The most common question I hear from people as they are learning to use their eyes in a fixed-depth of focus input pattern goes something like this: how can I focus my eyes on my contact zone when there is nothing there to focus on?
My answer is always the same. You are capable of focusing your eyes on the open space of your contact zone; you just have to learn how to do it by learning how to control your focus. The notion that you must focus on the ball in order to hit the ball is, quite simply, false. Focusing on the ball is just one of several visual input patterns available to you when you play tennis or any other sport where you have to contact a ball with a stick.
In order to understand these other input patterns you must first let go of the traditional paradigm of watching the ball, and look at a new paradigm of “locating the contact point.”
There are three planes upon which you can locate the contact point – the movement plane, the countermovement plane and the contact plane.
By focusing on the ball, you can locate a contact point somewhere along the ball’s flight line or flight plane. Whether that contact point is a positive or negative contact point depends directly on how accurately you follow the ball with your eyes, or, more precisely, how accurately you use your eyes in a variable depth of focus input pattern. Better players become better players not just because they develop better strokes, but also because they get better at following the ball with their eyes at higher speeds. That’s the traditional visual paradigm we all grew up with.
The contact point also occurs along the plane of countermovement, but focusing your eyes on your stroking plane is dangerous and doesn’t lead to anything other than pain, so visually focusing on your plane of countermovement is probably not a good idea.
That leaves focusing on your plane of contact as the third option for locating the contact point. The only problem with focusing on your plane of contact is that there is nothing there upon which to focus, nothing but the open space of your contact zone, nothing but the plane upon which all potential contact points are located, nothing but a plane of contact probabilities.
“But I can’t focus my eyes on nothing!”
Yes, you can. Your eyes are very capable of focusing on open space. It just takes practice. Consciously fixing your focus on your contact zone takes practice. Controlling your visual focus takes practice, but when you practice controlling your visual focus, you will also be practicing controlling your mental focus.
With FDF, you are centering your visual and mental focus on doing the same thing – locating the contact point along a predefined focal plane of contact. Visually and mentally you are totally focused on the same task. That’s why people who learn FDF often remark that they were totally focused on the task at hand – which was the task of focusing on their contact zone and locating the primary contact point.
In other words, if the task at hand requires total visual and mental focus, you will find yourself totally focused on the task at hand. Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic for some of the traditionalists out there who insist on locating the contact point along the movement plane. But the more you think about controlling your own focus, the more you realize that focusing on the ball means the ball is controlling your focus. You are following the ball with your focus, and when you are following the ball, the ball is in control.
That’s reactive focus – the old visual paradigm of VDF. The emerging visual paradigm of FDF involves proactive focus; proactively focusing on your contact zone prior to the arrival of the ball. This strategy of prefocusing your eyes and your mind on your contact zone eliminates the necessity of refocusing your eyes and your mind as you try to follow the ball with your visual and mental focus.
Reactive focus = focus on ball
Proactive focus = focus on contact zone
An important sidelight to FDF as an input pattern is that it puts you in a fixed-focus state, which happens to be the focal state of the zone. But that’s another story.
Bottom line – There’s a lot more to focusing on your contact zone than first meets the eye.