Select 'n ShootTennis Games
We need ideas to express skills, but how do we get them? ...
If we knew the answer to that question, learning would be a breeze.
Thing is, learning is a creative process. It's the art of going from one level of knowledge to another. Old ways are replaced by new ways. We don't know how this is done; there is no formula that accounts for it. But we can't know something before we know it, not at least in any practical, everyday sense. We can't see before we can see.
Spiritualists tell us that we already know all that there is to know; we just don't know that we know. We know everything all along even as we struggle to learn, but we seem to discover this only after we've come to see the truth. Not knowing how the business works apparently is a function of our lowly state of awareness. Even students with the best teachers struggle mightily to try to attain enlightenment. Learning remains essential.
At least in normal affairs, lack of understanding creates a predicament for the educator, because it requires helping someone move from state A to state B when there is no way known to do it. The trick in education, therefore, is to provide mechanisms that seem promising. That's what my tennis tutorial games do -- they create the possibility. They are meant to sharpen your awareness. They aim specifically at grasping trajectory dynamics and racket mechanics.
The games let you find your own way in the process. They show structured simulations so trials or experiments can be performed in benign contexts that resemble the real context of the skills. You do in pretend mode what you would do in the real world.
In fact, simulation offers more than we can get in the real environment. For instance, by running successive trials of a shot, simulation makes it easier to find "best results." And so it is expected that your chances of learning will improve. There is no guarantee, but simulation provides a way to learn about the interaction inductively, by observing the results one shot at a time.
Simulation thus provides the accuracy needed to effectively visualize performance of a skill. It's well known that professionals in a wide range of skills conduct rehearsals in imagination prior to performances, going through the steps as if the performance was real. This appears to help. It is also known that the process is most effective when the skill is well understood and less effective when the skill isn't properly grasped. It can in fact cause problems for the performer when the skill is poorly understood. A beginner, for instance, can't know what is to be imagined, so the practice of imagining can be disruptive rather than productive. A guide is therefore needed for the process to work. Faithful rendering in simulation can be that guide. Accuracy is what the games provide. They show what you have to imagine. You can do this imagining with solidified trials in the games.
My games provide a very accurate first approximation of trajectories as starting points for hitting return shots. As the player in training you respond with inputs for your returns (or for serves), and through successive trials you can improve your shots.
That's what my tennis tutorial games are all about. They're meant to help you see how to hit the ball under different game conditions and on the demands put by you on shots you might choose to make. They are meant to help you understand the way the ball moves through space and how you should meet the ball with your racket to get desired results.
Each game has its own simulation that lets you pretend you're hitting the ball at the court. And each deals with one or another of the basic tennis shots, such as drives, serves, drop shots, and volleys. Each program provides targets to shoot at, and you select racket conditions to try to hit the targets. Feedback is available to let you see in more detail how well you did.
No More Court Practice, Right?
You can learn from the games, sure. But you don't swing a real racket or hit a real ball; you don't develop motor plans for hitting. In fact, the more subtle the contact, the more you have to practice. So practice at the court is just as important as ever. Maybe even more so, because with computer help you can practice smarter, using your valuable time more wisely. In short, the work is meant to foster sharp ideas.
The argument is that you learn a skill best in a context very similar to the real context of the skill, like as a lathe operator, or a third baseman, etc. The games themselves are personalized, science-based simulations. I call the programs, Select 'n Shoot, because they're based on a target-shooting model, like darts, handgun target shooting, bow and arrow target shooting, and the like. The games are meant to help you learn how to hit the ball -- not to actually practice swinging the racket, but rather to show what you should be trying to do to make a good shot. The objective is what defines the stroke. Call it technical tennis if you like, but it's just "knowing your shots better."
I should emphasize that the games are designed for use on an IBM-type computer (not Apple, for instance) and use the Microsoft Windows 98 operating system. I wrote the programs using Windows 98, so that's the best way to go. But you can try any operating system that's compatible with Windows 98.
Each game has four parts. Two parts form a Practice section, a third part is the test or Challenge section, and the fourth part is the Feedback section. The Practice section lets you investigate your personal skills in hitting the ball. Challenge tests your hitting skills and rewards success in reaching targets. And the Feedback section lets you see in more detail how your shot worked out. Each program in the package lets you probe your personal tennis space, a space that's ultimately defined by the constraints imposed on your game at the tennis court -- both in the way you perceive what's occurring and in the way you perform what is to be done. For return shots, you as the player would have to read the oncoming ball and apply your hitting strategy to create a return shot.
