One of the most striking things when watching juniors play is just how under-prepared a lot are when match time approaches. So often we see players just minutes before a match chatting to friends, eating etc with their minds occupied on everything other than the match at hand. There is no way that this player will be able to perform at their peak when the game commences, as they are not switched on mentally and not prepared physically.
This leads me to the importance of a "pre-match routine" (PMR), in other words being prepared to play tennis. In my opinion, the PMR should be seen as the beginning of a player's match, a chance to get in the zone and be physically prepared so that one can be ready to compete from the first point.
There is no set format as to how a player must go about doing their PMR, but here are some basic principles which must be followed:
The match day should be planned out the evening before by coach and player so that practice courts are booked well in advance, food can be eaten at a suitable time and a practice partner is organised. Coach and player can discuss tactics so that the player is clear of what his/her objectives are, which can then be put on to the practice court.
(b) Physical warm-up:
Once the player has arrived at the courts they should warm up as they would any other practice session to avoid any injuries. This should be at least 15 minutes in length and should include either skipping or jogging/short sprints, dynamic stretching and any other exercises they may need to perform. This is especially important if a player is first on in the morning or the climate is cooler.
(c) Tennis warm-up:
This is the part of the routine that almost all players adhere to and hence most of them have their own preferred method of practice. Usually players start by hitting balls in the short court (half court) and then progress back to the baseline. It is crucial that in these first few minutes both players hit at a pace whey they are comfortable with and where a rhythm can be found. A nice way to establish a rhythm is by listening to the contact of the ball on a player's racket and then the bounce of the ball on the court surface. The more consistent these noises become then the better the rhythm usually is. All shots should be warmed up, volleys and smashes, serves and returns and finally some points played. Although the duration of the warm-up becomes a personal preference as a player's standard increases, I would suggest young players stick to a period of 25 – 30 minutes.
Intensity of the session should be high. The player should be practising at a level they would like to play the match at. If you practise at a low intensity then chances are when you go on court for the real thing this is how you will perform. Remember you cannot just switch on emotions and intensity.
After the session is finished the player should then either check the scores on their court so they have an idea of when they may go on or go and make sure their equipment is ready and begin to prepare mentally. Rackets should be re-gripped and be freshly strung, and put in order of preference in case of a broken string. The player must then change into their tennis kit.
(e) Mental preparation
After the equipment has been taken care of, the player should have about 20 to 30 minutes left before the commencement of their match. It is in this period that the mental preparation beings. Like the tennis warm-up there is no set format as to how to go about doing this, but here are some tips for getting mentally prepared.
Visualising: see yourself playing the perfect tennis match out on court, jump forward in time and visualise yourself playing against your opponent and feeling great out there. See yourself playing in the arena that you will actually be playing the match. In this time it is important to get yourself away from any distractions by either listening to music, a song which puts you in the right frame of mind, or by simply getting away from the crowd.
Breathing: relax before a match as best you can. Do not try and dismiss nerves as nothing, everyone suffers from them. It comes down to a case of who can handle them better. By taking deep breaths, letting in as much air as possible whilst visualising can be a powerful tool to combat nerves.
By having your own personal routine, one that you have adapted to best suit your needs, you are giving yourself the best chance to perform on the match court. Everyone is different and everyone has different personalities, so therefore is no set way of doing it, but you must learn from your mistakes when you are young and be honest with yourself when you have not prepared properly.
Think back to the best match you have played when you were really there and focused and ask yourself this question: "what did I do for the hour or so preceding the match?", because this may just be the secret to your success.
by Antony Hampson