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...
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!