Setting out a game plan before a match or competition is vital for any tennis player to ensure they are fully prepared for the challenge ahead. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and how you can utilize these to highlight the weakness in your opponents game is key for any player looking to gain a mental advantage over their opponent.
What is a game plan?
A game plan is a mental strategy that is developed before a match. Players will use the knowledge gained from previous matches combined with any information they have on their opponent in order to increase their chance of success. In many circumstances, a player may have no experience against their opponent so will have to use their warm-up time to analyze their style of play.
Why do you need a game plan?
Developing a game plan helps to stay focused on the match and allows a player to prepare for potential scenarios. While it is impossible to account for all potential eventualities having a game plan allows a player to have solutions for potentials problems that could arise. Below are a few examples of why it important to have a game plan.
Having a game plan in your head before a match allows a player to remain focused on the match at all times. It can be extremely hard to remain focused throughout a full tennis match, especially if it goes the distance, therefore, having something to stay focused on can benefit your game. A player at the top of their game need to remain ‘in the zone’ and focused on every point as a momentary lapse in concentration can result in a dropped point. Additionally, if a player is comfortably winning a match it can be very easy to let your concentration slip and drop simple shots, allowing your opponent to get back in. It’s important to stick to your game plan at all moments throughout a match, no matter the score.
Deal with pressure
Learning how to cope with high levels of pressure at crucial stages throughout a match is a vital skill for players who are looking to get to the top of the game. Developing a game plan before a match is a great way to help combat nerves as your mind needs to be focused on your strategy, not the possibility of winning or losing. Players who have a solely result focused mindset and only focus on the outcome of a situation will likely struggle to control their nerves as they focus on potential failure. Having a game plan distracts the player from considering the outcome of the point and gets them to focus on what they need to do to win the point.
Control the match
Having a true understanding of your opponent’s, and your own, strengths and weaknesses will allow a player to control the flow of a match. If you know your opponent is a defensive player that prefers to stay on the baseline you can use this information to take control of the match and become the offensive player. Start stepping inside to return the ball early and force your opponent out of their comfort zone and get them moving around the court.
However, it is common that players will find themselves competing against someone who they have very little or no knowledge of their play style. This makes it far more difficult to develop a game plan as the player will have to use their warm-up time to try and learn as much about their opponent as possible. Additionally, the first few points within the match give you crucial indicators as to how your opponent wants to play and what their strengths and weaknesses are. For example, hitting central shots at the start of the match will highlight whether they prefer to return with a forehand or a backhand.
These are all early signs of how the match will progress and the steps you need to take in order to ensure you are in control. Top level competitors will try to control all aspects of the match to make sure they are dictating the tempo of the match and to ensure it is playing out exactly how they want it.
How do you formulate a game plan?
The key to developing an effective game plan is to ask yourself a range of questions about your own game and to pull together everything you know about your opponent. Even if you know very little about your opponent you can still plan how you can set up points that are favorable to your strengths in an attempt to increase your chance of success.
Below are a few examples of questions you need to be able to answers about yourself and your opponent.
Questions about your game:
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- What shots have the highest success rate?
- What shots do I try to avoid playing?
- Whats is my preferred style of play?
- How do I win most of my points during a match?
- What are my opponent's strengths and weaknesses?
- Have you played them before? If so why were you successful, or not?
- What is their preferred style of play?
- What type of shots does your opponent struggle against?
- How do they typically lose most of their points?
Using these questions you will be able to begin to formulate a game plan that will help you get the best out of your game and exploit your opponent's weaknesses. As previously mentioned it’s highly likely a player will be competing against an opponent they have ever faced before. In these situations, you need to be able to adapt to their playing style while focusing on how you can play to your own strengths.
When developing your game plan there are a few things that you need to consider.
- How can I use my strengths to highlight my opponent’s weaknesses?
- How can I reduce the chance of my opponent exploiting my weaknesses?
- How can you adapt your game to increase your chances of success?
- How can you influence your game to frustrate your opponent?
These are just a few examples of questions you need to be able to answer when developing a game plan for an upcoming match or tournament.
Developing a pre-match game plan is an effective tool to help a player improve the mental side of the game, however, its importance is often overlooked. The smarter and more strategic players will take their time before a match to analyze their own game and find ways throughout the match to ensure they are playing to their strengths.
As is the case with most mental skills it’s beneficial to get players understanding the importance of a mental game plan as soon as possible. The sooner a player understand why and how to formulate a game plan the easier it will become in the future.