You may not have noticed it happening, but recently the academy increased the stress on a number of our top juniors. Our Thursday night squad with the older players has been adapted to include a very challenging level of stress and testing. Here we explain the approach...
WHAT IS STRESS TRAINING?
This is a practice session where we place players under levels of stress, similar to those they might feel in competition, in order that they get experience of managing this stress for the most effective outcome. The training essentially includes three parts:
1. Education: Explaining the situation we'll be working on
2. Training the Activity: Practicing the skill, then doing practice tests with coach support
3. Testing the Activity: Testing the skill under pressure with no support from the coach
A key element of creating stress is the use of 'consequences'. Throughout the sessions and testing, we include consequences for failure to achieve a task or work hard.
WHY DO STRESS TRAINING?
Practice and competition share many similiarities but many differences too. The major difference being that the consequence of not performing in training is quite low and the consequence of failing in competition can seem quite high.
When we feel a greater consequence, our brain works differently. And this is the key to stress training. Because under stress the brain works differently, we cannot be as confident of the neural patterns we use for decision making and movement. They are disturbed by this pressure.
The benefit of stress training, is to make practice more realistic and to help players to perform even when there is pressure on them.
AREN'T THE CONSEQUENCES CRUEL?
We firmly believe that what is crueler is sending players out to compete who have no preparation of the pressure. When they compete there are consequences. So when they train, we want consequences too - so that we can support them through failure and help them manage pressure in order that they can succeed more.
HOW DOES THE TESTING WORK?
The sessions follow a cycle. We pick a main focus (e.g. first serve) and explain there will be a test of this skill. We then work for a couple of weeks on this skill, giving support and guidance. We include practice tests, so players can understand what will be required. Finally, they will perform the test and, if time is available, those who fail will get another chance to pass.
If they fail their test, there is a significant consequence. One player recently said during a test 'that was more nerve-wracking than serving for the match in my British Tour final'. This is the exact aim - to succeed under pressure, it helps to train under pressure.
Importantly, we offer the players continued chances to pass the test. And explain that failure is not fatal, it will happen and that they should not fear it.
IS THERE EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT STRESS TRAINING?
Absolutely. In tennis, a renowned coach Paul Dent introduced the concept at a workshop attended by John Henderson, James Newman and Chris Whittle. A number of research papers and PhDs have investigated the subject, with the English Cricket Board doing notable work in introducing this to their elite players, resulting in a study published on the subject (Bell, Hardy & Beattie, 2013).