Why You Should Play Competitive Tennis

Why You Should Play Competitive Tennis

Plenty of people get into tennis around the summer time. Wimbledon is on the telly, Andy Murray is most likely winning and Pimms is in the air. Tennis is the national sport for a fortnight. But the problem with only playing for that two-week period every year is that it's hard to improve. If you really want to step up your game you need to play regularly.

It needs to be competitive, too. 

The benefits of playing competitive tennis

So what's so special about competitive tennis and why is it an important part of developing as a player? There are a few reasons... 

The mental side of tennis

First of all, it's important to realise that tennis is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. If you watch the professionals, it's all about decision making, playing the right shots and executing them under pressure consistently. 

That kind of environment is difficult to recreate in training sessions. When you're training, there's nothing on the line, nobody on the other side of the net trying to prove themselves and generally, the atmosphere is relaxed, not competitive. 

Playing competitive games helps you to train your mind, not just your skills. Which brings us to...

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Learning to play under pressure

Above we mentioned how it's impossible to recreate the pressure of a competitive match in a training session. That's because there's no anxiety associated with your shots. There are no nerves at play. 

Often this means that in training you'll hit better shots more consistently than when it really matters. 

There's also the cumulative effect of missing balls and shots you know are makeable. Frustration and other emotions can come into play. 

The more competitive game time you get, the better you become at dealing with hiccups, handling pressure and nerves and coming out on top when it really matters. 

Being able to perform consistently during competitive matches doesn't happen by accident.

Practice makes perfect. 

Developing your tactical game

Another aspect of competitive tennis is the tactical side of things. Learning how to win during a match and adapting your strategy as a game unfolds are things you can't work on in training. 

When something isn't working, you need to learn to try a new tactic. If something is working, you need to be able to capitalise on that and punish your opponent's weaknesses. These situations don't occur during casual rallying, you have to learn them as you go. 

Learning to win

One of the most obvious benefits of playing competitive matches is that they give you the chance to win. Competing, giving your all and coming out on top is a great feeling. Who wouldn't want it?! 

Sometimes it's good to play FOR something, not just for the sake of it. Whether that's pride, financial reward of career progression, playing in a competitive environment is the best way to achieve those things. 

It's also the best way to chart your progress. If you never test yourself in competitive games, how do you know if your tennis is really improving?

Treat training like matches, otherwise your matches will always be like training sessions

Obviously training is still important and a vital part of becoming a better tennis player. Improving your skills when the pressure is off is important, too. 

But the best thing to do is treat your training sessions like matches. Take them seriously and strive to improve. Otherwise your attitude in training will carry into competitive games and you'll get off to a slow start!

Tempted to dust off your racket?

I run a range of tennis classes for all ages and abilities, and also offer one-to-one of group coaching sessions in the Kingston and Surrey area. For more information, check out the services page. Otherwise, contact me today to sort out your first tennis lesson!

Inside a Top4Tennis School Session

Inside a Top4Tennis School Session

At Top4Tennis we specialise in school tennis sessions. That means going into schools and offering high-quality tennis coaching to kids in the mornings or afternoons. 

At the moment we run Top4Tennis school sessions at Hinchley Wood Primary School, Auriol Junior School, Mead Infant School, Christ Church Junior School, Christ Church Infant School and Hollymount Primary School. And we're always looking to expand. 

There are plenty of tennis coaches out there and different ways of going about a school coaching lesson. The difference between us and any other tennis company is the quality: We pay attention to really improving every child that attends the club. Our motto is that if children improve their tennis, they have more fun. That’s why we prioritise skills and technique, not just match play.  

This is how a typical term of tennis sessions will play out...

Mastering the basics

During the first few weeks, we usually concentrate on basic technique, forehands and backhands and taking the racket back low with a straight arm. Little things, like making sure the child swings and finishes with the racket over the shoulder, make all the difference in the long run.

These introductory sessions are when we try and iron out basic technique and flaws that would otherwise stick with a tennis player for life. These include important foundational skills like swinging with a straight arm and getting in the ready position before and after each shot.

Learning to volley and smash

Two of the most attacking shots in tennis are the volley and the smash. In our school sessions we look closely at these. The main technique is all about creating a ‘V’ between our shoulder, the elbow and the racket for the volley on both forehand and backhand side.

We should be able to see the back of the racket. If we can’t then it becomes a swing and we have no control over the ball and are likely to miss the ball. As we make contact with the ball we step forwards with the opposite foot and punch, keeping the wrist stiff. The foot you step forward on depends on the shot: left foot for the forehand volley and right foot for the backhand volley (if you are right-handed).

Sometimes use the terminology high five the ball with the racket to help the child understand what they must do on the volley, but we must be careful they don’t sacrifice their technique where the shrink their elbow to create and L shape as if they are waving hello. Again we start the child in the ready position before and after each volley.

On the smash it’s more simple. We start with the racket behind the head and the left hand above the head pointing to the ball, looking up the arm and looking at the ladybird on the side of your finger. To make contact with the ball we reach up to it the ball without letting it ball drop. On contact we then snap the wrist.

After the technique side is completed, we play fun games at the end of each session. The idea here, with these different drills, is to give each child an opportunity to introduce the skills that have been learned.

