With Seth Walrath, USTA Middle States’ Junior Development Program Coordinator
What separates the top tennis players from the rest of the pack? It’s usually not technique or coaching.
Over and over again, the best players stand out by how they prepare physically and mentally, and that’s what pulls them through in close matches.
In an overwhelming majority of sports, physical contact is permitted on both defense and offense. Players are allowed to use their body to obstruct offense through blocking a shot or pass, out hustling the other team to a loose ball or puck, or standing in the path of their opponent. These sports reward players for physicality, and that is a serious tactic used by coaches.
Tennis involves all athletic movements as most other sports: similar footwork, sprinting, jumping and hand-eye coordination at extreme speeds, and in short intervals. But tennis players are isolated.
In many cases as a tennis player, there are no teammates to pump you up, and no coach to help you change a losing game plan. You are separated from your opponent by the net, and the fans are on the other side of the fence in the bleachers, or up in the lobby, separated by glass at the indoor tennis club.
You have to be mentally tough. Being mentally tough means that through discipline you have prepared yourself for this opportunity and have the confidence to complete your task. Preparation, confidence and discipline – when combined – can make the difference between winning and losing.
So how can you put these tactics into action?
You have taken the time to get yourself ready for the competition by doing the detailed work. Preparing your mind, body and equipment will focus your attention on competing and build confidence. As a tennis player, your best coach is yourself, and nobody knows you better than you do.
Equipment check: Bag check preparations become essential to readiness like having racquets strung and regripped, and extra clothes, shoes and socks available. Have plenty of snacks, water and sports drinks in your bag. And even be prepared with a small first aid bag with bandaids, athletic tape and scissors.
Body check: Know that your body is prepared with a good night’s sleep and sustainable nutrition. Book a court 1-2 hours before your match to get warmed up and play some points. A completed dynamic warm-up and repetitive hitting helps you feel more prepared for a match.
Mind check: Help prepare your mind and focus by turning your texting and calls off before you get to the court. Listen to music and make it a part of your routine. Limit your distractions and begin to adjust your sensory to the sounds and pace of the game, preparing your mind through positive visualization. Focus on your match. Visualize your match: think of what you will look like walking out on the court, how you want your pre-match warmup to look like, visualize your first service game and changing sides etc.
Confidence wins the big points and it is usually never a fluke. Confidence in yourself to win the big points comes from knowing that you have prepared. However, confidence takes a bit longer to build over time. You need to have confidence that you have done everything you possibly could do to put yourself in the position to compete the best you can.
Fitness: Have confidence in your fitness and know that you can go the distance and still have energy for the next match. In fact, you are so confident in your fitness the circumstances favor you the longer you go.
Nutrition: Be confident in your nutrition. You know you have sustainable energy due to your healthy choices you have made over the last several months.
Your Game: You are confident that you worked hard in practice, have made the necessary adjustments in your game, and have taken the repetitions to execute them under pressure. You are confident in your coaching that you have been taught the proper tactics and will find a way to win.
Being prepared and having confidence is essential, however the only way to achieve both is through discipline. In this sport you set your own standard and rules. You know what you have to do to be better and do it every time without being asked. Have the discipline to train even when you don’t feel like it. When you create discipline in your daily routine, you build confidence and become prepared for the mental battle of playing a competitive match. The voice in your head will tell you “I can do this. Hang in there!”