The article that Ali reviews in this blog post can be found here. It is titled “How to Play Matches the Same Way as you Play in Practice“ and has been shared by Tennis Mind Game.com.
As a coach, this topic comes up a lot with players commenting that they can do things in practice that they feel can’t do in matches or that they feel more confident in a training situation. This is particularly common in young players. This article is great at explaining the reasons why this is the case in an understandable manner and offering some solutions to minimise the differences between practice and training. It summarises the main differences as caring/being afraid (in a match) verses not caring/no fear (in practice). It is suggested the caring or fear in a match is due to the negative consequences of the outcome; this could be parents being disappointed or losing ranking points for example (note the fear is not actually losing the tennis match in itself!) and these are not present in a training situation.
Interestingly they comment in the article that this issue could be in part due to most competing players train 20 hours over 2 weeks compared to 1-4 hours of matches. This point is left at that but I feel this is one of the big issues with many juniors in our country now; they are happy to train but not compete, I am not sure of many other sports that don’t have the mentality that you are training to compete, you don’t just train and not actually play the sport properly which I feel is an issue in tennis.
The article raises two ways to combat the problem;
- Train as if you are playing a match, for example make sure you play competitive points and practice total commitment to drills or
- Play a match as you practice, in effect lowering the pressure in a match situation. I feel both methods are relevant and perhaps which one a player or coach adopts mostly should reflect the individual player and their drives.
My favourite part of the article is when it addresses dealing with stress and anxiety by checking and challenging thoughts so that the player focuses on what can be controlled for example tactics and rituals and moves the focus away from any potential negative outcomes. It goes further to suggest players should “accept what happens in a match”. This is possibly the most useful piece of information for a young player to adopt. It teaches them to channel their thoughts, control their emotions and show resilience. For example, if you can accept your opponent has won a game from a net chord and not dwell on it emotionally you are more likely to compete effectively in the next game.
Lastly a great suggestion here is for a player to spend time dealing with their fears off court (e.g. ‘If I lose everyone will think I’m rubbish’. Players, parents and coaches need to understand that if efforts are not made off court with this part of the players’ tennis, how will they be able to cope with them in an on court competitive environment. Easy answer, they won’t.
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