Finances always come into play when using programs like mine, so let's look at the details. We might think of each play of a game as a real-world tennis lesson and then compare it with the cost of that lesson (which can vary from large-group formats to private lessons and anything in between). There is always a range of prices to consider. For instance, private lessons with a teaching pro can easily go as high as $100.00 per hour, depending of course on the level of affluence of the area. But let's say for the purpose of discussion that the average is at half the price, or $50.00 per hour.
So a price of $50 for an hour with a game ranks it as financially equivalent to a single lesson. Okay. But when you've had your lesson, that's it, you're done, and the money is gone. Whereas you still have the game programs and can continue your study for another hour, and still another, and another. So the comparison improves considerably with time. This is a credible argument because you rarely learn a skill in one lesson; repeating trials is more the norm. And $50 an hour adds up very fast.
Now compare private lessons with group lessons. Say you have a group rate of $50.00 per hour and there are ten in the group. Your cost now drops to $5.00 per hour, which is a sizeable improvement. However, you can't expect to have the teaching pro's attention for the full hour, unless of course he/she lectures to the whole group for an hour. But in that case you aren't likely to get the attention you need for your particular problems (in which case the real lesson would be not to take another one). Much depends on how the teacher deals with this problem, so it's hard to determine the value of the lesson to you.
Suppose you have the program and you take a private lesson. If you've taken the time to study with the game, you could attend the lesson as a smarter student and understand more quickly and precisely what the pro is telling you and what you have to do to make your adjustments. You will likely have a better grasp of the ideas that are involved and won't have to spend as much pro time as you might otherwise, thus reducing the effective cost, since you can more quickly move on to other things.
Even if you aren't taking lessons, think of the many hours you waste at the court trying to figure our how to hit the ball and getting frustrated because you don't seem to be gaining on it. Plus the fact that mostly what you'd be doing is hitting the ball back to your hitting partner and even in that limited role not getting any feedback. With the games, though, you get a wide variety of shots and plenty of feedback. You can also write to me to discuss technical problems.
You can even use the games in grant proposals to illustrate the type of program you could develop. The USTA, for instance, is prepared to fund projects for disadvantaged kids, projects involving education, computers, and tennis designed to lift the kids out of the poverty mindset and bring them into the broader, healthier community. Other agencies and foundations offer comparable support.
And of course the computer program doesn't wear out, so you could sell it yourself or give it away as a birthday present. I don't recommend copying it, though, because that's not legal.
Value of Games
As for the value of the games, let me say, first, they deal with the most critical and arguably a not commonly understood aspect of tennis, namely the interaction between racket and ball -- the only link between you and the ball.
Second, the experiments add to the value of normal tennis books because they supplement text and static visuals with motion, to develop in your mind a MODEL (a feeling or understanding) of the interaction.
Third, practice, and more practice, is essential for skills learning at the court. Whether you're alone or with a group, you learn by trial and error, drawing on knowledge of results.
Fourth, we learn skills by repeating trials over and over and by varying them. The programs each support these procedures. But you have to be careful not to use previous trials in repetition as a crutch. Try to make decisions on each shot independent of those of prior shots.
Fifth, and perhaps most important, the games sharpen your ideas and raise your level of knowledge of the game and the context in which it is played, giving you greater control over your on-court practice sessions and ultimately over your game.
There is no history of computer-assisted diagnostics for tennis, so we have no direct evidence of their true value. But there is good indirect evidence.
First, simulations derive their value from the amazing ability of the imagination to wrap itself around a symbol. We are great at make believe, even with meager settings, and we engage it with good effect.
Second, we've used simulation in one form or another for decades to understand complex environments and improve skills, and there is overwhelming evidence that they work, that understanding is in fact transferred to the skills arena. For example, aerospace professionals use simulation successfully to study man-machine systems.
Third, study is surely improved by realism of the simulation. Since the computer can provide increasingly accurate skills settings, it provides a solid basis for understanding. So it should help with tennis skills.
Finally, no skill can be performed successfully without an UNDERSTANDING -- an IDEA, PLAN of action, or mental MAP -- of what is to be done. The games provide a solid basis for developing correct racket/ball contact and for gaining more control in the real tennis setting.
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