Tennis development is a roller coaster. It is not a surprise too see players perform really well one day, just to experience total breakdown the next day. There are many factors that have influence on player’s performance but on the other hand we know that the better we practise the bigger chances we have to play well during tournaments. Should we be scared when our players have bad practice sessions before the tournament? Not really!
At the beginning we have to take a serious look at tennis. Tennis players come to the court to have great training sessions. Coaches step on the court with plan to have excellent teaching time. Parents pay coaches and clubs to make their kids play better and get to the next level. And suddenly players have few poor practice sessions in a row. Is it maybe a player fault? Is it a sign of bad coaching? Is there a hope for future wins? Bad practice session doesn’t have to put negative influence on performance. Actually, more mistakes and some struggle can lead to great results.
Practice makes perfect. That is correct phrase. Nobody says that this practice has to be always excellent. It is all about consistency. Of course we shouldn’t have 2 months of bad practice sessions with no corrections but on the other hand we shouldn’t also expect our players to play always with top quality. We are all human beings so we have our ups and downs. On the court, at school or at home. Related to tennis, family or friends. And let’s not forget that we are all different – some players can practise well and compete badly while others make many mistakes during training sessions but when they battle for points they hardly make any mistakes. My coaching experience confirms that truth. During one year my player had many good and bad results. The funniest thing was that performance during practice sessions not always reflected actual performance during tournaments. Before tournament in Algeria, my player was playing really badly. Result on the tournament? 2nd place in singles and 2nd place in doubles. Before tournament in Morocco, my player was playing great. No mistakes, only winners. Result? Lost in the 1st round. Then we had tournament in Czech Republic. Training sessions were mostly so-so. What happened during the tournament? Won singles and doubles!
As you can see bad practice sessions not always have to show everything of your ability in the next weeks. Should we look for more bad training sessions? It depends on your approach.
- The meaning of bad practice session
Many players and parents think that bad practice session happens when player makes more mistakes than usual. As a coach I think differently. From my perspective, bad practice happens when player doesn’t give 100%. When he doesn’t give his best. We have to remember that problems at school or simple fatigue can cause players to move slower and hit off the center but it doesn’t mean that they can’t improve. Only when they stop trying and they start looking for excuses they really experience „bad” practice session.
- Bad practice reflects most of your tennis matches
We already know what bad practice session should mean to coaches, parents and players so now it is time to understand why we need these times of underperformance. During the whole year players compete in numerous tournaments and play a lot of matches. Only small percentage of all battles we can call „great” or „perfect”. During these matches players hit most of their shots with control and enough power, move really well and mentally feel perfect. On the other hand we have also small percentage of matches that we would like to forget about as soon as possible. These are „terrible” performances. Nothing going into the court. Between these 2 small extremes we have big category that most of our yearly matches fall into. We can call it „OK” performance. It simply means that we play well but we still struggle with one or more areas. That is why we should always accept bad practice sessions when one of our strokes is weak or our feet don’t want to move as we want them to do because this is a perfect situation that can prepare us for what is waiting for us during the tournament.
- Bad practice sessions leave room for improvement
Coaches always look for ways to motivate players to reach higher levels. Player who are hungry to do more, learn new things and show that they can achieve great things are always the one who we later admire in front of TV. That is why coaches who see that their drills are too easy for athletes should immediately make corrections. These few mistakes can make player understand that he still has to work hard and give own best to improve. This small room for improvement is motivational and can do more good for player’s performance than „perfect practice”.
We all love to see great practice sessions but too many times these are just short-term successes. When we look at player’s development in the long term we can quickly realize that some underperformance is needed to shape athlete’s character and see how he can respond to obstacles. As I always say to my players: „You don’t have to worry about your match if you play well because most of the time you will win it. The art is to win the match when you play badly so every time you meet these conditions during practice be grateful for this opportunity and work with the goal in mind”.
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 50 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.