Junior Tennis Notes: How to Use Practice Matches to Improve Tournament Play
How often do you hear someone say: “If only I could play like this in tournaments!” or ”I wish I could play like this when it really matters”?
There is often a difference between how we play in practice matches and tournament matches. Usually during practice matches there isn’t that pressure of having to win (at least there shouldn’t be). You end up playing more relaxed, more freely and you feel like you are playing better.
Tournament play is all about winning. You don’t want to lose the match and often we play not to lose instead of playing to win. This results in being very tight, not going for shots and we feel we are not performing as well as we should.
The best way to use practice matches is to take advantage of this difference. Use practice matches to work on certain shots and to use different match strategies without the result being of any importance. It is ok to make mistakes during practice matches as long you are working towards improving your overall game.
As a coach it is key to stress the importance of practice matches with parents. Too often parents are focused on the outcome of those matches. I always tell parents not to worry about the results but instead let their child work on things to get better. I ask them to support and to encourage their child to work on something new like coming to the net more often, attacking short balls, or getting more spin on that second serve.
Players need to use practice matches to become better tournament players. Eventually they will get more confident with the new skill they are working on. As a result, they will start using this newly learned skill during tournament matches.
Key ideas to remember while playing practice matches:
- A practice match is an opportunity to work on new skills without the pressure of winning. Pick one shot or tactical plan to work on during a practice match. Keep trying even if results are not always positive. Repetition creates muscle memory and boosts confidence in your own ability.
- Focus on a goal during a practice match, not on the outcome of the match. Scores/results don’t matter. Don’t focus on winning but on improving.
- Give your best effort during practice matches. Hard work usually pays off. Compete hard every point. Always work hard, even if things don’t go your way. Each point is an opportunity to get better.
- Don’t give up when things aren’t going as well as expected. Keep trying. Stay positive when learning a new skill. It is ok to make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes to become a better player.
- Have fun while working on new skills. Negativity = negative outcome. Stay positive and have faith in the process. Understand how lucky you are to have an opportunity to improve. Focus on the good shots, don’t dwell on mistakes.
- You are working on becoming a better tournament player. Hard work always pays off in the long run. Realize that improving is a never ending process and that even the best players in the world work hard to get even better.
I recommend you play at least one practice match a week. Focus on one particular goal and don’t overload your game with too many changes at once. Stick with the game plan regardless if you are winning or losing.
Give yourself time and don’t rush yourself in trying to become better. Don’t see a loss as a failure but as an opportunity to improve. Keep in mind that even world class players go through the same process as you!
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