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The little known ingredient is Silent Knowledge, and chances are you’ve likely never heard of it.
You’re probably thinking, “What is Silent Knowledge and what’s it got to do with improving my game?” And If I told you that doing drills can unlock the secret to harnessing the power of Silent Knowledge, you might be equally intrigued to know exactly how this happens.
The Secrets of Silent Knowledge: Using Conscious Effort to Produce Subconscious Action
Let’s say you are trying to learn how to move to hit a topspin forehand down-the-line. How can you learn to do it consistently? The movement pattern used to hit this shot well requires you to:
• Use the right footwork to position yourself;
• Prepare your upper body to hit the stroke on the way to the ball; and
• Then to direct the ball with enough spin to keep it in the court.
When you are trying to learn a movement pattern like this, that has many parts to it, it is almost impossible to consciously focus on every phase of the movement pattern. I can promise you, though, if you can learn to harness the power of Silent Knowledge, you can learn to hit this shot consistently. But first …
What is Silent Knowledge and How Does it Work?
To understand silent knowledge we have to first admit that the conscious thought process most of us use involves talking to ourselves about the ideas we happen to be considering. Right now, as you read the words on this page, you are speaking to yourself, saying the words in your mind as your eyes take in the letters, spaces, and punctuation marks that by their nature are intended to reproduce the spoken word. When your tennis coach gives you instructions, most of the ideas are passed on by what he or she says. A good coach will repeatedly use verbal commands to get you to complete a particular movement pattern, like the simple command sequence to “turn, step, and swing.”
• Eventually, you begin to repeat these commands to yourself as you do it over and over again.
• You begin to make the coach’s command your own, telling yourself to do it over and over again; eventually your body automatically obeys your command.
• After enough repetitions, speaking to your self is no longer necessary; Silent Knowledge begins to provide the unspoken command.
• Instead of focusing conscious attention, the thought and action have become subconscious habit, and an instinct to action has become ingrained. You “turn, step, and swing” without thinking about it. The actions have entered the realm of Silent Knowledge and conscious attention is no longer required.
Drills: Unlocking the Secret to Harnessing the Power of Silent Knowledge
Doing drills repetitively and regularly can help us unlock the secret of Silent Knowledge. One way of approaching it would be to break the pattern down and painstakingly repeat one progression that focuses on the footwork pattern, another which focuses on the upper body movements up to ball contact, and then another progression that completes the upper body movements after ball contact. Here’s how:
3 Separate Progressions to Use to Hit the Forehand Topspin Down-the -Line
1. Footwork – In the first footwork progression out of the ready stance, you should learn to a.) take a pivot step and upper body unit turn to the forehand side, b.) then take a cross over step, and c.) stop and line up your feet in either an open or semi-closed hitting stance.
You can do this without the racket (and in case you are having a bit of difficulty, without a ball). But by stopping in a hitting stance and catching an incoming ball, you will improve your hand-eye coordination as you rotate your arm and hand forward to reach for the ball.
This progression is incomplete, however, until you re-assume the ready stance and take shuffle steps to recover to the starting position. And you must repeat all of this enough so that you can do it successfully over and over again.
2. Stroke Mechanics up to Ball Contact – Then add the racket in the second progression. Bring your racket forward the same way you reached to catch the ball, stopping at contact in a way that ensures that the racket is parallel to the net and flush with the back of the ball, sending it on a straight line forwards towards the other side of the court.
Then you must recover using shuffle steps to return to the starting position. Once you can successfully move into position, direct the ball on a straight line across the net and into the court, and then recover, you must complete this progression over and over again, making sure that you continue to hold yourself in the hitting stance up to contact, until it becomes second nature for you to hit the ball in this manner, before taking shuffle steps to return again and again to the starting position.
3. Beyond Ball Contact through the Follow-Through – In the third progression you need to add bringing the racket up and across the body through ball contact in a follow-through that completes the forehand groundstroke motion and imparts topspin to the ball as it leaves your racket.
By now, you will already have developed the essential skills of focusing attention on contacting the ball, directing it on a straight line towards the other side of the court, while maintaining balance and stability through ball contact, and recovering to the start position after each attempt.
Bringing the racket up through contact and following through across the body will add the topspin needed to keep the ball in the court.
How Repeating Drill Progressions Improve Fitness
In the book I am working on, “Tennis for Fitness/Fitness for Tennis,” I explore the details of how cardiovascular and neuromuscular endurance, and the acquisition of skill, depend on continued and frequent repetition. Drills that focus on improving a particular skill, like hitting a topspin forehand down the line, help you to do just that.
• Begin with the basic drill of moving to one side of the court to hit the shot, then recover to the center, and later on, add moving to the other side of the court to hit a ball coming to that side of the court, and recover. Repeating this process will not only help you learn the footwork patterns and stroke mechanics it involves, when done repeatedly and frequently over an extended period of time, it will build endurance in the muscles you use to move through the progressions and provide an effective aerobic workout in the process.
• Continuing the process of repeating this basic drill and changing it to:
• Hit different types of shots (crosscourt or down-the-line);
• Add variety of spin (topspin or slice);
• Alter your court position, moving laterally, diagonally, and forwards and backwards;
• Adjust to low versus high balls;
Continue to do this according to your developing skill, so that playing the game automatically draws on these experiences, rather than having to think about them consciously when setting up a plan of attack or responding defensively to your opponent’s tactics. Eventually, the Silent Knowledge you will develop will not only improve your footwork and stroke mechanics; the repetitive nature of drilling in this manner will train your neuromuscular system to more easily execute the coordinated movement patterns you have to master to play your game.
Adapted from “Tennis for Fitness/Fitness for Tennis”
A forthcoming work by G. Hughes Davis