So yesterday my post was about the coaching advice I would give to my younger self if I could travel back in time. Today is based around the same idea, but instead I will be focusing on what I would tell a younger me who has just started coaching. I go over my top 10 ah-ha moments I've had while coaching, and although I know I still have a lot to learn, this is some advice that other coaches may find insightful.
#1) Less is more and keep it simple! Doesn't matter if it's giving a lesson or coaching someone in-between games. When I was a younger coach I gave too much advice and this just confused them. Sometimes this can be difficult to do because you want to help your pupil, but you have to remember this simple rule, less is more and if you're unsure about how much feedback to give keep it simple and minimal.
#2) Don't just focus on areas that the person is struggling with. Be sure to point out areas that they are doing well and improving. This keeps the student motivated. Learning to read your athlete will let you know when you can work a little longer on these challenging areas and when to ease up and have some fun and do something they are already good at and enjoy. I don't coach by this philosophy, but this reminds me of a statement I heard Roger Federer make a few years back when he said something along the lines of, 'in practice I focus on my strengths because this is why I'm successful. My opponents play to my weaknesses enough that they will improve and become stronger without extra practice.' This is paraphrased, but it was something along these lines. And if your technique is correct than ya sure, this philosophy could work, but avoiding working on a weaker area if the technique is wrong will only improve so much unless you make a change in practice.
#3) Studying and researching sport and squash is one thing, but it's about how you apply it and the practicality of it. When I did my masters I had a prof teach sport physiology and he was great, but very academic. I remember him saying that when he worked with professional hockey teams he had designed the best hockey fitness programme in the word, but nobody on the team did it. They all had personal trainers and were already set in their way. So a great idea or programme has to be practical with the group you are working with.
#4) Practice should be fun. I use to and still do want practice to be effective and help kids improve, but use variety and play lots of games. If kids play squash for fun I believe they will stick with squash long term and will be better able to put winning and losing in perspective.
#5) Rob Brooks told me this one and I've always liked it. In a group practice if the top and weakest player both had a good practice than you can be pretty confident that the middle benefit too. It's easy to focus on the best player or the one that needs the most help, but if you can find a balance to make sure the best and weakest players both have a good practice than likely the whole group will be happy.
#6) Appreciate and encourage creativity. I believe it is important to be humble and offer advice, but also to keep an open mind. There is more than one way to hammer a nail..not sure if that's the right saying, but you know what I mean. There are a lot of ways to play squash and win rallies. Just because you have a preferred way of playing or practicing, it doesn't mean that you need to force your kids to play the same way. I like running a lot of condition games so the kids learn how to think outside of the box. This also keeps their brain engaged in what they are doing. Most kids can only stay focused so long doing boast drive or rotating drives. Some kids don't like being always told what to do and how to do it. I know I didn't. So give them a drill or condition with options and let them figure out how they want to do it on their own. Also along this line is to be able to adapt your practices. You may go in with a great practice plan and have a goal for the practice, but if it isn't working out like you had envisioned, or the personnel is different than your expect, or if the group wants to do something else, being able to accept this adapt on the fly is a great skill. I think most of my best practices have been impromptu style.
#7) Help your athletes achieve their goals, not yours. Do you even know what goals your athletes have? Do you set goals for them? I believe it's our role as coaches to help our athletes achieve whatever their goals are. I think it's also vital that we help our athletes set not just outcome goals. There are too many things out of our control in competition, so although we may set high yet attainable goals for competition we may fall short and feel like failures. Here's another paraphrased quote I've heard, 'don't let a win go to your head and a loss go to your heart.' If you read my post yesterday you'll know how damaging this obsession can be to a young athlete.
#8) Don't just do drills (especially the same few) all the time without a focus. What are they trying to do with each drill? Keeping score or using targets always makes it interesting, even just playing a 1 point winner takes all drill or condition game makes the athlete try harder, keep focused, and have fun.
#9) To be the best you can be keep learning. I like reading books about coaching, training, etc. I like listening and working with other coaches. I'm lucky I've been around some great coaches over the years (Rob Brooks, Jack Fairs, and now Stuart Dixon). Any young coach that has the opportunity to be around an experienced coach will learn way more from them than any book.
#10) Motivate your athletes. Although every person is different if you can learn how to motivate your athletes your job will be easy and they will have more fun. I like making sure they can see themselves improving. Doing some goal setting with a baseline measurement and monitoring minimal increments over a short time period can be inspiring. It's also important that your athletes can tell that you are motivated and inspired by their commitment and improvement.
And lastly, remember that kids will be kids. You can't hold grudges with them. We were all kids once before and made mistakes and we turned out ok. If someone is having a tough time at home or in school maybe they need a break or maybe they just need someone to talk with. Keep squash in perspective. There is a lot more to life than their squash game. If they have a tough loss it's ok..it happens to everyone. If you as a coach still compete this is where you need to set good examples. Be humble in defeat and in victory. You should do as you preach.
So there you have it. Another top 10 list! There are many other things I've learned and there are even many more lessons for me to learn. Many of the lessons are taught by the kids themselves!