A quick google search will tell you that there are 4,710,000,000 items related to the term preparation so, why is it so important and why is it so important in tennis.
We always hear coaches directing their players to warm up before they commence training either on or off court. This is essential to prevent injury and to have them physically ready to perform at their peak. A comprehensive warm up will give the athlete confidence to give a hundred percent from the start of the match/session without any excuses.
When it comes to groundstrokes, we are always telling players “Get your racquet back early” and “racquet back before the ball bounces on your side of the court”. This preparation will give the player the highest chance of producing a technically correct stroke.
Tactically we encourage players to decide as early as possible what stroke they will execute and to be clear with their decision making. The earlier the player can recognise what shot they are going to play and to which part of the court, the higher the chance of winning the point.
A player’s fitness can also be attributed to the amount of preparation they have done to be physically fit, healthy, and able to recover from tough training sessions or gruelling matches. The number of hours spent or not spent in the gym or on the practice court quickly becomes evident when the circumstances become tough.
This can be due to a long, hard match, oppressive conditions or having to back up for two matches in a day or a short turnaround between match days.
Preparing mentally for the challenges that lay ahead is extremely valuable. This can be seen in many forms such as visualisation prior to a match, positive self-talk and having a clear plan before training or playing a match.
There are other important factors that also contribute to performance. Nutrition, travel, and equipment are all elements that require preparation for the player to reach peak performance.
Eating the right food and the correct amount of it in the days/weeks/months prior will ensure the body has the fuel to get through the exercise and will also aid recovery. Preparing your travel to the venue be it close to home or a significant distance away also affects player performance.
Arriving early will enable the player to acclimatise to the conditions, have a good warm up and be in a good frame of mind before competing whilst arriving late can lead to having to forfeit a match, not having a significant warm up and general feelings of stress and anxiety.
Novak Djokovic is known for being meticulous in all areas of his preparation. He leaves no stone unturned to be the best he can possible be. This is shown through his diet where all his meals are measured to the millimetre, his legendary stretching routines and his incredible on court work ethic. As the 21-time grand slam champion says “It’s not the will-to-win that matters. It’s the will to prepare.”
Several sports psychologists have completed studies that concluded that your performance under stress will be dictated by what you have done prior to prepare for your challenges. In other words, if you have done the work physically, mentally, technically, and tactically it will unveil itself under pressure and conversely it will also be revealed if you have not put in the necessary preparation.
I have often had athletes complain after a loss that the opponent got all the breaks and things all went against them on the day. However, when you dig a little deeper you soon found that the one who got all the “lucky breaks” had done far more preparation in the weeks, months or even years leading up to this moment whereas when my athlete asked themselves the question “did I do everything I could in order to perform at my optimum”, the answer was seldom yes.
I believe to make the most of your potential and give yourself the best possible chance of success that preparation in all aspects of your game is imperative. On court, off court, self-talk, nutrition, sleep, scouting opponents, travel, having your equipment organised and in working order will all play a part in your results on the court.
If you have given everything you can to be the best version of yourself on the day, then you can be proud of yourself and satisfied with your efforts no matter the outcome. As Benjamin Franklin once said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.