Tournament Preparation: What to do Leading Up to Your Tournament

Sara Choy (Palo Alto)   Girls 16's Winter Sectionals Champion 2017

Sara Choy (Palo Alto) 

Girls 16's Winter Sectionals Champion 2017

Now that summer is here and our kids are in a best opportunity to improve their game through tournament play, I would like to write this blog to help our kids prepare for upcoming tournaments the right way.

In my time working with juniors, running tournaments, coaching USTA National Teams and being the dad of a top 50 junior, there is one thing that I have noticed.  The kids who seem most prepared, normally go on to either win the tournament, or to do exceptionally well in the later rounds.

I have watched kids jump rope and sprint before their matches, practice swing and volley with a partner in the parking lot.  I have even seen players rally with their dad over a guard rail at a random high school because the tennis courts were not available for player warm up.  cough....Stockton Sectionals Championships 2016.  These kids are putting in every opportunity to prepare mentally and physically for the match ahead.  

Then there are those who may have just woken up from a nap, running late for check in and barely make the time of penalty point loss starting the set down a game.  They didn't have time for pre-match warm ups or even a light jog, before immediately starting their match against more than likely, the player described in the paragraph above.

Here is how to avoid being the kid in the later paragraph.

1.  Research the Tournament When Choosing

Choosing the best tournament for your junior player is probably the most important job that we can do as parents and coaches.  Eventually, they will need to do this on their own, but for now, sitting down with your child and picking which tournament is best for their current development level is a highly underrated and sometimes overlooked process.  I help expedite this process in the Road to 12's and 14's National program that I offer.  Please contact me for more details.

Once you have chosen the best tournament for their game, research the tournament's location.  Tournaments closer to Sacramento tend to be tougher in general.  Sacramento is sort of the Central Hub for high quality junior tennis in Northern California.  The Bay Area is also extremely good, obviously.  Gripspin Tennis Academy is located there.  So.......of course!

Here are the basics on tournament levels.

Challenger-Entry Level

Open-Intermediate-Advanced Level

Sectionals Championships-Advanced

Level 5 Nationals-Very Advanced

Level 4 Nationals-Very, very Advanced

Level 3 Nationals-Very, very very Advanced get the idea.

National Tournaments go from Level 5-Level 1, The Lowest being Level 5.


2.   Prepare for Your Game for Match Play

Normally kids should take about 2-3 weeks preparing for an upcoming tournament to ensure that they have the proper time to learn and practice any necessary tactics or techniques.  Since we don't live in a perfect world, the minimum time preparing for an upcoming tournament should be about 6 days!  

Kids should begin their preparation by deciding on what time of game they will bring to the tournament.  Some players are more aggressive in their play and some are more tactical.  Choosing the style play that best suits them and the tournament that they will be playing is the first step.

Secondly, players should find their current strengths and weaknesses and improve them.  Reach out to me and I can assess your player to help them find their strengths and weaknesses and to help with improvement.  6 days obviously isn't a lot of time to revolutionize anyone's game, but it is enough time to gain some confidence in themselves and to develop a game plan for gradual improvement.  

Clinics and a private lesson are great ways to get kids prepared.  Plan out how many clinics and privates that you can do in the week before the tournament.  Players should also spend time outside of clinics, camps and privates working on their game and understanding their game for themselves.  Self discovery is also extremely important.  Spending time serving on their own is a great way to gain some confidence in one of the most important shots in tennis.

Getting in a least 2 full practice matches is also a very important and over looked event that needs to happen during the preparation process.  Speak to me about options for this if you have trouble finding players for you child to play.

3.  Eat Well During the Week

A diet of Chicken, pasta, fresh fruit, eggs and veggies is best to cleans the body and get the much needed proteins and carbs for training and match play.  Eating well a few days before a match isn't the best strategy.  Hydrate by drinking 5-7 glasses of water a day is also extremely important to avoid things like dehydration during heavy training and long matches.  

Please see the link below which will have more details on this.


4.  Get Plenty of Sleep!

Make sure that the kids get about 7-8 hours of sleep a night leading up to the tournament.  It is also a great idea to add some light static stretching with a light work out (jogging in place, jump rope, push ups and sit ups) before going to bed.  This will ensure that they sleep well and help with injury prevention.

5.  Check the Draw on Wednesday or Whenever it is Released!

Knowing who they will be playing is also a very important step to preparing for their tournament.  We normally check the UTR and USTA ranking of Santiago's first round and possible second round matches once the draw is released to see what he is in for.  Sometimes you will find that when checking a players background, you will see that they have played someone that who your child might have played before.  Sometimes you can even see that your child may have played them previously.  Seeing the scores of their most recent matches and the level of play can give you an indication of how they are playing at the time.  

6.  The Night Before

Make sure that during the night before the match, your child goes to bed with a sense of accomplishment in preparing the entire week for his match.  Give them confidence and encouragement for what is ahead.  A great idea is to talk to them about their plan, having them explain what their strategy is going into the first match.  Also see if they have a backup plan in case things don't go as planned.  I highly suggest that you have them read over my blog about how to deal with cheaters and bad calls.  this will be my next blog on this coming Monday.  Be sure that they get plenty of rest, since they will be waking up early to do last minute prep.

7.  Match Day

On match day, be sure that the kids are up bright and early.  I suggest that they are up at least 2 1/2 hours before the start of their match for local matches.  Fore matches over 1 hour away in travel, I suggest them to be up 3-4 hours before for morning matches.  Yes, it sucks to wake up that early.  Yes I would rather sleep in on weekends, but such is the life of a tennis parent :D

Be sure to eat a breakfast of 2 eggs, toast, fresh fruit and plenty of water.  For those who are vegetarian, you might want to talk to a nutritionist to find out what is the best supplement for a high in protein morning meal.

Arrive at the tournament at least 1 HOUR before the match.  There might be a chance of finding practice courts on site.  If not, you will need to find local courts in the area, and on weekends especially, it can be a challenge.

8. Pre-Match Warm Up

AFTER checking in with the desk and letting them know that you will be doing pre-match warm ups near in the general area, start the normal dynamic warm ups that we do every day in clinic.  The kids will know what to do.  After a good 10 mins which should include a bit of jump rope($12 on Amazon), have the kids go back to the desk to check on the status of the match.

Once that is done, have them do some shadow swings(Swing the racquet with proper form for all strokes).  Do this for about 10 more mins or until the desk calls them for the match.

Once on the court with their opponent, make sure that they do some sprints or quick but kicks on court just before the hitting warm up.  They may feel a bit embarrassed, but you can always counter this by showing them Nadal's warm up once on court.  If you don't know, he did the absolutely impossible this past weekend and won 10 French Open titles!  That is right 10!  10!!!!!


Getting the kids to do this and having it become a routine will guarantee that they are in the best possible shape and mindset for their match.  It does not guarantee a win, but it will surely give them the best odds of winning.  

Tennis is all about repetition and strict routines.  So being inconsistent with this process will show inconsistent results.  


Please read this post by Dr. Larry Lauer, USTA's National Junior Mental Coach.  He has worked with the top U.S. Juniors for many years now and leads the industry in mental training for young tennis players.


Thanks and Happy Playing!

-Javon Montgomery