Professional dancers spend years perfecting their craft, and carefully examine every aspect of their physical routine to ensure perfection.
But all of that training could mean nothing if that dancer is not mentally prepared to perform that routine in front of an audience of thousands.
This predicament is the same for tennis players, who can spend years taking lessons and practicing with friends but fail when it comes to matches. All the practice in the world cannot prepare a player for the mental strain of performing for a title, prize, or glory.
When most tennis players are on the court with friends and teammates, they are usually having fun and playing loose. There is usually little stress or burden to win, so this is an environment where everyone plays their best. While experiences like this are very important for training and mental health, they are no substitution for the intensity of crucial matches.
Tournaments and school matches bring different elements to a player’s mind. The constant battling with an opponent for a prize causes pressure to win, which can bring anger and frustration when that does not happen. This pressure can come from teammates, spectators, and even within oneself.
Being exposed to this pressure as early as possible is crucial for a player’s growth. Junior tournaments at a young age hold little weight and can be a great way for a young player to juggle external distractions that can come from coaches, opponents, parents, and judges.
I want to emphasize how important tournament matches are for a player’s growth. For me, I knew I wanted to play for a high school varsity tennis team and a college team. I knew how much work had to be put in to achieve these goals. I was given a tennis coach, and I developed my game through years of practice.
While my forehand, backhand, serve, and volley developed nicely, the one thing I was missing was a mental game under pressure. I had to expose myself to play matches where there was a trophy to be won. These tournaments were elimination formatted; if you lose, you are out of the tournament. These matches helped prepare me for the craziness that high school and college matches bring.
My favorite tennis match from my high school years came while I was a sophomore, playing a senior. I was down 5-0, and the other girl had multiple match points. My parents and coach were upset at my lacking performance. But I did not let the pressure of my internal and external distractions keep me down. I slowly crawled my way to a tiebreak victory, cementing my spot in an important CIF tournament.
So many thoughts could have kept me from winning, like disappointment from spectators, anger at myself for not playing better, or exhaustion from a long match. But my experience playing junior tournaments at a young age helped prepare myself for these thoughts and feelings. If that was the first time I had ever played a tournament, I would have probably stormed off the court in anger.
As a high school coach, I constantly see players who have never played in professional matches before, have a hard time adjusting to the pressure of matches. They are not used to the pressure from coaches and teammates to perform, and usually become angry with themselves. The players who usually thrive are the ones who have experienced this pressure before and know how to mentally prepare themselves before and during matches.
Playing junior tournaments from a young age can mean all the difference when graduating to the next level. The lessons taught from these tournaments can help players thrive in high school, college, and even in all facets of life.