Every time you step onto the tennis court, you should learn something. Whether you are playing in the finals of a national tournament, or working on your slice serve out wide, you should have an objective as to what you are doing and be working on improving your game. Often when I ask players how their practice was, they will respond by saying, "Great, I hit a lot of balls." What exactly does that mean? To me, it means they are practicing without a purpose. They are going through the motions without any thought. I would equate this to reading a book and have no idea what you are reading about; you may read an entire novel and have no idea what you just read. Preparation is where success is found. Remember, you should have control of yourself and the effort you give to bring out your best on the court.
I encourage players to bring a small notepad on the court with them to each practice session. Pack it in your bag like you would with your wristbands or Gatorade bottle. Jot down one or two things you would like to work on while you are on the court that day. Make sure it is not too much.
“People learn more effectively in bite-sized amounts, rather than everything all at once," said legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
If you have too much on your mind, you will not practice effectively. It could be something like the grip change you have been working with your coach on, your forehand shot, or sticking your volleys. Make sure you really keep to your plan during the entire practice session. Work on improving. Remind yourself that you are going to get better each day. When you get home after practice, open up your notepad and give yourself an honest grade. Did you practice everything you wrote down? How effective were you? Also write down a few notes, whether it is something your coach taught you, or something you picked up yourself that day on the court. This is a great way to ensure that you are getting the most out of your practice sessions.
The night before each match, take out your notepad and write down a few notes to remember during the competition. Every athlete knows that when the competition starts, your mind can go a little crazy. The adrenaline of the match may make you forget certain things you want to do while you are out there. Make sure to keep your points simple and concise. For example, remind yourself to play high percentage tennis, or keep your head up on your serve. During changeovers, take a peek at your notes. This is a great way to keep yourself focused. After the match is over, while you are cooling down, write down a few things you did well and a few things you didn't do so well. Learn from your mistakes so they don't happen again at your next match. Also, write down a few notes on your opponent … you may play them again down the line! Don't wait too long, as things are still fresh in your mind when you step off the court. There is a lesson to be learned every time you step between the lines.