Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Feb 1, 1998 – Dr. John F. Murray – Many players go through the motions in practice, hoping to magically wake up and display their true stardom once the tournament begins. This type of practice would be better spent cleaning out the garage or dusting off old trophies. True competitors make their practices as worthwhile as their matches, collecting new trophies along the way.

In order to get the most out of your practice sessions, first develop the attitude that practice is often the most decisive factor of the match. Strategies and techniques used later in the tournament are usually firmly established in these previews. The ebb and flow of a match, like weather, is difficult to predict. This very exciting aspect of tennis is also quite dangerous since control and consistency are your main allies. Being well prepared increases confidence (See my article on The Art of Confidence), protecting against the highs and lows which can throw off your game.

Simulation is a term often used by sport psychologists to refer to realistic practice. The objective is to re-create the experience of competition in practice so that you are ready when it counts. This involves setting up practices that lead to the same pressure (or close to it) as experienced in the match. Start by finding a partner equally motivated to practice smart.

If you have time to scout your opponent prior to the big match, simulate shots that would work best for you against that players’ weakness. Next, practice situations in which your opponent’s strength is played to your weakness. I’m sure you can come up with many other creative simulations. The challenge is to make it seem realistic. Use lots of variety throughout the session and remain completely focused. Play out points exactly as you would in the match. You’ll be ready like never before.

Don’t forget to get real with mental practice too (See my article on The Essence of Imagery in Tennis). Mental rehearsal techniques should include feelings and thoughts similar to those experienced on the court. Combining smart physical practice with smart mental practice is powerful. As your on court routines becomes more match-realistic, your visualization improves too. Similarly, realistic vivid imagery enhances your on court practice.

The message this month is that you can either decide to do housework … or get real and practice tennis. What’s really more important?