Coaching & Instruction: Playing Up, Or Not

age group or even level of play, it will be difficult to win matches and will eventually decrease confidence. When the stress and anxiety level is too high you will see mechanical techniques with less feel and/or control for the ball (technical, physical, mental). Players will become very frustrated and cause possible attitude problems. There are more unforced errors (consistency) and there is less tactical development of shot selection, patterns, and style of play. Due to being “over powered” most of the time there is less development in offensive and proper defensive skills since players have less time to execute their shots properly. When players are trying to change something in their game (technical or tactical) it can be very helpful to even play down at a lower level in order to work on these topics and to improve their execution in match situations.
This is why it is very important to have a good understanding of your level and what tournaments to play. A good developmental tournament plan should consist of 3 tournaments levels that provide a 3 to 1 win/loss ratio in the younger age divisions (percentage wise over one year, three wins to one loss):
1.    Tournaments they can win
2.    Tournaments where they play same level players and possible reach quarter final
3.    Tournaments at highest level in their age group
This win/loss ratio might go down somewhat when moving up in age group or levels of play as juniors progress from juniors to national and international play. But when players are younger they will progress most when the win/loss ratio is higher and confidence and self-belief is maintained or even increased.
I have witnessed many situations of players playing up too early or too much and their games not progressing or even declining to the point where they gave up and stopped playing altogether.  It is easy to see that they are not comfortable in their rallies and frustrated with themselves. When this occurs it is wise to take the pressure off for a while and play some easier events. So playing up sometimes can be a good thing if can handle the level of play, control the ball, enjoy the challenge at that level and understand the bigger picture when losing matches (Not so easy if you are still very young). Good guidance from an experienced coach can help you in this process, especially if the parents are not tennis players or have not experienced this process before. A good player likes to hit with anyone that can hit the ball back. Since they can gauge the speed of the ball they are able to train with anyone and work on grooving their strokes. So as juniors we should try to play with all levels of play: lower than your level, equal to your level, and sometimes higher than your level. But always try to control the ball speed that gives you a consistent rally, no matter what level it is.

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