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What happens to you under pressure and how to avoid it

Pressure to me doesn’t have to be a match, we can be very good at putting pressure on ourselves for simply wanting to perform our best. This is difficult to do, especially consistently. Women especially can see how they play as a reflection on their self-worth or are afraid of being judged by others for not playing well enough, this piles on the pressure and funnily enough they don’t perform as well as they could do.

So, what can be done when you’re playing to help this? There are obvious coping strategies that anyone can read about or look up, remember to breathe, focus on one point at a time, stay in the present etc etc. Although these are all valid ways of dealing with pressure, from a doubles perspective what players really need to have are multiple strategies and options to help them problem solve when the pressure is high.

The default for women’s doubles when the pressure is high is for one player to stay back and rally cross court for however long it takes to win the point with their partners at the net waiting for someone to go down the line. The groundstrokes usually get slower and slower, probably higher too to avoid giving the net player a chance at the volley. Not fun tennis to play for anyone! Instead what they should really be doing is forcing their opponents to play more difficult shots when it matters most. By getting to the net and covering the court effectively you will force the opponents to have to hit much harder shots than if you stay back. Their spaces become smaller and harder to see if you and your partner are in the correct place. They then end up over trying to find that small space and their shot has to be so near the line that they over hit.

You also need to be able to change strategies and know when and how to mix it up to make sure the opponents have to think at pressure moments. Playing Australian is a great example of this but it has to be used wisely. If you use it too much then when you need it for pressure points the pressure will have decreased because the returner has practiced the return many times prior to that important point. If you save it for what you know is a really important point then it is much more likely to work in your favour. I used it in my match last week for the first time at 40-30 5-4 to us, it was my partner’s serve which she had lost each time before, the returner missed the return as she had to hit over the high part of the net at set point to us, massive pressure and an easy way to clinch the set for us.

Obviously you need to be confident and have had plenty of practice at strategies and tactics so that when you need them you aren’t putting more pressure on yourselves by attempting something you aren’t comfortable with. When I teach my doubles classes I try to incorporate not only the skills players need to perform strategies well but the strategies themselves so that they have all the tools they will need for any given situation. It is then up to them to work out what they need when depending on the opponents, their partner, the court surface and playing conditions. For example, if we practice serve and volley we would also discuss when to use it and why. This could be if you are playing players who don’t hit with much pace and you need to get to the net to increase your chances of putting the ball away. Or it could be if you’d prefer to volley the ball the opponent is giving you rather than letting it bounce, perhaps they hit with a lot of topspin that is keeping you far back behind the baseline so it makes sense to try and volley it instead.

There are multiple strategies you can use, the art is trying to figure out the best one against particular opponents. I love using planned switches and fakes, fakes are especially useful if the returner likes a down the line shot, instead of waiting for them to hit it you can tempt them into hitting it and then you know it’s coming. Shots are so much easy to cover well if you know they are coming!

Thinking things through, forming a game plan and having options that are creative all help to alleviate the pressure that you might be feeling about performing well. Instead you are putting the pressure back on the opponents. My coach used to tell me, ‘There are two ways to win a match; you can play well or you can make the opponents play badly’, which one is easier to do??

You can learn more about how to play better doubles by coming to a class, learning online or come and learn in the sun in Portugal or Tenerife!

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