The Brain and Robot Tennis

March 4, 2016 by  
Filed under blog


Sometime ago I read a book about The Secret Lives of the Brain which was actually the subtitle of the great book entitled Incognito by David Eagleman. The part of the book that really grabbed my attention was what he said about the part of the brain that you can teach exactly how to hit a tennis ball almost perfectly every time without even thinking about it.

Being an avid tennis fan and sometimes tournament player myself, and with my own experience pretty much backing up and proving what he was saying, he had my undivided attention. Many times while playing, I’ve surprised myself when I am running full speed to get to a tennis ball coming at me at 65 or 75 miles an hour, then to arrive at the exact right spot and hit the ball back to the place I was aiming. Wow, I’m thinking … how did I ever do that?

Eagleman, a neuroscientist, makes the case that tennis shots are made almost entirely without using the conscious mind. Of course, to get to the point of great non-thinking tennis shots, anyone who wants to be that good needs to use the other part of the brain–the conscious part that is the part that thinks through what goals a person wants to achieve. So with the conscious brain a tennis champion wannabe sets the goals to fulfill their dream tennis performance.

The author of this book is not just talking about these two parts of the brain being used to be a great tennis player either. You can use both parts of the brain to become very good in many areas of our lives, whether it’s to become a great public speaker, great writer of books, making a fortune, or creating super health for yourself and others. It will work for whatever you really want to do and be.

But that’s just the first part, because after you use the conscious part of your mind to set your goals, you then need to practice and drill over and over again. If you do that for many, many hours over a good length of time you will begin to program your unconscious mind so eventually it will perform for you without your thinking about it. It will be automatic. It might take thousands of hours but studies have shown that anyone that spends 10,000 hours doing one thing they most likely will become one of the best in the world at that one thing.

Under the chapter subheading “The Robot that Won Wimbledon”, David Eagleman concludes that, “The competitors at Wimbledon are rapid, efficient machines that play tennis shockingly well. They can track a ball traveling ninety miles per hour, move toward it rapidly, and orient a small surface to intersect its trajectory. And these professional tennis players do almost none of this consciously. In exactly the same way that you read letters on a page or change lanes, they rely entirely on their unconscious machinery. They are, for all practical purposes, robots. Indeed, when Ilie Nastase lost the Wimbledon final in 1976, he sullenly said of his winning opponent, Bjorn Borg, β€˜He’s a robot from outer space.’”

Today I would say the same thing about Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. But remember folks these two parts of our brain can be used for many more things than tennis! Let’s all work on that.