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“It’s Tournament Time!”… Succeeding in Postseason Play

By: Brandyn Fisher

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

With postseason play looming, I am reminded of this quote from Arthur Ashe. This saying exemplifies the importance of being ready to perform and feeling confident to perform well. With a long, hard-fought regular season in the rearview mirror, preparation for the conference tournament now begins. It is now time for you to solidify your mental and physical preparation, as both play integral roles in performing at a high level. So, exactly how do YOU physically and mentally prepare for postseason competition? The following will give you some ideas and checkpoints to keep in mind for the days leading up to, and day of, your conference tournament.

In the days leading up to competition…

· Get What You Need. This includes nutrition, stretching, fitness, sleep, and practice. Nutrition, stretching, fitness, and sleep are all controllable factors, meaning it is truly up to you how you fulfill (or do not fulfill) these areas. You know your body and what your needs are. If you are the type of person who needs a solid 8-9 hours of sleep to feel rested then do whatever it takes to get it. Practice may be the only area in which you do not have full control, but all it takes is making a simple request to coach for extra help/stroke production/competitive play/etc. As a player, it is your responsibility to know what areas you want and need to work on leading up to a match. If you do not get it in practice, find a way!

· Set Goals. Another easy and controllable method of preparation is setting goals to work towards in practice leading up to competition. The focus here should be on short-term, performance goals that are pertinent and meaningful to YOU. This might include successfully using a pattern of play you have been working on, limiting unforced errors, or hitting certain spots when serving/returning. These goals should set your concentration on specific pieces of your performance, not the entire puzzle. Be sure to write these goals down and track your successes leading up to your competition.

· Learn from your mistakes, repeat your successes. Think back to what worked and what did not work this season. The week leading up to a conference tournament is a great time to reflect on your season by listing the specifics of matches in which you played well and not so well. Simply make two columns and mark them accordingly (e.g., +/-, When I played well, When I played poorly, etc.). Then, answer the following questions that fit into each column: When you played your best/worst, what were you doing to perform this well/poorly? What shots and patterns were effective/ineffective? How did you prepare the day before matches in which you played well/poorly? How did you prepare the day of matches you played well/poorly? If you can think of anything else that might be beneficial in increasing your awareness to areas that helped or hurt your performance, be sure to list them. In the week leading up to your tournament, refer back to your list so you can mimic previous successes and limit future miscues.

The day before or day of competition…

· Be Consistent. Many professional athletes speak to great length about their preparation strategies before each and every match, attempting to make each event identical to the last. There are many reasons pros do this: It is within their control, it feels comfortable, and it signifies their readiness for competition. The routine becomes a part of the player’s personality and, like mastering a skill, becomes second-nature (which increases self-confidence!). If you currently utilize a pre-match routine, which might include a specific way you stretch/warm-up or listening to a quintessential mix of music, keep doing it! Tournament time is stressful enough and using any and all strategies to relieve this stress/anxiety should be implemented. Fortunately, something as easy as a routine (something you already do) can be used to decrease performance stress/anxiety.

· Create A Highlight Film. Some players like to recreate images or a “film” of themselves performing, specifically, performing at a high level. Using these mental highlight films can be a great way to increase your confidence, focus your energy on positive events, and concentrate on relevant moments that will help prepare you for the upcoming match. You can use the examples you come up with in the list of successful matches listed above as a blueprint for envisioning prior accomplishments. Remember, the main use of these experiences is to foster positively charged emotions, such as confidence and belief in your abilities.

· Script Your Performance. Another strategy that works for players is simply writing down a few key areas to focus on in an upcoming match. Try writing down the points of focus in practice that you and coach are working on and compile this list throughout the week leading up to competition. Continually refer back to your card to refocus your energy on areas of need. Then, the night before or morning of your match, look back over your card and script out your match. What will you look like when you play? Which strategies will you employ and how? How will you play if you find yourself leading or down in a match? Creating the answers to these questions using your card will better prepare you for a number of situations that might arise in a match.

Preparation is what you have been doing your entire tennis career, whether it be 6AM conditioning workouts or exhausting practices. Preparation is within your control and you make it what you want it to be. Come tournament time, how you have prepared yourself in the weeks and days leading up to competition may very well define your level of success. How will you want to remember YOUR postseason? See it, then be it!