Talk About Your Matches
A large amount of information, which can pave the way for future improvement, comes from talking with your coach after a match. Obviously, if your coach sees your match this is optimal. In this case, in particular, your coach can evaluate whether or not you have actually “seen” what was happening in the match and whether or not the proper adjustments were made in the middle of the match. The ability to make sound judgments and mid-course corrections is an important and often overlooked part of being a good competitor.
However, in cases where your coach cannot be there (this has happened more of late because of COVID and its no spectator restrictions), it is still important to speak with your coach. Like in a therapy session, your choice of words can reveal a point of view that needs to be corrected or adjusted. Here is a concrete example: One of my top students who is technically sound has not met her expectations in tournament play. She relayed to me after her last loss that she was unable to “translate” her performance in practice, which she regards as strong, onto the match court.
Now, the use of the word “translate” suggests that she views practice and matches as two separate activities. To be really clear about this, it suggests a player who practices in English and plays matches in German. Since she’s not getting to speak German very often (not many tournaments around), she is attempting something cumbersome and unwieldy. No “translation” is needed.
I suggested to her that the key word in transitioning from practice to match play is “replication.” In this case, you are simply bringing along all of the skills which you know how to do into your match. In order to accomplish this, it is apparent that you must know what you are doing right in practice. Too often, practice is done on “automatic pilot” because you know the games of your practice partners very well. You can play well without thinking too much. In contrast, match pressure entices players to overthink. How to correct this? YOU MUST PRACTICE THINKING AND THEN THE TRANSITION TO NOT THINKING which comes with better play.
Practice MUST be done by checking in with the 4-D System. The 4-D System is both a between points regime and a “while the ball is in play” execution regime, which keeps a player mentally engaged in the game.
For review, here it is:
1. Observe What Happened
2. Adjust/Plan for the next point
3. Manage Tension
4. Watch the Ball until contact
When this process is practiced, it becomes much more likely that you will bring your practice game to your matches. Here’s another concrete example of how to apply the 4-D System:
Often, in my doubles clinics, we spend about 10 minutes serving and returning. I usually have the servers think of something simple like “keep your tossing arm fully extended for a count of one” during the setup to serve. After a short warmup period, nearly all players are getting about 80% of their serves in and with solid pace. When we then begin to play, these same players often change their self-talk to “get it in” with an immediate drop-off in level. They have begun "translating." The necessary change is clear … let’s go out and do it!