Nearly all top athletes are creatures of ritual. This isn’t superstition; it’s a way for them to systematically be at their best. This includes finding little ways to always be at their best physically, mentally, tactically, and equipmentally. (Yes, I just coined that term.)
- Physically, this means preparing for play the same way each time. This includes getting enough sleep at regular hours; eating properly (and a lot if you train a lot); hydration; and proper warm-up. Warming up isn’t just at the table; it means doing, for example, some easy jogging and stretching before play to get the body ready. Once at the table, it means going through a systematic practice routine that allows you to warm up and tune up all of your major techniques. It also means having snacks and drinks ready during a session.
- Mentally, this means preparing yourself so your mind is at its best for play. This is probably the most overlooked area. Nearly all top athletes have a routine for this. For example, many listen to music, often a specific song or musician, which gets them mentally ready. Others meditate to clear their minds. Most top players develop little rituals at the table as well, perhaps tapping the table with their hands or bouncing the ball a certain number of times before serving. Everyone needs to find their own way of doing this.
- Tactically, this means going over the tactics of the upcoming match (assuming you are about to play games). If you know the opponent (either from playing, watching, or scouting him), then you should decide what the most important things to remember should be, and usually get it down to a few simple items, such as 2-3 serves, 1-2 receives, and 1-2 rallying tactics. (This is slightly more than what a coach should tell you, but you should be able to deal with a few more things on your own, since you are choosing them.) Above all, remind yourself to stop and think about these things periodically during the match to make sure you are actually executing the needed tactics. The tactics should be flexible, and change as needed, but you should make a habit of always having a rough plan. If you don’t know the opponent, then your tactics should focus on what you want to do, and adjust as you learn how your opponent plays – which shouldn’t take long.
- Equipmentally, this means having the proper equipment on hand. There’s the obvious: your racket, covering, and shoes. Make sure they are in good condition. Then there’s the less obvious: backup rackets, towels (especially if it’s humid), and a wet cloth or paper towel to step on between points if the floors are slippery. Make a habit of making sure you have everything present and ready.