One of the most important jobs of a tennis coach is to provide to his player easy-to-understand and actionable feedback after match play.
The player is so involved in the match and makes so many quick and instinctive reactions that he cannot possibly see and analyze all the key details of the match.
But the coach can since he is usually able to see the court well, has much more experience than the player and is able to better assess what worked and what didn’t in each particular match.
In order for both the player and the coach to better cooperate through this long term process, the coach needs to have a certain system in place, starting with the preparation of his player for the upcoming match.
It is then much easier to analyze the match if both parties knew what the initial tactical plan was and what the mental preparation was about.
Preparing The Player For the Upcoming Match
While every player is different and needs a slightly different approach based on their personality but also on their current form, there are some common procedures that the coach and the player should go through.
They include the tactical plan and the mental preparation.
1. The tactical plan should include the main strategy (plan A) the player should use in the match in order to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses while looking to attack and exploit opponent’s weaknesses and neutralize his strengths.
This plan should also include more specific tactics on how to achieve that.
If for example the general strategy is to exploit the weaker backhand of his opponent, a more specific tactic on how to do that would be serving first serves wide on the deuce side to opponent’s forehand and then attacking his backhand on the next shot and possibly approaching the net therefore making his opponent his a good shot off his weaker side while being in a difficult situation.
The tactical plan should also include plan B in case plan A doesn’t work and possibly even plan C as the last and riskiest approach if the player is still losing after implementing plans A and B.
2. The mental preparation for the match may start a few days before the match with daily visualization of patterns of play that the player will use most and also visualizations of how he handles himself during the mentally more challenging parts of the match, for example when serving for the set, facing break points or finishing shots at the net.
The patterns of play and which are the key situations in the match the player needs to prepare for psychologically are of course planned together with the coach who after some time working with the player knows best what his player needs in order to play at his peak performance.
The mental preparation should also include relaxation techniques right before the match in order to control the pre-match anxiety as well as getting the player to ideal level of activation and reminding him of the methods on how to control it during the match in order to play as much time as possible in his ideal performance state (IPS).
The Role and Goal of Practice Matches
One of the best ways to assess player’s performance before the actual competition is to play practice matches.
Practice matches provide the player and the coach with the possibility to implement the tactical plans the player needs to use in real matches as well as being able to work on mental techniques in a situation with less pressure.
Some of the key mental techniques player can work on during practice matches are:
- the serve and return rituals with the goal of reaching and maintaining his ideal performance state (IPS)
- the techniques for controlling his activation level which also contributes to reaching IPS
- the ability to monitor and change his internal self-talk to a more positive one
- the ability to control his focus and ignoring outer and inner (thoughts, emotions) distractions
Practice matches give the player more freedom to experiment with tactical patterns he is currently working on as the practice situation doesn’t create as much pressure as the real match.
If the player is to eventually use different tactics in real matches, he needs to be confident in his skills and the practice match is an ideal situation to develop that trust in his abilities.
The Role of Notation In Match Analysis
As the process of match notation has improved in the last years through the use of smartphone apps and other sophisticated software, so has the coach’s ability to analyze the match in more detail.
The more detailed notation enables apps to calculate more detailed stats and draw more accurate graphs that better show the coach how the player performed in the match.
But since notation of matches typically includes strokes, their direction and perhaps depth, it cannot record player’s psychological states during matches.
While the coach can subjectively assess player’s mental state during the match, he cannot really measure it and get a more objective feedback on player’s mental state.
Imagine if we could overlay the notation and stats from the match with the mental state of the player measured in a certain way throughout the match…
Currently the best way to show the player his mental state during the match is to record the matches and go through each of them with the player.
Recordings don’t lie and with an open minded and motivated player it is not difficult to point out and analyze mental state throughout the match based on body language and facial expressions of the player.
By combinining the psychological analysis in this manner with the measures and calculated stats from the match, both player and coach can better find the real reasons for poor performance as well as peak performance.
4 Keys to Productive Match Analysis
As the match ends and especially if the player has lost it, the emotions run high.
The player will understandably be disappointed and very likely not perceive immediate feedback on the match as positive even if we start with the positives.
The coach may also be disappointed with player’s performance and even though he may provide the player with facts of the match, his tone, body language and facial expressions will convey to the player even more negativity and affect his confidence as well as relationship with the coach in the long term.
That’s why it’s important to account for this emotionally vulnerable time for the player and wait with match analysis for a while.
Here are some guidelines on how to analyze the match with the player and get the most of it:
- First feedback: The first immediate feedback from the coach needs to be positive and it should be related to player’s performance and not the result. It should be very short, lasting not more than a minute or two. The player should then begin his cool down routine.The first task for the player after the match is to perform physical cool down with a 10-15 minute jog and stretching routine which will also serve as the psychological cool down.
- Timing of more detailed analysis: In many cases, players will be open to contructive feedback only on the next day. The coach and the player need to talk about the best way to do match analysis and find out the time that best works for the player.It’s important that the player honestly tells the coach when he is ready to talk about the match and learn from his mistakes as well as reinforce the good plays he made in the match.Some players are able to really get involved in a constructive match analysis in just one hour after the match, whereas others really do need a day to clear their head.The simple rule is that the younger the player is, the longer they need to start thinking clearly after the match.
- Focus on performance and elements in player’s control: While coach and the player are involved in the long term in competitive tennis for results, the fact is that the end result of each match let alone of player’s career is not in their control.Therefore the discussion always needs to be about the elements that the player can control – for example looking to maintain high first serve percentage by adding more spin and height to his serves rather than scolding the player for losing his serve.
- Provide the player with just few clear objectives for future practice and matches: The results of a detailed match analysis especially with modern smartphone apps offers the coach many topics of improvement but his goal is to narrow them down to just a few key ones that the player should keep in mind.It is very easy to overwhelm the player with too much information and make him feel that nothing works well and therefore affect his confidence.Therefore the coach needs to be very selective with what he conveys to the player so that the player stays motivated and confident that he can reach new levels of performance in his game.
And since the mental state of the player throughout the match is the key to his peak performance, it would be really useful to the coach to have objective data of player’s mental states before and during the match.
It would be even better if the coach could compare this data with previous matches of his player, because he could then notice the fluctuations of his mental states and therefore his performance at certain points in matches.
Would that in your opinion change how the coach would analyze the match and prepare the player differently for future matches?