Coaches Corner - How to Prepare for an Important Tournament
by Qingliang Wang
How to Prepare for an Important Tournament
Many talented players in the US face a similar problem: How to prepare for an important tournament. Many train very hard for them, especially junior players. However, when the tournament comes, they often perform poorly. I believe there are ways for players to better prepare for such tournaments, both technically and mentally.
Players should be technically ready before important tournaments. Many of our junior players train very hard for such tournaments. This is good, but how long before the tournament should they start preparing, and what key points should they focus on? Players should start preparing for a specific tournament two to four weeks in advance. This gives them time to get technically ready. At the beginning of the preparation, players should stop changing any strokes or adding new things. Those should be done after a tournament, and when there is no tournament coming up soon. As the important tournament approaches, training should become more intensive. Players should start doing more match-like drills, such as drills that start with a serve or receive, often starting with underspin. In addition, they should focus on technical issues they had problems within past tournaments. For example, if you lost a lot of points when opponents looped to your forehand in the last tournament, then you should do a lot of drills where your partner loops to your forehand. Finally, about a week or less before the tournament, players should train less intensively. All the technical preparation should be finished at that point. Players should still do similar drills, but training should be less intensive physically so that they will be rested when the tournament arrives.
Along with technical preparation, getting players mentally prepared is crucial. For some players, this is more important than technical preparation. The first thing is to make sure the player is not so nervous that he or she cannot perform well. To avoid this, players need to learn to get into "match mode." Match mode means a player is so mentally used to playing matches that he or she isn't particularly nervous. To get players into match mode, they should play a few small tournaments so that playing tournament matches becomes as normal as training. After a couple of tournaments one or two months in advance, players should be able to get into match mode. I would suggest players try to get into match mode just before starting technical preparation. It is much easier to get a player technically prepared when he or she is in match mode.
Setting goals is also a good way to get players more mentally engaged for a tournament. For example, they may set up a placement in a competition as a goal that they want to achieve. Setting goals make it easier to train in an effort to achieve those goals.
One thing to watch out for is that players can get tired from playing too many matches. You don't want this to happen during the major tournament. So players should stop playing small tournaments when they feel they are in match mode. In addition, the last few days before the major tournament, players should relax mentally to clear their minds.
Preparing for important tournaments can be tricky, especially for junior players. I see a lot of players with very good skills who are not able to perform well in important tournaments. If players prepare both technically and mentally, they will be ready for important tournaments.