Very rarely do players discover things in match play that they haven’t worked out on the practice courts. If you’ve fully prepared yourself over time leading up to competition, the routines, shot patterns, and skill habits are executed almost without much thought.
how do you add accountability, pressure, and stress to your practice sessions? There are a number of ways. Rather than just mindlessly hitting ground strokes back and forth with your practice partner, create consistency challenges with goals to achieve. “Let’s try to rally forehand crosscourt and reach 100 in a row with no mistakes. Any mistakes, we start over.” Think of ways to build in incentive for both players to want to achieve the goal.
When competing head to head in practice points, make it competitive, with agreed-upon penalties for the player who fails or rewards for the player who wins. Taking on challenges like this adds competitive pressure and builds confidence as you achieve the goals.
Learn to Concentrate
Bjorn Borg: “The second you step onto the court, the match begins. Every movement, every contact of the ball, every shot hit must be played with the concentration of match point.” If you practice this way, you will improve immediately. You will learn the art of focusing, which in time you will translate into match play.
Reduce Unforced Errors
What is an unforced error? From a match-charting perspective, it is an error that occurs when the player has adequate time to execute. Essentially, the cause of the error cannot be attributed to the incoming ball from the opponent. A forced error occurs when the incoming ball from the opponent reduces time to set up or compromises the balance of the player who commits the error.
Don’t do it. No one in his right mind would start a point thinking it would be a good idea to make an unforced error, yet unforced errors often occur more often than winners . . . but never by intent. Many unforced errors take place when you stop focusing. Reduce your unforced errors in practice, and you’ll reduce them in match play. Focus, focus, focus. The way you practice is the way you will play. To build new habits you must experiment, find your groove, and then repeat the task over and over again until it happens without thinking. Challenge yourself with targets to improve your precision, consistency goals that build trust in your skills, and any kind of measurability you can incorporate so there’s a sense of competing against yourself. The objective is to push yourself to be better today than yesterday.
Practice Aggressive Movement
Players who assert movement as a primary strength in their game must make an attempt for everything. It sends a strong message to the opponent that you are fit enough and willing to defend every inch of the court. Over time, the opponent will begin to reduce his margin of error, trying to keep the movement specialists from getting to the ball. That’s when the errors start stacking up on the opponent. As Richard Williams once said, “Don’t play the lines in practice . . . run for every ball whether it’s in or out and play everything!” Don’t think about whether the ball is in, out, or in the net. This will cost you time. The split second you see the ball coming, move.