Decision making is one of the integral parts of any sport. Athletes need to take the right decisions at the right time which could translate to either winning or losing the game. A huge volume of research has already been conducted on decision making in sport revealing interesting findings.
Players cannot excel in their games unless they are able to take effective decisions which turns the game in their favor. The trick is to ensure that decisions are taken fast, and correctly. What is the “right” decision can change depending on the game scenario, and the presence of mind for the athlete is also an important one.
In this first part, we are going to survey how an athlete can train to take effective and successful decisions as a tennis athlete basing our findings on research studies conducted so far on sports decision making.
Experience and Deliberate Practice
First of all, gain as much experience as possible through competitive tournament matches. That means with every loss, there needs to be a truthful assessment of performance. More importantly, is to also evaluate the wins. Many studies have been conducted to find the difference between expert and novice decision makers in sports is the evaluation after the facts. The researchers found that the time spent in playing the sport and the accumulative experience makes a huge difference on decision making. With that in mind, to speed up the acquisition process, one must assess and evaluate the athlete’s experience and performance, regardless of wins or losses.
An athlete must spend enough time in a competitive training setting to take decisions effectively on the tournament match court. The athlete must also undertake deliberate practice in training, and should have a good working memory of choices made. This deliberate practice will help them make better decisions and focus attention blocking out all distractions in a game setting. Like everything else in life, deliberate preparation is pivotal to an excellent decision-making process.
Furthermore, deliberate practice has also been shown to facilitate anticipation which is required for sports, such as tennis. For example, a player needs to work out where the ball will go after she has hit it, anticipate the best tactical response from the opponent, then recover to the optimum position on the court with best prepared tactical choice (a decision-making). Another factor that contributes to improve decision making is replicating common competitive scenarios during training which translates to better decisions on the competitive ground. The athletes can better recall the decisions during training and implement them during games. The key word here is deliberate!
Impact of Developing Years on Decision Making
Many researches into the developing years of training athletes for improving decision-making on the court, and found a few common factors that distinguished effective decision makers to the novice ones:
This is an exciting topic that many junior tennis players often times overlook in their formative training years, because they mainly spend a great deal of time on technical and physical skills, and hope to gain “experience” as they participate in tournaments. However, learning, preparing, and training to make better tactical decisions on the courts prove to separate the top elites from the mediocre ones. But, if you missed out on your developing years, the key is deliberate practice! Ask a lot of questions, you need to gain as much as information as possible as second-hand experience is still valuable to make better future decisions. But above all, strive to include deliberate practice and deliberate play every chance you've got.
Be on the lookout for Part II: Technical and Tactical Links to Make Best Decision