The “second half” of the season starts in three days in Canoga Park, CA. It has been seven weeks since our last Tier 1 Prostop and I am very excited to play. In the time off I have mostly been working on my conditioning and overall strength, but now it is time to sharpen my skills before competition. “The training is done, that part of the break is over”, says my trainer. We are in the last stages of preparation, the fine-tuning of my game. I take the week prior to a tournament very seriously because the little things can have a huge impact on my game. I focus on every aspect of my game and my health and try to give 100% to each. If one goes missing, the rest of my game will unravel.
Here are the six aspects of my preparation that I focus on:
- Court Time
- Film Study
- Mental Game
Court Time and Film Study
My pretournament preparation involves a lot of court time two weeks before the event. It is a time to familiarize myself with the court and find the sweet spot in my swing. I work on all shots, serves and movement. I pick apart my own game and recognize my strengths while working on my weaknesses. I practice 4-5 times a week, alternating days of playing games and just drilling. I videotape my practice matches with local players. I study the tape that night, then the next day I work on the weaknesses I noticed in the film. Maybe I noticed that I was missing my down-the-line pass, or my backhand pinch was a little off. The next day I would spend extra attention on those shots. I usually drill with someone who hits me certain shots and I return with certain shots. When I’m not practicing I like to study my potential opponents to see what I should be working on to prepare myself for them. What types of serves they don’t like, their movement, their strengths and bad habits. For example, this week I might match up with Kane, so I have been practicing serves and shots to the right side of the court (his backhand). I have also been working on court positioning because he likes to bump and crowd. It is almost like cramming for a big test. It is the last minute effort to make myself as ready as possible. To feel comfortable when I walk into the court in California.
Hydration and Nutrition
Health is very important when in “crunch time”. I like to treat every day as if I were playing a tournament. My performance in practice will reflect the way I play in competition, so I take care of myself. I don’t want to have a mediocre day of practice just because I didn’t prepare properly the day before. Remember to drink lots of water, juices, and other natural drinks to stay hydrated and healthy. I carry a water-bottle with me at all times to ensure proper hydration throughout the day. I eat balanced, beneficial meals to ensure proper fueling for my brain and muscles. I also take vitamins to protect my immune system, nothing is worse than being sick during a tournament. I try to cut out the excess foods, like deserts, junk food, and especially alcohol. Each day leading up to the tournament is extremely important, and even one drink of alcohol can have an affect on my performance in practice, which will hurt my performance in competition. About a week ago my friend offered me a beer. I drank it, then another was offered, then another. I had three beers that night, nothing too crazy. Sure enough I woke up the next morning feeling a little less motivated. My stomach wasn’t feeling well and my performance in practice was mediocre. I learned my lesson and stuck to water. It isn’t easy telling your friends “no”, especially when they say “it’s just one drink”. Stay strong, stay focused, and keep healthy.
Rest is probably most important. If I had to choose one of my six aspects of preparation to get rid of, rest would be my last pick. I would rather be well rested and lose any of the other five aspects. Rest can also be one of the hardest ones to accomplish. With the traveling, time zones, hotel rooms, distractions and sometimes an anxious brain, rest can be hard to come by. I often find myself falling asleep at 4am on the east coast, even when I have to play at 10am. We’ve all experience competition with lack of sleep and I think everyone will agree that it is not fun. Irritability and frustration heightens, motivation and energy lowers. On top of that, decision making slows dramatically which is never good, especially in a fast-paced sport like racquetball. A bad night of sleep can throw two months of hard work down the drain. A good night of sleep allows for the release of important hormones like the growth hormone. The way humans sleep is broken down into five stages. In stages 3 and 4 the brain is running at a slow frequency which releases the growth hormone. The growth hormone is responsible for muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, which are essential components to an athletes regimen. This is important in competition, training and practice. Rest helps the muscles rebuild, strengthens muscle memory, and keeps the brain sharp. So, like we all know, get some rest and play your best.
Nerves are always a factor when talking about competition. In this crunch-time, I do my best to not think about the tournament too much, but instead focus all my energy on making myself as good as I can be. If I do that then I have given 100%, and nerves should not be an issue. The only times I am ever nervous is when I have not prepared enough. So, in order for me to stay calm when competition comes, I must stay in my zone of improvement, focusing on the “now” and not the “then”. Just knowing that I gave 100% to my preparation can give me a huge confidence boost come game time. Too little preparation will bring added pressure and frustration. Do your game a favor and give it everything you’ve got in order to stay calm and confident before you play. Nervousness and doubt will be replaced by anxiousness and excitement, a chance to prove your new skills. There is no fear when you have done your best to prepare.
There is one trick I use constantly for my mental game. It is very simple and requires zero practice, I just have to remember to do it. The trick is staying positive, whatever way I can. I was watching a UFC fight between Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida. It was an epic championship fight with a lot of intensity. Diego Sanchez came into the ring and kept repeating the word “Yes!”. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”. I found that to be very interesting and I did some research. Apparently, Diego is a huge Tony Robbins fan. Tony Robbins is one of the most successful self-help authors and motivational speakers of all time. He encourages positive thinking in everything we do. One way to achieve this is by repeating the word “Yes”. It is an easy way to get the brain and body to act positively and confidently. The science is called neuroplasticity. It means that our brain structure can be changed according to the way we think. Positive thinking helps strengthen brain areas that produce positive feelings. The better we feel, the better we will play. I took this knowledge and applied it to my own game. I started repeating “yes” in my head while I was hitting. I noticed I was much more consistent in my shots, so I decided to adopt the routine. I repeat “yes” during tough matches and important points. If at any time I feel the pressure of the point or I start to get tired, I repeat “yes” and nod to myself. It is a simple trick I use to stay positive and confident.
I hope that this blog has given you the tools and motivation to prepare yourself for your next tournament. If you take the game seriously, and you really want to win, make sure you give it 100%. It is not difficult, it just takes focus and discipline. Don’t miss a day of scheduled practice, hydrate and eat right, think positively and get your rest. If you do these things I promise that you will perform at your best. Win or lose, at least you gave it your all. If you ever have trouble getting motivated and you feel like taking the day off, just remember that your opponent will not give you that luxury. If you take the day off, your opponent is getting better than you. Picture your opponent in the court hitting shot after shot, gaining confidence as he goes. He is the enemy and you cannot let him win. You want it too much. Do not let the day go to waste. Do not give him the advantage. Do not give an inch. Stay one step ahead at all times. Remember, the winner is always the one who works the hardest. This is your match, your tournament. It’s all about you.
See you on the court!