan (c) Bailin, Ph.D. 2007 and may not be used without his expressed written consent.

Some mannerisms of the pros you should take home, others NOT!  Which mannerisms are right for me?

How do they apply to my game?  What does a leading Ph.D. in tennis biomechanics think?

Answer:  “THT” can put the “TNT” into your game!
Eastern and western medicine now agree that the body can effect the mind and the mind can effect the body.
For tennis players, learning to focus the mind to help prepare the body for the type of intense physical demands
of a competitive point require practice, off the court, and even between points!

Click on the YouTube link below to watch the following sequence which portrays the rituals used by Maria Sharapova before her serve.




Psychologists might call them ritualized behaviors and tennis coaches know that they can make a huge difference in how an athlete responds moments later under competitive stress.  Of all the top players, Maria Sharapova’s rituals are probably the most pronounced and repeated.

Each of her ritualized mannerisms can be associated with a useful subtext.  Her body “tells” her mind to apply itself to the task and stress of tennis in a sequence of ways.  After repetition, her cody and mind learn to respond to these behavioral messages to optimally prepare for a point.

The “Serve and Rituals” video linked above portrays the following messages her body sends to her mind:  “Forget about the last point, keep your mind here, get your feet ready to react, secure your hair, and get in tempo for the serve”.  She set the standard that many players on the tour copy.  Find the parts of their preparation rituals that are right for you.  You can take THESE home!


Hey TennisDr:

This may be a stupid question, but I’m having trouble getting depth on my groundstrokes.  What’s the best way to do that?

Shorty From Miniville

Dear Shorty:

Don’t make the mistake of hitting the ball faster. Imitating what they see the pros doing can be “fools gold” for recreational players.  Stay within your most accurate racket speed range and just aim higher above the net. Unlike the pros, recreational players should be hitting their ground stroke about TEN feet above the net to get depth. Good luck with your groundies!



Dear TennisDr:

First of all, I loved our USTA team’s clinic with you last week from beginning to end, especially our work with the Australian Formation and “I” [Ey] Formation.  Both formations worked amazingly well in our last line 3 doubles match which we won easily.  I’ve never had so many winners at the net.

At one point our opponents tried to lob us, but that didn’t work well because we dropped back a bit and my partner Larry is… (you can’t teach it), very tall.  It was all a big party until the next day and my knees started reminded me of all the “crouching”.

Thanks so much!

Dear Mitch:

First, thanks for coming to the doubles clinic and your kind words.  I will keep you posted on any openings I get in future doubles classes at your level of skill.  Congratulations for throwing a doubles
“curve ball” at your opponents!

As you can tell, my philosophy is to work on the subtleties that make a doubles player and team more dangerous.  That includes having more tools and better teamwork than other teams.   The servers
partner standing at the net at their traditional post does little to challenge a receiver mentally or physically.

These alternative tactics are what the pros use to make a net player take at least 50% of the responsibility for holding serve.  The easier holding serve becomes, the more a good team can focus on breaking.  The tempo, the longer games, then tip toward your opponents who are struggling to hold and more opportunities to break them.

As far as your knees go, use “I” formation/Aussie formation more sporadically with the following factors in mind:  early in the set to let them know you’ve got a rabid dog on a leash, when your team gets behind, against the better receiver, against the ad court player (where the game is usually won or lost), and certainly in a tie breaker.

Pick and choose your moments to “unleash the hounds”!  Above all, have fun mixing up your strategy and keeping your opponents off balance.


The longest tennis match in history got a great Letterman mention!
Thanks to: World Wide Pants/CBS Late Show

Dear TennisDr:

Though I came from baseball, and hoped to be big league player, I’m glad to be into competitive tennis now that I’m in my 40’s. After 5 straight wins in 3.5 level USTA tournaments, I got my first loss in the semis of my first 4.0 event. I’m proud to have a win/loss of 5-1.

To be honest, I often went off in baseball when things didn’t go my way but I’m proud to have handled my first tennis tournament loss in a mature way like a gentleman. I can tell this will make it easier to learn from the defeat with a clear mind. That’s new to me. I only wish I had had this skill set in baseball. Please comment on the differences in mental approach and pressure in the two sports. Thanks.

Martin G.

Hey Martin:

Your accomplishment of learning how to take tennis loses gracefully, let them motivate you to improve, and come back stronger is huge. It is an enormous personal accomplishment you should be very proud of no doubt.

The differences in the psychological pressure on the athlete between the two sports is giant. Let’s explore the mindset of tennis and baseball players and what they are up against in terms of performance stress. Putting each sport in its place in terms of its demands on the human psyche is particularly useful for you because you had hopes of being an MLB player.

Let’s start with the demands of professional baseball, which aside from pitching skills, is mostly ruled by “at bat” percentage. In baseball, every “at bat” is a chance to get to, or maintain, a place on a big league roster instead of being “sent down” or remaining in lower leagues. That makes the mental stress enormous on every swing. The cruel and inhumanly difficult differences between being successful a fifth of the time (.200), a fourth of the time (.250), and a third of the time (.333) means a seat at the “big show”, or not.

