All coaches know that there are 2 crucial factors in developing successful tennis players. These factors are: match game and training session. Each factor has own supporters and opponents so it is important to take a closer look at both aspects while preparing effectice periodization plan. Should we play more matches than we train? Is practice session more important than playing points? Is it worthy to balance both factors at all levels of performance? Let’s get some information before we make the final verdict.
There is no one magical way to develop successful tennis players. Serena Williams was playing in garage from the early years. Andre Agassi was hitting millions of balls that were fed from the ball machine. Novak Djokovic made the world conscious that he was working against the wall to develop solid tennis skills. These and many other differences are known among players at all levels. Different coaching methods, drills, practice frequency, practice volume etc. That is why it is smart to not copy other coaches’ methods but to use them to expand own knowledge and adjust periodization plan for athletes.
Each tennis player is individual. From the playing style to the personality there are no 2 the same athletes in the world. To decide how many matches one player should play and how many hours he should spend on the practice court coach has to know much more than how good player’s forehand or backhand is. Get familiar with athlete’s personality, emotions, personal problems, difficulties related to sport and life will give you much bigger picture about who you have every day on the tennis court. Without this information we look at the player from our perspective which is completely wrong. Tennis is a player-centered sport so coaches have to possess as much information about the player as possible to make sure that all moves are done to help tennis player in the most effective way.
Coming back to our topic it is crucial to understand what benefits are hidden behind match game and practice session. Match game is a real test of tennis skills. Player compete with the opponent so they have to react to all balls and make proper tactical decisions to make own chances bigger for winning. Additionally there is a lot of pressure going on because competitions are held in different places, environment is specific and player can be scared of factors like spectators, cameras, ranking points or potential sponsors. On the other hand we have a practice session. Everybody knows the phrase „Practice makes perfect”. There is no success without training. During practice sessions you can work on weaknesses, improve strengths and add additional skills to your bag. Environment is more comfortable so player can fully focus just on performance without special distractions.
Who should play more matches?
Match game is a perfect environment to see how well you can use your skills under pressure. There are a lot of players who play really well during practice session but they completely underperform at tournaments. We have to remember that tennis is a game where technique, tactic, mental preparation and physical preparation have impact on the final result. That is why while playing many matches players can test own skills, get more experience and use strengths with better quality. Players who lose many first rounds or spend most practice sessions on technical drills should consider more competitive encounters to make sure that all areas of tennis development are improved.
Who should use more training sessions?
Training sessions are fundamental in long-term development of any athlete. Without this crucial factor players can get detrimental technical habits while playing too many matches as also they can get injured because while most of the players don’t do any specific strength training while competing. Practice sessions give opportunity to maximize own strengths, work on weaknesses and add new weapons. It is also a great time to make some changes that are needed to get to the next level of performance. Players who play many tournaments in a row or who are younger and still have many skills to possess are recommended to spend more time on the court while training to make sure that short-term goals (results) as well as long-term goals (general development) are achieved.
It is not easy to say if we should play more matches or to practise more. You are the coach, you know your player and you are both aware of your goals. Generally, younger players should trian more to develop skills and more advanced players should compete more to transfer these skills into environment with more pressure. Only by experimenting with different approaches, learning from your experiences and having player’s well-being in mind you can make right decisions which you won’t regret in the future. Train, play and win!
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.