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Preparing for a match

Building match confidence
By: Rob Antoun

Preparing for a match - building confidence

Confidence is everything in tennis. It is important to increase confidence levels in the build up to matches and players need to be aware of how to maintain their confidence no matter what. Coaches and parents also need to have an understanding of what to say to the player in the time preceding a match in order to develop and maintain their confidence.

Players :

Have a routine. Best not to be too obsessive – but simple things like preparing your bag in a certain way the night before, having a warm up routine, etc are helpful in maintaining confidence.

Recall positive past experiences. Remember similar situations in which you have played well, e.g. when at the same venue, same court surface, or against the same opponent. Build confidence by thinking about times you have beaten a particular opponent previously.

Remember how well you’ve prepared and how hard you’ve been practising. When you know you have prepared well and are in good shape it is a great confidence builder – so always remind yourself of this.
Focus on what you do well. In pre-match warm ups practice strengths rather than weaknesses.
Perhaps practice some specific patterns that will work well against this particular opponent.
Have ‘tunnel vision' about what you want to happen, rather than on what you don’t want to happen.
Talk positively to yourself – talk about how you’re going to be and what you want to do.

Always remember that the result of the match is important – but it is how you approach it, how hard you try and how you deal with the highs and low it throws at you that will define you as a person.


Make sure that your body language and words show calmness! Demonstrate that you think of this as a fun day and are looking forward to it.

Don’t do all the preparation for your child – they need to get into the habit of preparing for themselves. However, especially with younger children, you might want to double check they have the essentials!
Make sure you leave in plenty of time. It is good for players to get to the venue early, get used to surroundings, warm up, practice and relax a little before playing.

Obviously the result is important! However, as the parent you must ensure that everything you say and do demonstrates that how hard they try, how they behave and how they cope with adversity are much more important than the result.

Avoid saying or doing anything that magnifies the importance of the result. If you feel compelled to offer rewards ranging from stopping for ice cream on the way home to a new bicycle then make sure it is a reward for effort and behaviour and not the result!

Do not say anything that creates an expectation of a win. ‘You’ve beaten this player before so you should do today’ or ‘They aren’t that good so you should win easy’ are to be avoided! All statements like these do are leave the player’s mind shouting ‘BUT WHAT IF I DON’T WIN?!!’

Promote positive self talk by asking your child questions that require a positive response. Ask them to tell you about their good shots, what they’re going to do and how they’re going to be on court today.
If you are going to talk about the match talk about which shots they are going to concentrate on, what tactics they are going to use and how they are going to deal with any tough situations. Perhaps reaffirm these points back to your child immediately before the match – since it is in the pre-match time that the brain can go walk about!

Be relaxed, chat about other things, remind your child to enjoy the match – remind them that you’re there for them if they need you and that you love them.


Be relaxed and laid back. Try to introduce a bit of humour and fun into the day.

Be consistent. Just because the match is an important one don’t change the way you approach it. A nervous player will take comfort and confidence from your familiar style and routine.

Help your player with pre-match warm ups and hitting – but be more laid back than you would be in a coaching session. You do not want the player to expend too much physical and nervous energy on the practice court.

Play a few practice points, but don’t keep the score.

Practice a few patterns specific to the match – perhaps a pattern that will exploit this particular opponent’s weakness.

Do not spend time on areas of weakness pre-match – practice drills and shots that are strengths.

Well before the match agree a few very simple goals. These goals can relate to the game plan, how they are going to approach the match and occasionally a technical area. These goals should be set by the player with your help – not by you with them nodding!

Reaffirm the player’s goals back to them in the 15 minutes before the match. If they are the player’s goals they will react well to you reminding them about them.

Remind them to enjoy the match and of the things that you’ll be looking out for.

Watch out for future articles on what to say and do after the match – possibly an even trickier situation!

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