I just got done watching an amazing effort by Italy's Francesca Schiavone in her Quarterfinal loss to Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark at the Australian Open. Schiavone's gutsy performance even in defeat inspired me to: a) have to say "Brava!"; and b) write this week's entry to my blog on Acting Tips for Tennis Players/Tennis Tips for Actors.
If you've ever served for a match, auditioned for a big role, or experienced stage fright before a performance of any kind, you know that nerves can sometimes play a bigger role than you on that stage. One of the best ways I've found to overcome this is to prepare well.
Brad Gilbert, a tennis commentator for ESPN and former coach of tennis greats including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Andy Murray, likes to say that "chance favors the brave." While I agree with him, I also think it would be more helpful to think in terms of "chance favors the prepared." As I'll explain, bravery comes with preparation.
In both acting and tennis, you should always work to be as physically and mentally fit as possible. This means going to the gym, doing drills in tennis over and over again, and memorizing lines for acting. This may seem obvious, but I am always surprised how many people show up to an audition hoping to "wing it" or cold-read the sides they've been given a week in advance by casting. In tennis, even a champion as great (and with as much raw talent) as Venus Williams was forced to retire from a match for the first time in her storied career at a major because she was ill-prepared to compete at this year's Australian Open.
By preparing yourself as much as possible through rehearsal and practice, not only will the repetition get you out of your head while at the same time developing a reliable sense memory, but it will build the confidence you need to draw on when you get tight on stage or on the court - confidence that you put in the hard work, and that you can go five sets or get through a five-act play. Because when you've put in the work, and done the best that you can to prepare, you'll naturally believe and feel you deserve good results based on your efforts. Conversely, if you have not adequately prepared, you will lack that sense of belief at the moment of truth because you'll be thinking about all the things you could have done to better prepare (but didn't) rather than the task at hand. Good preparation allows you to leave it all out on the stage. It allows you the freedom to play without having to look at your script or your player box for help. It enables you to make bold choices and try different tactics to get what you want because you're secure in the basics. It sends a clear message to your director, your opponent, and of course yourself about your professionalism, willingness to work, and ability to go the distance. And that may just make the difference between scoring that "W" or booking that role.
So next time you have an audition or hope to play a tournament, remember that chance favors the prepared!