The agony of never performing in a tennis tournament in the same way you practice is an all too common feeling most of us try to understand without too much success. Trying to prepare physically and mentally on the day of competition for a match of great importance is the inevitable challenge for many parents, coaches, and players of all ages. However, the answer is not what to do and how to do it on the day, but rather lies in the preparation day in and day out for weeks or months prior on the practice court.
The number one reason why players seem to practice ‘better’ than they play in competition is the lack of emotional severity or consequences in any given practice. The only way to get accustomed to performing ‘under pressure’ is to create practice environments that are constantly including emotional investment into every single drill, exercise, and/or practice match. Only then can a player embrace pressure in order to metabolize the change in physical responses and learn how to manage it when it ‘really matters’. Players tend to swing freely, tune out negative plays, deal with conflict (line calls), and learn motor skills such as a change in a serve swing path, far more easily when there is little to no pressure placed on the player. The answer is to quickly elevate the level of performance by simply adding more and more pressure as soon as possible in order to better understand how to manage pressure rather than hope or avoid its presence at all cost.
Reading a book on ‘mental toughness’, practicing service routines, service return routines over and over again have little to no impact if a player and/or coach cannot place varying degrees of emotional value on every action in practice that is required of them in competition.
A player is winning (so far) 6-0 5-0 serving in practice. The player internally refuses at all cost to give one single game or even a point for any other reason other than his/her opponent playing an incredibly good game. The player does this because the player and coach understand that the level of pressure to achieve the desired result automatically places higher levels of pressure on the server who normally may relax and rely on the opponent handing over the game. This is only one example of placing personal expectation on oneself so that this player can better understand how to manage pressure at higher levels of competition. Otherwise, the player will find himself/herself in a much ‘closer’ match at a higher level tournament against players who will force a 3rd set and both players are caught in a battle for survival for which the pressure is automatically placed on the players without choice.
Do you PRACTICE daily with PRESSURE or is it something you avoid?