The development of high-performance anticipatory skills in tennis is one of the key components to a player who has more proficient decision-making skills in a competitive situation. Anticipation can be defined as “The ability to predict or make an educated guess based on various cues and on the characteristics of the ball and opponent at or before the point of contact.” This topic crosses all of the four key stages throughout an athlete’s development:
►10 & Under (The Building Phase)
►11-14 Years (The Development Phase)
►15-18 Years (The Junior Phase)
►19-23 Years (The Transition to Professional Phase)
This article will focus on the various methods of developing anticipation as a sub-conscious skill, as well as the relationship to better decision-making. The factors related to score and situational variables can, through training, create more clear thoughts and assertive execution of direction and shot selection.
Anticipatory skill development can be broken into two basic areas that must be simultaneously trained across all phases:
1. Mental Anticipation related to visual tracking and mental processes, and
2. Physical Development through specific fitness component training and condition specificity.
It is crucial to remember the importance of the mental process in breaking down the information, which then results in the physical response-taking place.
In the Building and Development Phases, most substantial improvements of anticipation are made. Later, in the Junior and Transition Phases, the tennis-specific training of decision-making and shot selection are more successfully undertaken due to better development of stroke mechanics and physical conditioning.
Tennis is essentially a problem-solving sport (mental) where a player is constantly in a poor position and needs to find the most effective way out with the fastest possible reaction time (physical). Players are also facing an opponent’s tendencies and other situational issues due to the score variables highlighting the importance of decision-making capacity in high-performance tennis players.
When players have greater time for preparation, they also experience reduced stress, thus reducing technical pressure. This increased time means better stroke production and more freedom for optimal visual capability, which simply means fewer errors are made. The player also has more time to make decisions due to the reduced anxiety they feel, allowing them to be free to compete. By training players mentally to search or look for appropriate cues and raise their knowledge through an understanding of court geometry, coaches assist players to be more relaxed. When coaches use methods daily that include an understanding of positional possibilities based also on technical factors of opponents they are then using decision-making methods to better equip players at each key age group.
Research shows that everyday visual abilities of a trained tennis player and that of a regular community member with no training are the same. It is the mental and physical training in tennis that develops these anticipatory skills. We also know that these skills are highly trainable over time, and should be implemented from the Building Phase when the demands of the game and time pressure for a faster response are much less.
Conrad Singh is the Chief Operating Officer of Tennis & Director of Coaching at Centercourt Club & Sports. He has held Head Coach and Director positions in Australia, England, Japan and China, and has been involved in professional tennis player development for well over two decades. Singh came to Centercourt from Shanghai, China, where he helped to develop a top high-performance player program, which saw more than 200 athletes train under his system.