Step 5 picks up right where we left off in
where you learned how to use your eyes in a Fixed-Depth of Focus input pattern (FDF). Remember, FDF is the visual input pattern you use to get into the zone and also to maintain the zone.
FDF is engaged by visualizing an imaginary window in front of you and then locating the exact point the ball comes into contact with your window.
Maintaining the zone is a matter of maintaining FDF as your input pattern. In other words: you get in the zone by fixing your focus on your contact zone, and you stay in the zone by keeping your focus fixed on your contact zone.
As you practice FDF, you will find that it requires total concentration, total attention to your visual focus. And because there is so much action going on in your visual field you will also find that your visual focus gets drawn to different parts of the action taking place in front of you.
These visual distractions are called “Flash-Outs.”
Maintaining a fixed-focus state means keeping your visual and mental focus fixed on your contact zone before, during, and after contact, and that requires “conscious effort” on your part, meaning you need to stay mentally focused on your contact zone in order to stay visually focused on your contact zone.
FDF is not a passive visual state in which you simply focus on nothing. Instead, FDF is an active visual input pattern in which you are prefocusing your eyes on your contact zone (imaginary window) for one reason: to locate the exact point the ball contacts your window - the Primary Contact Point.
In Step 4 you measure your progress by measuring how successfully you locate the Primary Contact Point. This is done by simply saying “Yes” when you locate the contact point on your window and “No” when you don’t.
Immediate verbal feedback on your visual objective.
If you successfully locate the contact point on your window, you will know it; you will be certain of it. But if you do not locate the contact point on your window, then you can be certain of something else: you flashed-out.
The objective of Step 5 is to learn to identify these "flash-outs" so you can get rid of them and maintain a fixed-focus state.
Learning to identify your flash-outs is one of the most important aspects of the Parallel Mode Process. You cannot remove visual and mental distractions from your game until you become aware of them.
And that's what the "Flash-Out Drill" is designed to do: to heighten your awareness of visual and mental distractions by identifying your flash-outs.
TYPES OF FLASH-OUTS
Flashing-Out On The Ball
Flash-outs come in many flavors. For instance, you might be focused on your contact zone, ready to locate the contact point along the surface of your imaginary window, when suddenly you return to focusing on the ball.
This is a flash-out on the ball.
As you start learning to use your eyes in a fixed-depth of focus input patter, you will find yourself flashing-out on the ball a lot. Don't worry about it. Flashing-out on the ball is very common at first. Just identify your flash-out. Nothing more for now.
Learning to keep your eyes focused on your contact zone means learning to defocus from the ball, so expect to feel confused or even a little lost at first. With practice FDF gets easier.
Typically, you start out by focusing on your contact zone, then you flash-out on the ball at at some point along its flight line. And when you flash-out on the ball, you immediately return to your normal visual input pattern. You immediately return to VDF.
Unfortunately, when you switch from a fixed-focus state back to a variable-focus state, you immediately come out of the zone and return to playing tennis in the norm.
Expect this to happen as you learn how to use your eyes in this very different but very efficient focusing pattern. Expect to flash-out on the ball quite a bit at first. It happens to everyone.
Flashing-Out On Your Opponent
Another typical flash-out occurs when you focus on your opponent to watch him/her hit their shot. Once again, we are all taught to watch our opponents closely in order to anticipate their shots before they hit them.
This is certainly the most accepted way to "see" what your opponent is doing. But you can also see what your opponent is doing while keeping your eyes focused on your contact zone (imaginary window).
In fact, you still see everything that is happening on the other side of your contact zone; it's just that everything is "out of focus."
Flashing-Out On The Bounce
It is very common at first to flash-out on the bounce of the ball, especially when it bounces close to the line, say on a serve that bounces close to or right on the line.
Obviously you want to see whether the ball is in or out, so it only seems natural that you have to focus on the bounce of the ball to make the correct call.
But with FDF, while your eyes remain focused on your contact zone, you can still see whether the bounce of the ball is in or out. You see it peripherally, but you still see it.
In other words, you can still see the bounce without focusing on it, and you can still tell whether the ball was in or out without focusing on the bounce.
Flashing-Out On Placement
Another common flash-out occurs when your focus comes away from your contact zone and you focus your eyes on the open court where you intend to hit your shot.
In short, you flash-out on your target or where you want to place your shot.
