Tournament season is officially in swing and many of us are holding high expectations for our results. For the past 2.5 years, I have been competing in tournaments and I am always learning new things about the mental approach and how to prepare for matches. There are 3 main things that I want to address to help you do your best and get the most out of your tournament play!
- Let your nerves work for you, not against you – We all have nerves. Some of us tend to be a little more anxious than others before tournaments, but nonetheless, we all get nervous. The truth is, we aren’t going to feel completely calm before a tournament starts. No matter what we do to calm ourselves until that first ball is served, we will feel some type of pressure or stress. I usually get anxious the night before my bracket starts and I have a hard time sleeping. Most of this anxiety boils down to the question of whether I have put in the work needed to do well and potentially hit the podium. With a little melatonin and a decompression routine that allows me to sleep a little easier (sometimes) I’m able to wake up in the morning and start getting ready to play. I’m still anxious in the mornings before I play, but I use this as an opportunity to run through situations in my head, envision myself making the shots I have been working on, and I listen to a playlist to help me turn that anxiety into motivation to do my best, and ultimately win. Play around with different parts of your routine to find things that help you focus and prepare. If all you are worried about is how nervous you are, you aren’t channeling that anxiety in a positive way. Being nervous shows that you care and that there’s an expectation to do well…so it’s not a bad thing at all. Just find ways to use it in preparation instead of allowing it to make you sick or afraid on the court. Let your nerves work for you, not against you!
- Measure yourself by what you have been working on – From tournament to tournament, I have different things that I focus on depending on how I did in my previous outings. If in one tournament I played well but realized that my hands weren’t quick enough to win, I would go back to my training sessions and begin isolating hand drills to improve for the next tournament. Since that is the area that I am consistently working on, it’s the area that I want to analyze the most to get a gauge of how I have improved. Unless we are playing on the Pro level, chances are we haven’t mastered every aspect of the game, so It’s important to pick, work on and analyze certain aspects of our game between tournaments. If we just focus on general drilling without zoning in on one area, we won’t be able to maximize our growth potential. While we want to win the tournaments we play in, it isn’t always the best indicator of how we have progressed. If we don’t have the success that we hoped for, chances are we can go back to how we played and find some areas that we improved on in our training. Pickleball is full of layers, so we can improve in one area and still not win a tournament. Use this as an opportunity to analyze another area that you didn’t do so well in, and go hard on that one for the next tournament. In our drilling, we still need to be drilling and staying sharp on the areas we are sufficient in, but we do need to be picking a shot or aspect of the game that we are spending extra time on to improve.
- Video your matches – This one always sounds like a good idea and many of us have intentions of doing it at times, but with the hustle and bustle of tournament day preparation, It often gets thrown out due to lack of time or the hassle involved. Yes, it does take a little extra time and preparation, but when we start looking at videos of how we play in tournaments, we can pick up on patterns, gather stats and analyze our body language and countenance when we are playing. All of these things are important to see from an outside viewpoint. We may feel like we did poorly with our 3rd shot drops, but when we look at the stats from the video, we may find we did a lot better than we thought. While playing it’s hard to think about everything that is going on. We don’t have time or the wherewithal to adjust to the right strategy or pick up on what isn’t working. When you tape your matches, you have the ability to come back and watch with a clear perspective and all emotions from the match tossed to the side. One thing I have learned, don’t ask your opponents if you can video the match. Just do it. If they have a problem with it they will tell you. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission in these circumstances!
As you get ready for your tournaments coming up. I hope you can use these tips to mentally prepare and get the most out of your tournament experience. If you like this article, please join The Next Level group here on Pickle Junkies so you can keep up with conversations surrounding competitive play and improving your game!
Written by Mitchell Johnson