"One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation."
With postseason play looming, I am reminded of this quote from Arthur Ashe. This saying exemplifies the importance of being ready to perform and feeling confident to perform well.
With a long, hard-fought regular season in the rearview mirror, preparation for the conference tournament now begins. It is now time for you to solidify your mental and physical preparation, as both play integral roles in performing at a high level.
So, exactly how do you physically and mentally prepare for postseason competition? The following will give you some ideas and checkpoints to keep in mind for the days leading up to--and day of--your conference tournament.
In the days leading up to competition:
Get What You Need
This includes nutrition, stretching, fitness, sleep, and practice. Nutrition, stretching, fitness, and sleep are all controllable factors, meaning it is truly up to you how you fulfill (or do not fulfill) these areas. You know your body and what your needs are. If you are the type of person who needs a solid 8-9 hours of sleep to feel rested then do whatever it takes to get it.
Practice may be the only area in which you do not have full control, but all it takes is making a simple request to coach for extra help/stroke production/competitive play/etc. As a player, it is your responsibility to know what areas you want and need to work on leading up to a match. If you do not get it in practice, find a way!
Another easy and controllable method of preparation is setting goals to work towards in practice leading up to competition. The focus here should be on short-term, performance goals that are pertinent and meaningful to you.
This might include successfully using a pattern of play you have been working on, limiting unforced errors, or hitting certain spots when serving/returning. These goals should set your concentration on specific pieces of your performance, not the entire puzzle. Be sure to write these goals down and track your successes leading up to your competition.
Learn From Your Mistakes, Repeat Your Successes
Think back to what worked and what did not work this season. The week leading up to a conference tournament is a great time to reflect on your season by listing the specifics of matches in which you played well and not so well.
Simply make two columns and mark them accordingly (e.g., +/-, When I played well, When I played poorly, etc.). Then, answer the following questions that fit into each column: When you played your best/worst, what were you doing to perform this well/poorly? What shots and patterns were effective/ineffective? How did you prepare the day before matches in which you played well/poorly? How did you prepare the day of matches you played well/poorly?
If you can think of anything else that might be beneficial in increasing your awareness to areas that helped or hurt your performance, be sure to list them. In the week leading up to your tournament, refer back to your list so you can mimic previous successes and limit future miscues.