These stats form a pretty hard barrier, a practical WALL to this pro sport. The mental skill set you’ve described in tennis, is WAY more difficult to achieve in baseball. It also explains the temptation to enhance performance artificially. That temptation is no where near as great in tennis for many reasons, but still obviously exists.

We are very lucky in tennis in that our swings are WAY more often successful than baseball, right? It’s why tennis is so amazingly fun. We are successful VERY often in terms of individual execution of skills. Whether that translates into winning a tournament or not is a TOTALLY different subject.

First Martin, I suggest you drop the notion from baseball of the win/lose record. There is no greater difference in tennis skill than 3.5 and 4.0 levels, so its time to reboot how you measure success for this totally new marketplace.

In tennis from elite to recreational player, you lose a match and there is another tourney next week to try again. The season does not suddenly end for unsatisfactory performance.  The fluctuations of all the athletes having good weeks, days, sets and bad weeks, days, sets is expected.

It’s a bit of a stormy sea but tennis players learn to paddle over the waves and get through the white cap chop from time to time. There are long intervals of glassy water too. Both are human and make the sport fun and unique.   Treating the ups and downs with a business like approach will bring the most success.

You would like the article about Stan Wawrinka in this months Tennis Magazine. Of course, it is a story of a player that had to accommodate the long shadow of his friend Roger Federer.   Patience in response to adversity is the theme here.

Keep in mind that for every tourney with a 64 player draw, 63 will lose. Those who lose MIGHT be tempted to think about there win/loss record, but my advice is to treat that thought like a dark, underwater cave that tennis players learn not to explore. The great coaches and players learn to always judge their success by incremental improvements in strategy and execution in every outing.  This effort is independent of that record.

The great sports coaches would agree that if you continue to work on your game, the wins and loses will take care of themselves.  Good luck with your tennis Martin!


The most physically dangerous variation, may be the best bet. Still, the TennisDr says, “Don’t try this at home!”

Probably the oldest tennis tournament in the country, if you haven’t been to “The Ojai”, you haven’t seen tennis!

No. 13 Stanford Fights Back To Beat No. 19 USC Women In Pac-12 Title Match -Trojans take a 4-2 loss to the Cardinal in Ojai.  April 20, 2016

OJAI, CALIF. — The No. 19 USC women’s tennis team carried a nine-match win streak into today’s showdown in Ojai. The Pac-12 Championship was on the line, with the No. 19 Women of Troy squaring off against No. 13 Stanford in a battle for the conference crown at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club. USC would craft an early lead, but the Cardinal would work its way into control of this one, finally topping the Trojans 4-2 in a comeback push to claim the 2016 Pac-12 crown. The USC women now hold a 12-5 overall record and will wait to resume team competition once the NCAA Team Championship bracket announcement is made on May 3. Tomorrow marks the start of the Pac-12 Championships, running April 21-24 in Ojai with conference singles and doubles titles up for grabs.
The TennisDr encourages everyone to play this lifetime sport for fun and exercise.  I work with many who want an introduction so they can hit more and pick up balls less.  Great!
On the other hand, for those bitten by the “Tennis Bug”, who want to be the best they can be–this note is for you!  The “Academy Style” is the most successful way to coach all levels of players because after the main strokes are created, players are matched by level of proficiency, individual skills, and sequences of skills are isolated for repetition and improvement.
After that, all the skill sets are tested under competitive conditions to assess execution under pressure.   A 10 or 15 point format rather than standard tennis scoring (e.g. love, 15, 30…) is most conducive to tweaking decision making and shot selection during competition.  Longer competition formats also give servers and receivers plenty of time to tinker with execution and strategy against particular peers and their shots.

Coaching “under fire” provides strategic and/or executional feedback between points like college tennis.  You will quickly notice that tennis practice and tennis competition, pose very different challenges.  Proper practice, like academic homework, deserves at least twice the minutes of competition.The “Academy Style” is used at all the major universities.  College tennis is the only daily competition in which coaching is allowed during a match.  That is why the best tennis coaches in the world are American college tennis coaches.  They must learn to interject strategy and encouragement during natural breaks (30 or 90 seconds!) in play while watching 2 or 3 matches at a time!

Players looking to raise their level need that next level of “stream of consciousness”, the train of business like thoughts and evaluations, which reduces large swings in emotion, that elite players and professionals posses.  After weapons and moves are standardized, the sport becomes more like chess than checkers.  The beauty of the sport is that age and experience can overcome youth, strength, and speed.  What if you had both?!!!

Metal Halide outdoor tennis lighting fixtures should be cleaned at least every two years. The bulbs should be replaced at that time because labor is the same. Special Note: these bulbs decrease quickly toward half their new performance in almost FIVE YEARS!