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10 Ways To Create Realistic Match Practice

Helping players improve their matchplay skills.
By: Rob Antoun

10 ways to create realistic match practice!
By Rob Antoun

One of the most important things you need to do as a coach is to make your match practice as realistic as possible. Great match practice allows you to see your players in action – and to understand exactly what is and isn’t working in their games. However, creating match conditions is not always easy – particularly if you coach a group of players who practice regularly together.  Often, match practice can become ‘stale’ because your players play the same faces, at the same venue, week in week out.
The following tips will help you make your match practice mean more to your players. By creating more realistic ‘match tension’ you will get the chance to observe and analyse your players’ performances more effectively:

1. Dress the court

Change the way the court looks to your players by tidying away any equipment (including spare balls), placing one chair on either side of the net for the players to sit on at change-overs, putting singles sticks in the correct position, and checking the net height.

2. Match kit only

Ask your players to come to their next match practice wearing their best match kit. Simply the feeling of wearing match kit instead of practice kit will increase their competitive state of arousal.

3. ‘New balls please’

I’ve found that many players struggle to deal with the opening of new balls during a match. New balls can entirely change the feel of the court, and it is fascinating to see which players react best to the change in playing conditions. Therefore, don’t introduce them until the match is well under way. This is a great one to use if your budget can afford it!

4. ‘Quiet please’

One of the things that reduces practice match reality is when players talk to each other at change-overs. I think it’s really important for them to experience the silence of a match, and this means staying quite and learning to manage their thoughts. Also, allowing them the same time allocation between points and games as they would have in a match is crucial.

5. What’s the score?

I’ve found that the simple act of putting a scoreboard on the court can be enough to dramatically increase the focus of my players! A scoreboard brings accountability since it announces the score in public. This can be a great way of increasing the ‘edge’ to match practice.

6. You cannot be serious!

Ask someone to umpire the match practice. Again, this increases the realism of the session – especially if the umpire is unfamiliar to the players (perhaps use a club member or another coach). I have found that match practice immediately becomes more formal this way – which is what you want as a coach.

7. ‘You’re on in 20 minutes'

You learn a lot about players by watching what they do before and after their matches. A good idea is to ask them to practice their pre and post match routines by giving them advance notice of when their practice match is going to start. This allows them to experiment, and settle upon, their favourite way of approaching and reacting to their performances.

8. What’s your goal?

Another way of enhancing a player’s responsibility is to ask them to write down their goals for the upcoming practice match. Break the goals down into outcome (i.e. where do you want to get to?), performance (i.e. what do you need to do to get there?), and process goals (i.e. how are you going to do it?).
Alternatively, ask your players to set public goals before the session starts. This means telling each other, the coach, and anyone else who may be interested what they plan to do in the upcoming practice match! Again, this creates a higher sense of accountability and responsibility within each player. When doing this, it is important to stress that it doesn’t always matter that an opponent knows the game plan, since it is often the player who executes their game plan best who usually wins – irrespective of whether the opponent knew what to expect or not!

9. Get to the ‘crunch’

Play about with different scoring systems to keep your match practice interesting. For example, starting sets from 2 games all will get your players to the ‘business end’ of the set more quickly. Perhaps ask the winner of the set to start from 0-2 down in the second set, or vice versa. If you don’t have time to play a full match, ask the players to play a ‘set and two games’. These extra two games will allow them the chance to practice responding to the result of the set just played. This is crucial since many inexperienced players will lose concentration at the end of a set – no matter who won!

10. Get on the ‘tour’

Finally, linking your match practice sessions together to form some kind of ‘tour’ is a great way of keeping every player motivated throughout the season. Allocate ‘tour points’ for every performance and victory, plan out a series of practice match dates, and perhaps offer prizes at a season-ending ‘masters’ event. By doing this you are educating the player as to how tennis is run at the highest level, as well as reinforcing the importance of keeping a consistently positive attitude throughout the season. 

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