Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice -
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 06-03-2009, 07:43 PM Thread Starter
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Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice

Hi everyone,
I hope found my last post on avoiding choking useful!
After reading forums and talking with people, I have come up with a new article called:
Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice


Being able to do something well in practice or when nobody is looking, but having a hard time executing that same thing in competition is a very common mental toughness challenge for tennis players.

You know you can, but you just aren’t hitting a certain shot that you do in practice, or just are not as consistent as you know you can be.

For those of you who find yourselves in this situation, here is an article to help.

When we are practicing, there is no score, no winning, no outcome. However, in competition situations, there is- BIG TIME. With the stakes higher, a lot of times we become attached to a certain outcome or result.

Here is what I mean by “attached to a certain outcome or result.” You want to win, or want the ball to go in so bad, that that outcome becomes your focus and what is on your mind. In other words, when you are attached to an outcome, your focus all of a sudden becomes on winning or not losing, opposed to what it is going to take to win. This is what has you get tight and what many call “play to not lose.” Many of us do this, but is about the same thing as looking at the score cards at the top of the net while playing, instead of the ball.

This is quite different that when you were practicing and it was easy to focus on your footwork, contact point, aim, etc…

So now that we know what the cause of the trouble is, what do we do about it?
We have to get to the root of what has us be attached.

What has us be attached is we think that if we miss or lose we will:
-Look bad to others or lose admiration
-People won’t want to play with us
-Our practice will have been for nothing
-We will disappoint someone
-Generally suck

These are just a few examples but the list goes on and on. There is often a different notion of what it will mean about us or what will happen if we lose or miss for every player. Also said, we each have different notions about what will happen that has us be attached.

If you are really committed to causing a result in this area of your tennis, reading this article and knowing that you get attached at certain times is probably not enough. It would be incredibly useful to take a few minutes to figure out what notions you have that get in your way.

These notions exist in our blind spots and most often take some searching to uncover. They are not obvious or readily available either.

What you can ask yourself is, “what would happen if I missed or lost?” or “what does losing/missing mean about me.” The answers that you are getting from yourself are not the obvious ones like, “I would lose the point,” but you want to get the answers that exist in your head that are causing you to get attached. Doing this takes some hard and honest thinking, but it is the best way to get unattached and play as well in practice as you do in competition.

The last step to take is to think of what TO focus on when playing. Is it being aggressive? A certain pattern? Strategy? Footwork?

Achieving this, like anything else in tennis, takes practice. It may take a few matches before you get to most of the notions in your head that are having you be attached. Once you are good to go for a while, more could come up and you could get re-attached. Mental toughness is about getting the stuff out of the way that inhibits you from focusing, then getting yourself to focus on something useful. And it takes work to do this. We all worked to get our strokes and it takes work like getting unattached to the outcome to get mentally tough!

Best of luck!

David Groemping
Gemini Executive Coaching
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 02:11 PM
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Re: Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice

I'm glad I don't play like I practice. As a "club" player, I don't really have a coach, am lucky sometimes to even have what passes for a "practice" a few days before a sanctioned match. At times I am able to keep myself and my strokes serious...but most of my teammates seem more interested in discussing last night's happenings or what they're gonna wear the next day. I do try to work on certain elements for the duration of a practice "match" and I have a hitting partner than gives me a more serious workout but it's no replacement for a real lesson or coaching session.

I don't have much trouble in a real match staying focused or going for my shots. I don't always make them but I usually think I've made the right "mental" choices (on the whole...certain points, naturally, I play wrong ).

But I'm a huge proponent of "Practice Like You Want To Play" and, based on your article, I need to add "Both Mentally and Physically".

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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 09:54 PM
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Re: Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice

You've got the right attitude to have, AQ, as you said the problem is more physical.

For most juniors, though, their problem is exactly the opposite. They have the physical aspect but not the mental.

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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 06-05-2009, 12:28 AM
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Re: Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice

Thanks for the article, very applicable article to me although I'm not sure it fully answers my problem.

I've got a ball machine, and quite a few hitting partners. When I play with them, I strike the ball great. I feel like if I hit the ball in a match like I do with them I'll win a lot of the matches I play.

But for some reason, stick me out on a court for an "important" match and my game falls to pieces. What I've put it down to is that I almost care too much, I've got such an awful fear of losing (not really sure why, I'm just ultra competitive). What happens is, I'm so wary of making errors that I play a lot safer, and hold back on my shots (the problem is that rather than play with more topspin, my racquet head acceleration decreases). It results in me missing more, and my confidence totally disappearing. I tell myself "you're not even going for anything and you're still missing"'s not a nice position to be in.

I suppose there's also the argument that I notice my mistakes a lot more in a match than I do in practice, so even if I think I'm playing worse in a match it might not always necessarily be the case.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 06-05-2009, 12:41 AM
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Re: Bridging the Gap – Playing as Well In Competition as You Do In Practice

cracking that barrier - it is different for everyone i believe... everyone has their own code to crack, that is unique to them and their situation...

its a nice read and the OP has covered in depth many things, but, had probably already explained it in full by the 1st 1/3rd of the post...

i guess for me i kinda went backwards, more to the thinking when i was a kid... stop over analysing it and just trust what you got is gonna be enough.. get free... then just play... never mind that your opponent may have practiced twice the time that week that you have, cos what you got is what you got and you gotta get happy with it quick...

it basically becomes a question of how much of a game is it to you... how seriously you treat it... are you gonna play it, or let it play you...? i mean... is it 'really' fun...?

so... if you want your play to become like practice... then... you must...

have your practice become more like your play...

Originally Posted by SelvenluvJo View Post
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