Here are ten suggestions to make the best use of your off-season (indoor season) to effectively prepare for spring competitive outdoor match play.
- Have a plan – Have a plan to best utilize your time on and off the court. Periodization models for tennis generally include a preparation phase (in which the goal is to establish a good technical and physical base for the pending season), a pre-competition phase (in which the goal is to sharpen skills and heighten levels of intensity), a competition phase (in which the goal is to have the best results possible) and an active rest phase (in which the goal is to recover and rejuvenate).
- Hit a lot of balls – Repetition and a solid base of time on the court particularly in hitting extended rallies at a managed pace helps establish rhythm and timing and is one of the legworks necessary in a periodization model to peak and prepare for the competitive match play season. Similar to how professional cyclists put in a lot of miles on the bike to build an endurance base in the first phase of their seasonal training, tennis players can benefit by hitting a large volume of balls as a first step in training. This period of training should transition to more match play and shorter and more intense on-court sessions as the targeted outdoor season approaches.
- Develop a tennis-specific fitness conditioning program – The best time to improve tennis-specific conditioning and levels of fitness is during the off-season. Components of a tennis-specific conditioning program should focus on the following:
a. Flexibility and range of motion – upper and lower body dynamic stretching
b. Strength Training – Muscular balance (how it relates to mechanical shoulder alignment), upper extremity strengthening, lower extremity strengthening and core strengthening
c. Footwork and court coverage – foot quickness, lateral, forward, backward and vertical agility and movement patterns and plyometrics
d. Court stamina and endurance – cardio-fitness conditioning, interval (fatigue) training and plyometrics
- Work on your technique and mechanics – The off-season is a great time to work on your stroke technique and mechanics. It’s much easier to make modifications to your game during the off-season when there is not the pressure of competition and results.
- Expand your play book (repertoire of shot patterns and combinations) – One way to improve your probability of winning in the outdoor season is to dedicate time in the off-season to expand your range of shot pattern options. The process involves inventorying or identifying shot patterns you feel less comfortable using in match play situations and then working on these shot patterns in practice until you can confidently add them to your play book (repertoire of shot patterns).
- Work on your strengths – One of the distinguishing characteristics to define level is the ability to create opportunities, dictate and control the pace and rhythm of play and finish the point with a big shot or weapon. The off-season is a great time to work on your strength or strongest shot. If your strongest shot is your forehand groundstroke, examples of practice sessions to bolster your forehand include running around your backhand (hitting all forehand groundstrokes in an exchange with a practice partner), hitting inside-out, cross-court forehands from the ad side of the court, hitting running forehand cross-court angle and down-the-line passing shots, setting a requirement to finish a forehand based point or point sequence in less than a prescribed number of shots and awarding (in a point situation or match) an incentive or bonus for all points concluded with a forehand winner. The emphasis is to strengthen your best shot or attribute and work on patterns and tactics that give you the best opportunity to hit or exercise your best shot or attribute.
- Work on your weaknesses – At the same time, it’s important to shore up your game by improving your weak areas. The process starts with an honest assessment of your game. Enlisting a professional for an assessment is an excellent way to get an accurate reading of your strengths and weaknesses. The focus then should be to set up practice and playing situations that require and encourage you to hit your weakest shots. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as hitting only with your outside shot in a cross court exchange.
- Take advantage of every opportunity to stay on task – Use your time on the court (even in friendly, casual playing groups) to work on the things you need to work on. You can use any opportunity on the court to work on your goals. As an example, if your goal is to improve your second serve reliability, then give yourself only one serve when playing with your weekly contract court time group. Similarly if serve and volley is your focus, target a specific number of service points you plan to come in on.
- Incorporate rest into your program – Although the necessities of life (family and work commitments) will most likely ensure time away from the court and fitness center, it’s important to find time for rest and recovery. It’s also important to taper down the volume of your hitting time just prior to the start of your targeted season of competitive match play.
- Have fun and put things in perspective – You want a little “wiggle room” in any program. It’s important not to be too rigid and to feel comfortable modifying your objectives and commitment of time as necessary.