Question of the Day: An Old Video

by: Justin diFeliciantonio | October 21, 2012

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Hey Justin, One of my tennis buddies was telling me the other day about this video of Stan Smith he used to watch years ago. It would loop footage of Smith repeatedly hitting certain strokes, the point being to watch it enough that you could get a clear picture of what you needed to do with your own strokes. Do you know anything about this video and where I can buy it? Obviously, I’m not looking to copy Smith’s form. Just curious about this tennis artifact.—James


What you’re referring to, James, is the old SyberVision video, released in 1985. At the time, the company touted its product as a “revolutionary form of neuromuscular training”—a video that, upon repeated viewing, would optimize a player’s ability to convert images of world-class footwork and technique into his or her own muscle memory, thus improving stroke production and play.

Did it really work? Perhaps to a slightly greater extent than watching broadcasts of pro tennis, racquet in hand. Regardless, notions of “perfect form” have changed dramatically since the 80s, all due respect to Stan the Man. So I wouldn’t recommend that anyone commit to mimicking the SyberVision model. But for all those interested, SyberVision is still sold online for the outrageous and puzzling price of $89. (Only $79 when downloaded to your personal computer or mobile device—a steal!) I figure I’ll look to hunt down a used copy, somewhere.

One final bit of SyberVision lore: S.V. and Smith actually appear in David Foster Wallace’s fictional work Infinite Jest, namely as a training exercise for the kids at the Enfield Tennis Academy. I’ll leave you with this note, lifted from IJ:

Hal's put on an undemanding visualization-type cartridge…A graying and somewhat ravaged-looking Stan Smith in anachronistic white is at a court's baseline hitting textbook forehands, over and over again, the same stroke, his back sort of osteoporotically hunched but his form immaculate, his footwork textbook and effortless—the frictionless pivot and back-set of weight, the anachronistic Wilson wood stick back and pointing straight to the fence behind him, the fluid transfer of weight to the front foot as the ball comes in, the contact at waist-level and just out front, the front leg's muscles bunching up as the back leg's settle, eyes glued to the yellow ball in the center of his strings' stencilled W…the front knee dipping slightly down under bulging quads as the weight flows more forward, the back foot up almost en-pointe on the gleaming sneaker's unscuffed toe, the no-nonsense flourishless follow-through so the stick ends up just in front of his gaunt face—Smith's cheeks have hollowed as he's aged, his face has collapsed at the sides, his eyes seem to bulge from the cheekbones that protrude as he inhales after impact, he looks desiccated, aged in hot light, performing the same motions over and over, for decades, his other hand floating up gently to grasp the stick's throat out in front of the face so he's flowed back into the Ready Stance all over again. No wasted motion, egoless strokes, no flourishes or tics or excesses of wrist. Over and over, each forehand melting into the next, a loop, it's hypnotizing, it's supposed to be. The soundtrack says 'Don't Think Just See Don't Know Just Flow' over and over, if you turn it up. You're supposed to pretend it's you on the bell-clear screen with the fluid and egoless strokes. You're supposed to disappear into the loop and then carry that disappearance out with you, to play.

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