‘Watch the ball’ is said so often in sport, particularly for games such as golf, tennis, cricket, baseball, even football that it is a cliché.
That is, you hear it so often, you tend to forget it – and its importance.
Now, it is easy to ‘sort of’ watch the ball.
But what I’m talking about is a concentrated vision, a narrowing of focus onto the ball that’s in your opponent’s hand before they serve, bowl or throw.
It means looking to see how an opponent’s holding the ball, whether they’re going to attempt something, do something.
Now, apparently you have a three degree concentration or width of vision span (the area your thumb fills in when held vertically with a straight arm).
That also allows you to see whether your opponent is doing something different with their body (that may influence what they’re going to deliver). Here goes a good baseball illustration of this aspect.
Also note, that as such it is actually physically impossible for anyone to react quickly enough to a ball coming at them at over 130kph or so.
But what we do, subconsciously, is make a prediction. Based on the initial cues as the ball leaves an opponent’s hand or racket, your brain extrapolates what it probably will do. You essentially make a best guess, and play your own shot as a result.
This best guess is made better by – you guessed it – watching the ball intently.
Do that, and the rest of your body and its coordination will follow, naturally.
Finally, if you don’t believe any of the above, here’s some of the scientific knowledge around the whole subject of vision and sport.