When we see the pros warming up for their matches on TV, we often forget that they are already warmed up! Their bodies and minds are ready to take on their opponent as they are shifting into the last few minutes of preparation. Through my experience with recreational players, I have rarely seen a player take their warm ups seriously enough to give them the upper hand in their upcoming matches. Let’s take a look at what you could do to improve your pre match warm up. I’m going to divide this into your mental and physical warm up as they are both different yet equally important.
Mental Warm Up
Former Chess and Taiji Push Hands Champion Josh Waitzkin has a lot to offer in his book “Art of Learning.” He describes the mental preparation to get “into the zone” that is often considered a relaxed and present state of mind. Waitzkin argues that it is possible to get into this type of zone at will during anytime leading up to a big event (such as a tennis match). However, the preparation to build this model takes many months. Here’s how it goes:
1. Figure out activities that get you into a relaxed and fully present state. Waitzkin uses an example from his work with a client by saying that his was playing catch with his son.
2. Add other activities to this action you found. For Waitzkin, he had his client play some music and have a smoothie before playing catch with his son. This allows your brain to associate the new actions to the one that gets you into the zone.
3. Practice the new routine and start taking away the original action that got you into the relaxed and fully present state. This is important due to the fact that it is most likely that your action that gets you into the zone is not ideal to do before a tennis match. For example, you can’t always count on playing catch with your son to get in the zone!
4. Condense the time of the routine. Cut the time of your routine. For example, playing less of the song you use could help. Getting better with meditation is also helpful. The easier you can calm the brain the easier it is to enter “the zone.”
This whole process is described in great detail in the “Art of Learning” if you would like more detail on it. The idea is to use that precious time before your tennis match to improve your state of mind so you can be mentally sharp on the tennis court.
I personally like to visualize the match in my head with all the errors and tribulations I will be going through during the match. Getting used to these emotions that come with failure allows me to be ready for them and also to overcome them. At the end of my visualizing, I will make sure I end on a positive note; imagining myself able to overcome those obstacles to prevail in the match. If you are expecting great execution from your tennis match, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Be humble and expect mistakes. But also expect a good reaction towards those mistakes. I remember telling players that in 2016 Novak Djokovic made 100 errors in a single match and still won. Without a positive mindset throughout that difficult time he would have no chance at that winning that match.
Physical Warm Up
Regardless of what your warm up entails, everyone should be doing dynamic warm ups. This involves you moving through certain exercises to expand your range of motion and improving the chances that you stay injury free in your match. There are plenty of videos out there for this. Doing some side shuffles, high knees, butt kicks, skips and jump roping are all good movements to consider doing.
As far as hitting before a tennis match, do not just plan on hitting with your opponent. Try to get someone to hit with before hand. In Grad Gilbert’s book “Winning Ugly,” he mentioned that a lot of players would hire a pro at the local tennis club to hit with them right before a big match. For me, I take a long time to get into the match so I try to hit as much as I can before hitting with my opponent. Whatever the case, make sure you’re ready to rock before your warm up with your opponent.
Warming Up With Your Opponent
This is often a missed opportunity to get a feel for your opponent. At the recreational level, there are plenty of patterns to take note of while hitting with him or her. I will first feed a ball directly in the middle of the court. I pay attention to what side they cheat towards. If they are running around their backhand, this gives me a good indication that I should be aiming for their backhand most of the time, especially during big points. How do they handle high balls, slice, short balls, etc are all important questions to figure out as you are hitting. Do they hit volleys or overheads? Even when they are serving do you notice some “tells” with their toss and body language of where they are serving. Basically, the warm up is not about you it’s about them. The more you know about your opponent the more you can avoid their strengths and make them play “plan B.”
Conclusion: Use Your Time Wisely
The one thing that you and your opponent have in common is time. How you use it before your match is important and may be the difference between winning and losing? Consider tweaking your pre-match rituals so that you have no regrets in your preparation for your match. You will not only have a higher chance of winning but also you will have a higher chance of staying injury free!