Mental Preparation: The Pre-Match Advantage
Turning Pro: Young and Innocent
One of the first lessons I learned when I turned pro in 1982 was how much of an edge could be gained before the match even got started. It became obvious to me that for the best players in the world their match had begun a long time before the first serve. They came ready to play and wanted to grab me by the throat as soon as they could.
As a member of the tennis teams at Foothill Junior College and Pepperdine, I liked to just show up and play. I'd settle into the match mentally and physically during the first set. A lot of times I could get away with it because my opponent was doing it too. Do you approach your matches the same way?
On tour this wasn't such a good idea. The slow start didn't work against McEnroe, Lendl, Connors, and some of the veterans. By the time I got settled into some of those matches, the match was already over. One time I started out by losing the first sixteen points of the match. It was over so fast I almost didn't need to take a shower afterwards. Brutal -- I was learning the hard way.
The top players came expecting to have me for lunch, and they'd been thinking about taking that first bite since they found out I was on the menu. Four or five games to work up an appetite? They arrived ready to eat. The main course? Glazed Gilbert.
Being down a couple of breaks early, with no rhythm, no plan, no continuity, put me at too great a disadvantage. I was clobbered regularly by the smart guys on tour. They knew something I didn't.
Start Your Match Before It Begins
What I discovered by looking, listening, and losing was simple. The guys making money out there started honing in on their target (me, for example) before the target was even in sight. The smart ones were consciously and subconsciously reviewing information about the opponent ahead of them as soon as they knew who that player was. The process began hours before the match. The smart players wanted to seek and seize advantage as early as possible. And they wanted to do it in as many ways as possible. For them, one of the big opportunies was good mental preparation. And that means early mental preparation.
When Does Your Warm-up Begin?
Let me tell you when the warm-up doesn't begin. It doesn't begin when you arrive on the court. It may for your opponent, but it shouldn't for you. A smart player starts to prepare for the match on the way to the match, or even before. The warm-up should continue on into the locker room and out onto the court.
The warm-up begins with your brain. Your mind is usually the last part of you to get activated (if it gets activated at all). Players stretch incorrectly for a minute, hit a couple of forehands, and three serves, and it's "Let's start." They barely warm up the body, but that's more attention than they give to their mental preparation. The mind is a terrible thing to waste, and tennis players waste it all the time.
Get into the habit of evaluating your opponent and thinking about the match before you arrive at the court. If you drive to the match your car is the place where your warm-up begins. If you walk to the courts, then the sidewalk is where it happens. No matter what, your warm-up starts on the way to the match.
For me it can begin even earlier than that. The night before a match I'll be in my hotel room thinking about the next day's competition. I'll actually play points out in my mind. I can see myself making shots and winning points. I visualize points we've played in the past. I'll see myself making specific shots against that player. It's almost like watching a videotape of segments of a match. In the morning I'll continue the process.
That little five-minute warm-up you see before a match begins for the players on tour is probably misleading. It looks like we just trot out to the court with that big bag over our shoulder, hit for a couple of minutes, and start the match. For most of us the process has been going on throughout the day -- hitting, stretching, loosening up, a massage, and most of all, that mental review.
The Pre-Match Mental Checklist
Whether I won or lost to a player in our last match, I want to think about the reasons. How did I beat him? What does he do with his shot selection and pattern? Does he attack? Is he a retriever? Does he serve big? What's his return of serve like? Did I make mistakes against him last time? What kind and why? What shots are his best? His worst? Was he forcing me to do something that bothered me? Does he start strong and get too cautious on pressure points? Was it a close match? Were the points long? I review everything that pertains to my opponent's game (as far as strokes and shot tendencies are concerned).
It is also important to consider the "personality" of the game your opponent produces. What does he do to affect the atmosphere, mood, or tempo of the match? Is she very slow between points? Does he get emotional? Does she protest a lot of calls? Is he great when he gets a lead, but not so great when he's losing? Do your opponents give you a lot of small talk on changeovers, taking your mind off the match like McEnroe tried to do to me? Do they always show up ten minutes late? Do they rush through the warm-up and want to start the match as soon as possible?
