Practice matches are some of the most important things that your child can do if they want to play competitive tennis. Matchplay creates a safe environment for kids to experiment with their game and try new things. Whether it be a specific shot like an angled forehand or a strategy like serve and volley, a practice match gives players the opportunity to try things out and get feedback.
Aside from being an excellent environment to test new things and to see what’s working, practice matches also provide a great place to gain match experience. Unfortunately, tournaments take up a lot of time on a weekend. When you factor in the commute, waiting time between matches, and match time, you can spend a good 10 hours on a tournament. 10 hours is a lot to ask of anyone’s schedule, and practice matches are a great alternative for those who can’t afford that time every weekend.
What Is Matchplay/Practice Matches
Matchplay is when your child plays either sets or full matches that are not in a tournament setting. A coach can supervise these matches, or your child can play them on their own. Regardless of the scenario, practice matches are the best time to try new things and gain confidence in one’s game.
When to have Match Play
It can be tough to fit practice matches into a child’s already busy schedule. But, if they have the time, it’s worth it. The best time for match play is towards the end of the week a day or two before kids would go out to play a tournament. Playing practice sets and matches allows kids to get into a tournament mindset and is the best way to prep them for their tournament matches. Playing at the end of the week also allows them to use what they learned in practice that week in the match play scenarios. Giving kids a way to take what they have learned and bring it into their gameplay and strategies for their tournaments.
If kids don’t have time for practice matches at the end of the week the next best time would be a day or so after one of their practices. Again, having match play a day after a practice allows them to internalize what they learned and bridge it over into competitive play.
Unstructured Match Play
If a coach is not present while your child is playing practice matches, then it is considered unstructured match play.
When your child is going out on their own to play it is essential that they have something in mind that they want to work on. While playing a match is a great experience in itself, having a clear goal in mind will make the practice even more productive. The goal your child can have can be anything from making more balls, going for opportunity balls (You can learn more about opportunity balls here), serving and volleying, making more returns, working on their movement, and anything else that they might have worked on in a practice session.
Structured Match Play
If a coach is present during match play and is giving the kids specific goals to work on, then it is considered to be structured.
When a coach is present, they can give players valuable feedback on what they might have done right or wrong in a practice match. The feedback allows the kids to internalize what they are practicing faster so they can bring it into tournament play. Often coaches will already have goals of what they want kids to work on during these practice matches. However, if you and your child have anything specific in mind that you want to work on, let the coach know so they can incorporate it into the practice.
Going to tournaments can be extremely time-consuming. The time cost is not something that everyone can give every weekend. If you and your child have trouble going to tournaments, match play can be an alternative. If you make the practice matches full matches (Best of 3 sets) kids can still get a lot of the match experience they need to get better. That being said, tournaments cannot be replaced entirely and are necessary for your child to adapt to high-pressure situations. The team at Curtis Tennis Academy has a great article about this here. I would highly suggest you check it out.
I hope this post was helpful! Please let me know in the comments below!