This is a flash-out on placement.
Logically, if you are focused on your target, you know for certain that you are not focused on the contact event.
You are focused on the outcome of your shot before you even hit the shot in the first place. That means you are focused on the outcome instead of being focused on the process of contact that produces the desired outcome.
Placement flash-outs or target flash-outs are caused by getting too far ahead of yourself both visually and mentally.
Anyone who has ever played tennis has experienced those times when you see the open court just sitting there like a big bull’s-eye in front of you. Then you miss the easy shot because you took your eyes off the ball.
That’s a flash-out on placement, and more often than you would like, it results in you missing your shot because you took your eyes off the ball.
With FDF you will still see the open court, but, as with everything else on the far-side of your contact zone, the open court will be out of focus as you hit the ball.
Of course, when you locate the contact point on your window, you will see contact when and where it happens. Shot placement is much easier and more successful when you have your eyes and your mind focused on contact rather than on your target.
Which of these visual scenarios sounds more logical to you?
1. Focusing on your target while contact is out of focus.
2. Focusing on contact while your target is out of focus.
With FDF, your target will be out of focus, but contact will be in focus, and that means you will be visually and mentally focused on contact exactly when and where it happens.
You can experiment with both scenarios to see which one produces the desired shot more often.
And when you are focused on contact, both visually and mentally, your chances of successfully hitting your target are dramatically increased.
Flash-outs are not always on objects such as your opponent, or the ball, or your target, although these “external flash-outs" are the most common flash-outs you will encounter.
Another type of flash-out is an “internal flash-out."
Internal flash-outs happen when you focus on some aspect of your physical technique, like your footwork or your court position, instead of staying visually and mentally focused on your contact zone and each individual contact event.
Internal flash-outs involve thinking too much out there on the court; thinking instead of doing; thinking about your strokes instead of just performing your strokes intuitively.
Beginning and intermediate level players are plagued by these internal flash-outs. Dr. Jim Loehr, the prominent sports psychologist and author of Mental Toughness, refers to the effect of over-thinking as “paralysis from analysis.”
Too many things to think about and not enough time.
Learning FDF is an on-going process that takes time and practice, and a big part of the learning curve involves flash-out identification.
However, identifying your flash-outs does not remove them from your game. In order to remove flash-outs from your game, you must first become aware of the situations that cause you to flash-out, then you simply repeat those same situations until you can complete them without flashing out.
Removing flash-outs is that easy!
Nevertheless, when you are first learning FDF, you will find yourself flashing-out on your opponent. The fix for flashing-out on your opponent is to maintain and continue to use FDF throughout the course of a point until you can successfully complete a point without flashing out on your opponent.
Removing flash-outs is not about winning or losing the point, but rather about learning to complete your points without focusing your eyes on your opponent, the ball, or your target.
You still point your eyes in the direction of your opponent, you still follow the ball by looking for the contact point on your imaginary window, and you still see your target in your peripheral vision. The only thing you don't do is focus on any of these visual distractions.
Instead you continuously keep your eyes focused on your imaginary window and continue to look for the exact point each oncoming ball contacts your window.
And you do this throughout the course of every point.
Step 5 introduces you to “flash-outs” and how to identify the different flash-outs that you will encounter in learning how to play tennis in the zone.
Making the change from a Serial Mode of operation to a Parallel Mode of operation requires the change from a Variable-Depth of Focus (VDF) input pattern to a Fixed-Depth of Focus (FDF) input pattern, and FDF means just that: you keep your visual and mental focus fixed on your contact zone before, during, and after contact.
1. FDF takes practice - lots of practice. You will not learn to control your visual and mental focus overnight.
2. Don’t expect to locate every 3-point 100% of the time at first. Learn to identify your flash-outs and you will soon be able to remove them from your game, and when you remove your flash-outs, you will be removing the distractions that keep you from locating the Primary Contact Point. Remember, this is not a race, it is a journey.
3. If you feel the same as always when you are doing these flash-out drills, then you are not in the zone, you are concentrating on the wrong task. When practicing FDF, you should be thinking about your eyes, your visual focus; you should be concentrating on visually locating the contact point on your imaginary window and then maintaining your focus on your contact zone after you hit the ball.
Step 5 is all about learning to control your visual and mental focus, and while you are maintaining your focus both visually and mentally, you will also be maintaining the zone.
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