Play with visible improvements

All people take part in sport due to different reasons. Some play only for fun, some for social reasons and some people want to be the best in a particular activity. Tennis is not different and there are hundreds of reasons why people come to the courts. We, as coaches, can partly decide about interesting factors that can bring new players to tennis. I talk about friendly environment, effective methods or well-advertised tennis facility. However, we have more control over changing somebodys reason to continue journey in this sport. By conducting effective lesson and starting friendly relationship with new player, we can keep one forever on the tennis court. But focus of this article is not about increasing clientele and how to introduce more players to tennis. Right now, we focus on visible improvement in a game.

As we all know, there is nothing more motivating than seeing players improvement. We experience these happy days really often because it is simply visible on day-to-day practices. More consistent forehands, faster 1st serves, short stop-volleys or winning backhand lobs are just few examples which we can observe in short time. But we are not the only people who feel really good seeing this. Players are the most happiest because they do all the hard work and now it pays off. They see how their strokes changed over few days/weeks, they are motivated and they want to play more. It all happens because we can customize practice to player’ strengths and weaknesses.

Coaches can analyze performance on practice, prepare effective drills and see the feedback day-by-day. If these methods are effective, we see results. If these drills seem less effective, coaches can change approach and be more successful. During practice, coach can give tips after every mistake; players can ask coaches if they have any ideas or doubts and cooperate in a present time. It is all perfect for development and improvement. Then players go on the tournament and they lose an easy match. Their favorite forehand was off time this day. Volleys landed behind the baseline and serves hit the net unbelievably many times.  Why is that way?

Player is confused because one saw results during the practice. He/she starts to ask: How is that possible? I was playing so great before the tournament. I dont understand.” Truth is complex. Of course, player was right that he/she was playing great and there was visible progress. It is 100% true. But players have to understand the difference between practice and match. These are two different worlds and they have to learn how to perform effectively in two of them. We can play professional tennis in a match and play badly 5 hours later on practice as also practice can be great and match 1 hour later can be lost 0/6 0/6.

Practice and match have differences and lets go through them. As we all know, we spend more time on practices than on the matches. We improve our strokes by drilling, cooperating with coach and reacting to tactical or technical mistakes. Environment favors improvement; atmosphere is great so these factors bring visible results on court. Player is not stressed because one knows that practice is perfect time to build strengths and correct mistakes. Mental approach is easygoing because there is no pressure on score.

On the other side, we have match conditions. Completely different environment when most of the players change their focus from performance to score.  Players are stressed because only winner can play next round; only winner is perceived as a good player and they strive for it. Competitors start to think how to beat opponent and forget about the most important thing in every process in human life: Improvement! Performance is the most important so we have to focus on long-term development. When we are focused on a score, we have two options every time: win or lose. However, if our goal is performance, we have four options to experience: good performance (won), good performance (lost), bad performance (won), bad performance (lost).

Players have to focus on long-term goals because if they perform well, it is their win. The score is not important, because our improvement is the most important. If we see better effectiveness in a match conditions, we are on a proper way. If we win playing badly, it doesnt show our greatness but it rather emphasizes opponents mistakes. Score is complex because it involves two players and we shouldnt care about opponents stuff. I know that performing superbly and losing is not the happiest experience in life but it ensures better you” in the future. Every learning process consists of accomplishments and errors. However, both results can be helpful if we use it properly. Accomplishment without understanding why” is short-term because we dont know what brought us here and what we can do in the future to repeat it. On the other side, mistakes can be great indicators what to correct and what to avoid.

Lets see what we can do in a match to still improve as a long-term thinking player.

 

Goal for a match

Tennis match must be a continuation of day-by-day practice work. I know that during a match we are deprived of talking to coach, correcting mistake by repetitions or playing another second serve after double-fault. This is match and every ball equals in winning or losing point. However, we have to keep in mind that we are in a learning process. Thats why we should set specific goal for a match to have a point to focus on. Goal has to be measurable, independent of the opponent and it should be a continuation of practice goals. If we work on wide 1st serve, we can set a goal to hit wide serve 2 times in every serving game. It transfers our work from practice to a match environment and we can improve our quality in a stressful environment. Remember, dont experiment in a match. If your practice goal is not the drop shot down the line, you shouldnt set it as a match goal. Players have to feel connection between practice and match; they cant perceive it as two different playing areas.

 

Aggressiveness

Pros give us really important lesson when we watch TV. We can observe a lot of match points won by winning return. What can we learn from it? Pros are aggressive and they are not afraid of the score. If they are not afraid of the score with hundreds of dollars in stake, why should we? They trust their strokes and they know that every ball gives them experience which can pay off in the future. Players around the world have to take the same approach. We have to perceive stressful situations (e.g. match point, break point for opponent etc) as opportunities to learn. If we push on match point, our body will remember this approach and we will respond in the same way next time because body will be familiar with it. Our body remembers how to perform particular stroke so we have to train in stressful situation this aggressive approach. On practice, we dont have possibility to train with such a tension so match is exactly one environment to take our game to the next level.

 

These 2 tips can give you completely different level in playing matches. You will discover that match doesnt have to be recognized as a stressful and win or die battle. By caring of personal goals and playing aggressively, we are in our distinguished world which is familiar for us. Remember, you can play badly and win as also you can play great and lose. Score is not dependent entirely on you. Your game and opponents skills influence final outcome. As we cant control opponents game, we have to focus only on our performance. Play and care about development, not about short-term recognition.