How tennis pros cope when rain stops play

Wimbledon 2012 begins this week with Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer all in action.

As ever, rain threatens to be the biggest talking point, but how do tennis's biggest names overcome the headache that the wet weather brings? Dr Victor Thompson, a Chartered Psychologist, explains:

The British weather certainly provides challenges to the best tennis players at Wimbledon. Unlike other tournaments that are played solely indoors or in more stable climates, the rain seems part of the Wimbledon experience each year.

Athletes like to control as many of the variables as possible in the lead-up to and during competitions. This provides a sense of sameness, predictability and confidence, which is great as the more they can repeat those things that lead to good performances, the better.

We see this desire for control and routine in pre-match and during match routines - how players warm-up, how many times they bounce the ball prior to serving, how they use their towel after each point to ‘erase’ the bad shots and move on.

Rain forecasts and delays can affect routines earlier in the day, such as when the player eats their favourite or must-have meal ‘X’ number of hours before they start their match. This can send the less flexible into a bit of a spin, causing anxiety and doubt to increase.

With players that I’ve worked with, much time is spent increasing the flexibility players have to deal with change and the unpredictable. Helping them to consider and then test different pre-match dietary strategies, shorter and effective warm-up routines and ways to mentally get ready to perform - even if they aren’t following their ideal pre-match programme.

When rain stops play part way through a match, players need to manage their down time to relax (at least somewhat) and then get back into the right mental zone prior to the restart.

For some players, who emphasise the pursuit of momentum during a match, there is a risk, if they are on a good roll when rain stops play, that they will perceive the delay as disruptive and more personally detrimental than their opponent.

I’d back the players who have worked to need less control and predictability, who instead believe in their ability to face whatever is thrown at them, and those that know their short physical and psychological warm-ups. The clever players will have worked on these elements prior to important tournaments like Wimbledon.

You can learn about Dr Thompson's work on his website and you can follow him on Twitter

Find out more about sports psychology at our Going for Gold website.

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