Prepare yourself mentally for the "stuff" certain players bring with them into the match. I want to be mentally and emotionally set for the fast play of Andre Agassi or the deliberate methodical match tempo of Ivan Lendl. I want to be ready for the temperamental outbursts of Connors and McEnroe or the stonefaces of Michael Chang or Jim Courier. It makes a big difference to me because I'm better able to control my own game plan, tempo, and composure if I know what's likely to be happening on the other side of the net. Believe me, it can make a huge difference, as you'll see later.
The Game Plan
This process of review will lead me right into the equally important process of planning my strategy:
1. What do I want to make happen?
2. What do I want to prevent from happening?
By evaluating my opponent I start solidifying my own approach to the match. As I review their game style and strokes I'm preparing my basic game plan. If they broke down my backhand last time I'll be thinking about how to prevent the same thing from happening this time. If their serve is weak I'm alerting myself and going over how to take advantage of that. I'm planning a specific approach for that specific player. All of this before I even see them at the court.
Set Your Compass
Your body will try to do what your mind tells it to do. In this pre-match review you're programming your mind to give the body correct information once the match begins and things start happening quickly under fire. You're setting the course you want to take to arrive at your destination. That destination is victory.
In its most basic form your plan evolves as you answer these questions:
1. What is my opponent's best weapon?
2. Where is my opponent weak?
3. What is my best shot and how can I direct it at my opponent's weakness?
4. What can I do to keep my opponent away from my own weakness?
Your pre-match effort creates a mental compass. You know where you want to go and how you're going to get there. There may be detours along the way, your opponent may present some surprises, you may get lost, but the basic route is laid out in your head in advance and your mental compass keeps you on course. (Coming up I'll show you how following this procedure helped me beat both Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors, in totally different ways.)
Even if you tend to play the same people over and over (your tennis buddies) it is still important to zero in on the specific player for a particular day. Get your mind on that one player. If you're playing each other regularly it can be even more advantageous to review and refine your tactics because you've got a backlog of information. That's when it really starts to get interesting.
Watch the tour players. The great ones are very intent on getting off to a good start because they know that it can often set the tone for the entire match. Getting the other player under your thumb right out of the chute puts them in a "catch up" position. Sometimes they'll recover. A lot of times they won't. And that's what you want to do to your opponent. As early as possible you want to force them to be considering the idea that "maybe it's just not gonna be my day today." It can happen very early, believe me. Your pre-match preparation and visualization can make you the one somebody else is trying to catch up to.
You're thinking, "Hey, Brad. Gimme a break! I've got a life. I can't be thinking about tennis all the time." That's right. But what I'm talking about takes less than ten minutes of attention on the way to your match and then the effort of following a plan once you get there. Maybe you can squeeze that in for opponents you really want to beat. By giving yourself a good chance to start right you're giving yourself a good chance to finish right. That's worth the extra attention.
Let me take you through my own mental preparation exactly as I've used it before important matches.
Preparation on Tour: Becker and Connors (Different Strokes for Different Folks)
When I started seriously using my pre-match opportunities in this way I started winning more often. Let's say my opponent in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open was Boris Becker (because it was). My own mental review before I got to the locker room at Flushing Meadow would go like this:
Becker can attack my weak second serve. He knows how to exploit it for maximum effect. This is a polite way of saying he creams it. Therefore, I don't want to let him see many seconds. That means I want to get my first serve in more consistently, to p... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
Revue de presse
'Winning Ugly is a totally new approach to getting more out of your tennis game. I wish it had been around when I was learning to play' Jim Courier
Quatrième de couverture
He's been called the best in the world at the mental game of tennis. Brad Gilbert has an astonishing record as coach to grand-slam winning stars such as Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, and currently Britain's Andy Murray.
Now, in Winning Ugly, named one of the best sports books ever written by Observer Sports Monthly, Gilbert teaches recreational players how to win more often without necessarily even changing their strokes. The key to success, he says, is to become a better thinking player - to recognize, analyze and capitalize. That means outthinking opponents before, during and after a match; forcing him or her to play your game.
Winning Ugly is an invaluable combat manual for the court, and it's tip's include 'some real gems' according to Tennis magazine. Ultimately, Winning Ugly will help you beat players who have been beating you.
'Winning Ugly is great. These are pro tactics that will improve a recreational player's game fast. It teaches you how to play better tennis and is very entertaining'
ISBN 13: 978-1-84739-057-8
ISBN 10: 1-84739-057-9
Biographie de l'auteur
Steve Jamison is a writer, television producer and host.