What should I be doing in the lead up to a match?

q&a Aug 10, 2020

One of the common conversations I have with my athletes is around the lead up to their match, so here I'm going to talk specifically about the lead up to the match on the day of the match. 

Waking up

The important part about the day of the match is that you've got to feel like you're comfortable and ready. Now the advice I give to a lot of athletes is that it takes you roughly two or three hours to wake up in the morning. If you have a match in the morning and you're not awake early enough, the mind and the body really cannot be focused and prepared to be able to deal with the decision making and the intensity that is required on a tennis court.

Fuel your body

The nutritional intake is also really important. Your meal needs to be two hours before you play to really fuel yourself up for preparation. If you need some advice on nutrition it's really important to see someone who's an expert in the field and has a good understanding of what you like to eat or don't like to eat, including the amount of fluid you need to take in. Once you've woken up and fueled your body, the next part is getting to the the courts.

Getting to the courts

For some players this is where it becomes tricky, because there's no definitive answer here. You as an athlete need to know yourself really well, and you've got to understand when and how you perform to your best. If you perform at your best by getting to the courts an hour before or two hours before your match, or you perform to your best by having a half an hour warm-up hit or an hour warm-up hit, that's for you to decide. You need to understand how long of a lead up time to ensure that you're ready to play.

I've coached a lot of players on the tour that really like a long drawn out preparation, which may include a physical warm-up and going on the court with a nice long hit well in advance of the match, with time between the warm-up hit and the match. Some players I've coached like a short hit to go straight onto their match.

The recipe for success

I like to talk about the recipe for success, which for me is when a player understands what has worked in the past and implements that into their pre-match routine. So if you know that certain food makes you play better or a certain amount of water makes you feel like you're hydrated enough, or you feel like a certain player you warm up with makes you strike the ball better, then you've got to replicate that on a daily basis and on a match to match basis to ensure that performance becomes consistent.

It's about achieving consistent results so that the pre-match preparation becomes part of your routine to perform well. Always understand what you've done in the past and implement that moving forward. If there's things that have not worked, then make sure you don't include that into your pre-match preparation because the day of the match you want to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.

Examples might be booking the the transport to get you to the courts in time, or booking your practice courts and your hitting partner. For juniors playing local tournaments, you might need to ensure that you have warmed up hitting wise elsewhere as there may not be courts at the venue you're playing your match at.

Have a plan

As an athlete, do you have a plan walking into that match? Have you spoken to your coach beforehand? Do you understand what needs to happen in terms of the game plan and the tactics that you're going to implement? You may understand your game, but do you know who you're playing against and what they like or dislike on the court? Ensure that you understand that component, because that gives you a direction as to how you're going to play your match. If you don't have a clear direction or a clear vision, it's going to be very hard to execute something on the court. The mind works really well when it has a clear vision and then the body takes over from the thought processes, so we need to ensure the game plan is in place.

Mental preparation

A lot of players remember to warm up from a physical perspective. You do your running and skipping, and the thera-band work prior to jumping on the court, and then the pre-match hit, but do you prepare your mind? It's a really critical component to preparing for your match. It may mean taking some space and time alone, or music or a certain certain song that actually gets you going or calms you down. A lot of the time in junior tennis you're in the car with your parents on the way and there's a lot of conversation around the match, which can build a lot of anxiety.

You need to know yourself and your definitive recipe for success and this includes your mindset pre-match. When you take all of that into account, make sure you always write down the things that worked really well and helped you execute on game day, because that will form your recipe moving forward.

Hopefully this helps you to create consistent performance, because that's what we're looking for in sport. Not the outstanding performance and then a drop. The best players in the world have a very small gap between their best and worst tennis, but the pre-match preparation plays a really big role in ensuring that your success stays consistent.

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