Habits for Tennis Success: Set the Pre-Match Preparation Plan

June 7, 2017 08:38 AM

Dr. Larry Lauer

The best tennis players separate themselves from the rest not solely because of talent, but because they have excellent habits that lead to their success. It seems that world-class tennis players have a number of habits that they do in their own individual ways, but that are similar to the 10 Habits for Tennis Success.

The ninth habit is that they are fully prepared to play their matches. The best players have consistent preparation routines that set them up to play their best. Frequently, players include visualization in the pre-match to mentally rehearse how they are going to play.

Habit 9: Set the Pre-Match Preparation Plan, Including Visualization-Mental Rehearsal

Successful players bring their best focus, intensity and energy to every match. How do they do this? They have established routines for preparing for matches. Novak Djokovic, for example, has an extensive pre-match routine that prepares him to perform physically and mentally. These physical and mental preparation routines lead to an optimal performance state (OPS) that leads to successful performance.

Like the top pros, all players must set individualized preparation routine plans and follow them consistently. How do you figure out what preparation works best for you? Several ways:

  1. Reflecting on your best matches and being aware of how you prepared
  2. Journaling matches as they happen, specifically writing about what you were doing pre-match
  3. Experimenting with different ways of preparing and seeing how you feel

Spend time thinking about how you prepared for the best matches you have played. Typically, you will see some differences in how you prepare when you are at your best (from your average to not-so-good matches). If you are unsure about how you prepared, then do your best to set a plan to prepare. Then, journal about your matches as they happen and take notes on what you were doing, how long you did it, when you did it, how you felt doing it, and so forth?

Remember, the goal is to reach an Optimal Performance State – meaning you felt your best on the court. Go here for a worksheet to figure out your OPS.

Finally, players figure out the ways of preparing by experimenting. They will change the timing, the activities and so on, then check to see how they feel going in to the match and how they perform. I recommend doing this for practice matches first and then for tournaments that aren’t as important to you.

An excellent way to approach developing a preparation plan is to block out a three-month period, where you have a big tournament at the end of the time period. Take several weeks to train and apply your new preparation plan in practice matches. Journal and pay attention to how your plan is working; make adjustments to it as needed. Then, go to two to three “warm-up” tournaments and apply your preparation plan diligently and consistently. This is the only way you can check to see if it works. Journal about it and discuss it with your coach.

Make adjustments as necessary. Especially look at how you are starting matches:

1.    Do you feel energized?
2.    Do you feel focused on a plan of how you want to play?
3.    Do you feel loose and warm?

Going through this process will then help to establish your preparation plan once you get to the big tournament at the end of your three-month period.

What should you include in your pre-match preparation?

For sure, we know that you must warm up physically (movement and strokes) and mentally. Furthermore, top players start the planning well in advance of the match, probably the week before. But to keep it simple, start your plan from the night before the match. What will you eat? How much do you hydrate? Is your bag fully packed with everything you will need? How much do you want to think about the match and how you will play? Have you planned how you will get your mind off the match (watch movies, read a book, talk with friends, etc.)?

The day of the match, you want to plan as much as you feel comfortable with, but also so that you are prepared. You may like to be spontaneous, but the day of a match it is important to plan the timing of what will happen, in what order, especially once you get to the site.

A powerful preparation tool that will help to create consistent performances

One of the most powerful techniques used to prepare for matches is mental rehearsal. This is sitting quietly during the pre-match time period and visualizing how you will play your upcoming match. An effective mental rehearsal will help you feel ready to play and more confident. This is achieved because mental rehearsal using visualization is priming how you will think during the match. To make your visualization/mental rehearsal most effective practice the following:

  1. Plan your mental rehearsal by writing out how you play when at your best. Simplify this down to three keys to today’s match that will create success (i.e., mixing up the serve, following my routine, and coming to the net). Visualize these keys.
  2. Also, include all of your senses in the visualization. This creates a more life-like scenario. Include how you will feel (e.g., confident, composed, controlled) and what you will be thinking (e.g., attack the backhand, big margins).
  3. Give yourself at least 5-10 minutes to do your mental rehearsal in a quiet space. If it helps put headphones so others know you do not want to be disturbed.
  4. If you lose control of your mental rehearsal, for example, you imagine yourself double faulting be OK with it. Wipe the visual away like cleaning off a white marker board. Visualize a clean marker board and then begin to add back in your visualization.

Coach Action

Have your player establish a preparation routine that gets them to his/her OPS. The best and worst exercise should be referred to understand what the OPS is.