Tournaments are times when a players ability should be at a peak, making use of strengths and managing to cover up weaknesses as best as possible. Yet with the tournament hype come the unfortunate by-products of stress and doubt, which can affect us so strongly that we succumb to their nagging and consequently perform at a far-below optimal level. Yet we see better players who seem to always find their games at the big moments, and sometimes perform at a level far beyond anybody could have predicted.
One of the most common traps that people fall into is to raise the amount of practice they put in as tournaments approach. Frequently players who are rusty try to fit in almost ridiculous amounts of practice time just before tournaments, comparable to a student cramming in study time before a midterm or final exam. However, all this accomplishes is a burnt-outfeeling, and generally a lack of confidence. Every mistake seems magnified because the player will not want to make the same
mistake in a tournament, and thus overplays. As a result, muscles tightening up and even more mistakes will ensue. By the time the actually tournament comes around, the players has been on an emotional rollercoaster that in no way helps their confidence.
Instead, I have found that the best time to train hardest is between one and two months before the tournament (less if a great volume of tournaments are being played.) This way, the tournament is not looming in the background, and the effort put in will fuel improvement and gives the players more confidence and time to test out new techniques thus expanding their games. As the tournament draws closer, it is better to focus more on the basics such as footwork and strokes. Trying to do too many complicated things may feel good in practice, but will generally not be as effective under pressure in tournaments.
By concentrating on the most fundamental aspects of your game, you will draw confidence that will help you at the tournament because you will believe in your shots and your game. In practice matches before the tournament, try to keep everything as simple as possible: use your most trustworthy serves, consistent shots and thorough tactics. Remember, trying to experiment right before a tournament is not a good strategy stick to what you know will work. Although you might feel that your game is not that impressive due to the absence of amazing shots, the consistency that this new way of training will bring forth will have a better impact on your game and more promising results.