Ball dynamics

Once the children start to improve their technique we are ready to think more deeply about the dynamics of the ball. Most children naturally run to the bounce of the ball. So we start off with a simple game. Without the racket, the child must let the ball bounce and then drop below the waste before they catch it. This helps kids move behind the ball while letting the ball fall low enough to create a good shot.

The number one rule is to not let the ball behind you but letting the ball fall in front of you. Next we try the exact same but with a racket. The next phase is to follow the same steps during a rally. The bouncing and dropping rule really helps the children ensure they have time before they hit the ball, which allows them to control their shots and complete a rally.

The serve

The next step is learning to serve. We first start by focussing on the main foot. Whether left or right footed, this foot should be pointing towards the net post. The other foot is shoulder width apart behind but square on.

That’s when the serve starts. With the racket behind the head like a smash, we practice tossing the ball above the head with the weaker hand. We like to pretend that there’s a clock above our head and that the toss needs to go up at 1 o’clock. We then reach up to hit the ball.

It’s a very basic technique, but a fundamental part of the game.

At the end of each session we try to put everything together. The kids play small matches, hone their new skills and really enjoy the game of tennis.

Want to get involved?

If you’re interested in getting your children involved in tennis sessions at any of the following schools: Hinchley Wood Primary School, Auriol Junior School, Mead Infant School, Christ Church Junior School, Christ Church Infant School and Hollymount Primary School - just get in touch today and we'll get the ball rolling. 

Or maybe you've got kids at a primary or secondary school that would be interested in having regular coaching sessions? We're always on the look out for new opportunities. 

Sleeping For Success

Sleeping For Success

Sleep for the Win

There’s a famous principle in boxing that goes like this: “train hard, fight easy.” And it’s a mantra that can easily be related to other sports, too. Between putting in those gruelling hours in training and stepping out onto the tennis court, there's a window of time where nothing else can be done. Or can it? Today we're talking about the importance of sleep.

The one and only Roger Federer prioritises not just training well, but sleeping well too. Inspired by this, today we're getting serious about snoozing- particularly that final night’s rest before a big match. What follows are 4 tips we can all use to get the best night's sleep possible. With them you can be at your best on court the following day.

Tip 1: Think in sleep cycles, not in hours

Sure, it’s important to get a decent number of hours sleep. But it’s equally important that you are mindful of your body’s natural sleeping rhythms. One sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes, and to get an optimal 5 cycles of sleep in the night, you need to sleep for 7.5 hours, safely waking up at the end of the fifth cycle.

Therefore, if you want to wake up at 06.30 and get 7.5 hours of solid sleep, you should be falling asleep (not going to bed) at 23.00. Taking a scientific approach to the hours and cycles you can fit in will encourage you to wake up naturally and feeling fresh. Waking up before or after that time will mean interrupting a sleep cycle, which makes waking up more exhausting than it needs to be.

Tip 2: Get lots of natural light during the day

Getting exposure to sunlight is another way to keep your body in rhythm. Reminding your mind that it's daytime will make it easier for you to switch off later in preparation for sleep. Sunlight also increases the production of serotonin, which will help you relax. There are plenty of ways to spend some of your day outdoors without physically exerting yourself or risking injury. Going for a walk is one fantastic way to relax, shake off that nervous energy and get plenty of exposure to fresh air and sunlight.

Tip 3: Don’t drink too much, do drink the right stuff

This one should be obvious. If you want to have a solid, uninterrupted 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep, the last thing you need is to be getting up to use the toilet.

During the day, aim to stay well hydrated. That means not packing in loads of liquid right before you head to bed.

In terms of what you drink, caffeine and stimulants are okay in moderation during the morning, but best avoided after midday. The half-life of caffeine is about 5 and half hours. So to be safe, avoid coffee or caffeinated products after around 12-1 o’clock.

Use the same caution with sugary drinks. A great alternative in the evening is warm milk or a herbal tea - anything like this can help you get sleepy before bed without giving you a buzz for the rest of the night.

Tip 4: Create a relaxing bedtime ritual

There's a reason why scientists think we have a sleep epidemic going around. The world is now more full of distractions and things to do than ever before, and unfortunately, they aren't conducive to a good night's sleep. Your best bet is to create a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it. Especially if you want to perform on court the next day. 

Around 90 minutes before going to bed, begin to wind down. You should have already eaten your last meal and drunk your last proper drink by then. Now is the time to put away your devices and give your mind a rest.

Blue light waves from electronics have been shown to suppress the production of melatonin in your brain and upset your body’s circadian rhythm. If you cannot avoid looking at a screen (which is silly, everyone can), make sure you switch it onto night-time mode.

You might also want to have a warm bath or find other ways of signalling to your body and your mind that it’s time for bed. Keeping your bedroom peaceful, uncluttered and relaxing is an easy way to create calm so that sleep arrives naturally. So light those candles and hit play on your Michael Buble album!

Final thoughts

On the eve of a big game or tennis tournament, don’t be fooled into thinking there is nothing more you can do to prepare in the last 24 hours. Instead, use the time you have left to stay relaxed and prepare for a good night’s sleep. If you follow the tips above, you’ll give yourself the best opportunity to compete at your best level on the tennis court. 

Already a master of sleep? Maybe you just need some tennis training instead? Have a look through the Top4Tennis services to see if there's a class or service that's right for you.