An Innovative vision in Sport training

Why do some tennis players decrease their performance in competition?

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70% of tennis players experience a decay in their performance during the competition.

An average tennis player, without having to be a professional tennis player, is accustomed to having practice sessions, practice matches and competition matches.

During these three activities (training, practice and competition matches) the tennis player has a certain performance.

This performance can increase or decrease depending on many factors, nobody plays the same always.

Surely it happened to you that sometimes you're surprised of your own performance.

Those days when it seems that everything flows and that hitting the ball is so easy, you do not know how but you are at the right time and place.

Normally, our performance will remain more or less constant within some ranges of variability.

To represent it graphically I have arbitrarily taken different values of performance of a tennis player during different days. The colors of the lines represent the player's performance during training (blue line), during practice matches (orange line) and during competition matches (gray line).

As can be seen, there is a more or less stable performance during the three situations.

If this is your case, I would say that you do not have to worry. Obviously, competitive situations do not change your game.

Where there are usually some problems is when there are marked differences in performance between training and matches.

Looking at this graph and comparing it with the previous one, we can see that there is a marked difference in performance between training (blue line) and matches (orange and gray lines).

This shows a clear decrease in performance during matches.

If you feel identified with this case I advise you to continue reading, you may find a possible solution to your performance changes.

What could be the causes of performance differences?

It must be taken into account that these three situations are very different scenarios.

The main difference between these three scenarios is that each of them has a different purpose.

What is mostly sought during the training sessions is a technical or a tactical improvement.

Suppose that a player needs to improve a certain shot, then during the training it will try to reproduce it as many times as necessary.

For this repetition to be beneficial, the player must be fully aware of the shot he is running.

A repetition of the same shot without the proper correction of errors, it will lead to the incorporation of many ways of hitting the same shot but inadequately.

For a shot to be memorized it has to be repeated exactly in the same way many times. This can be achieved if the player is focused on the task.

In these cases, it is the conscious part of the player's brain that controls the movement.

As it is practiced, part of the movement becomes automatic. The more automatic the less our conscious brain intervenes, or what is the same, the more automatic the less we have to think about the movement.

At the beginning of the learning we need to pay attention to the movement that we are executing. With the passage of time and repetition, the movement is becoming more and more automatic and therefore, our conscious attention stops focusing on the movement.

Then, I would say that during the training sessions you need to think about your movements more or less, depending on where you are in your learning process.

The more memorized you have the movement (the more learned that movement is), the less you will need the conscious control.

But what happens during a match?

The goal of a match is to play.

A player has a repertoire of shots stored in his/her memory. And he/she will make use of them at the moment he/she considers it more appropriate.

Here, during the competition, happens the opposite of training. It is the unconscious part of our brain that has to take control over the movements.

This unconscious area is the most indicated to execute the learned movements, while the conscious one hinders and dulls.

The conscious side is a good ally to change strategies during a match, but never to execute shots.

This intrusion of our conscious brain during matches could be part of the cause of a decay in performance.

There are other powerful factors, such as emotional ones, that can also influence performance during competitions. But these will be the subject of upcoming articles.


It is clear that the repetition of shots and patterns help their incorporation and memorization. During the training sessions, an attempt will be made to increase both the repertoire of shots and the player's game patterns.

At the beginning of any learning skill we will need to make the use of our consciousness. Being focused on the movement will help us to correct mistakes. In order to achieve a fluid and efficient movement.

As learning continues, the shot begins to become increasingly automatic and it is no longer necessary to think so much about what is being done.

During matches, we can use our mind to design or change strategies. But it is not advisable to think about the movements that we execute.

Training and matches have different purposes. These purposes need a different mental attitude of the player.

During training, you will focus your attention on the corrections, and therefore, the shots and movements that are executed will always be in the spotlight.​

The opposite should happen during matches. The attention of the player needs to be focused towards the strategy of the game and leaves the execution of the movements in automatic mode.​

The key is:

  • Automate everything you can during the trainings sessions.
  • During the matches, choose a strategy and then trust and give the control to the unconscious part that is the one who knows how to execute it.

do you think too much when you compete?

Leave a comment and share your experiences with me, I will be happy to receive them. You can also send me an e-mail:.

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1 Comment

  • Jim Falvo

    Good article. If I understand what you’re saying, then, ideally, training and practice should emulate match play as much as possible. Often this is not the case because there is no adverse consequence for shot failure or poor performance in fitness drills when practicing or training. In a match, points are lost. Thus, how can we coaches simulate match play in training and/or practice so that the conscious mind tends to not surface in match play? Thank you.

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