Friday, August 29, 2014

Learning From Losing

Today I'm going to discuss something that happens to all of us, even us coaches. I've touched on this subject in a prior post, but it's such an important topic that I've decided to write an entire post about it. Today I'm going to talk about the challenges of seeing your game (or your students) through tunnel vision.  We get to a point where we just play (or as a coach) and we have trouble seeing areas that could use some attention because we don't actually mentally process something after we've seen it so frequently. I know that was a confusing explanation and introduction, so I'm going to keep trying to clear this up.

When I was playing competitively, quite a few times I was so unsure how I could improve. I had no idea at all what I should work on. Now as a coach the first or second time I see someone play it's pretty easy to pick up on some areas that could use some retooling. After they take some lessons and you work on these you see some changes. Now when the person wants more help with other areas of their game it can be more difficult to take a step back and see what else needs attention. If we are able to watch this person play again as if it was the first time we will likely easily pick up some areas that have room for improvement. I hope I've explained this week enough now. I know have a few solutions for when this happens to you as a player or as a coach.

Sometimes I'll go into a lesson and have no idea what we're going to work on. I'll know what we worked on last time. But this doesn't mean we will continue working on the same thing. This depends on a few things. So what I like to do is start off with a game or two. I can put most people under a lot of pressure and can force some errors. Even though I'm taking notes I always ask them what they thought after the game. I  could be looking at a lot of different things. Maybe they aren't hitting their crosscourt wide enough or their straight drives deep enough. Maybe they aren't looking to volley, or are not getting out of pressure very well. I always find this as an effective method to reassess someone. Even if you work with them regularly.

If you're a squash player and want to know how you can improve then get on court with someone better than you. At the end you can ask them (and/or record the match) and you can find out how they are beating you and what areas you can improve. Losing isn't enjoyable but it's the best learning tool there is. Maybe part of what you need to work on is psychological...do you get frustrated or not try as hard when you're playing a stronger player?

Other times when I'm coaching I'll go through a mental checklist of the fundamentals and see how they are doing. As they hit some shots I'll watch their racquet preparation, while others I will focus on their spacing and their body position. I will watch their swing path, where the racquet starts and finishes. I will also look to see which foot they are hitting off of and if they ever mix it up. I'll pay attention to their serves and return of serves and if they ever use a lob. I'll also watch their T position. If the drill calls for it I will look at their decision making. Are they predictable and are they making good decisions. Which area of the court do they have the most trouble moving into and out of or hitting certain shots.

It's also extremely important to remember not to only work on areas that need improving. Practising things that you're not good at can be frustrating for many people. And as Roger Federer said, he doesn't practice his backhand much because everyone always hits to it so he believes gets enough reps from match play. So in practice he concentrates on his strengths and tries to make them even stronger. And when you practice someone's strengths they will leave the court feeling better about their game and themselves. Although this can also be true if they have made some positive strides towards a weaker area. I like to finish lessons on a high note and have people thinking they are competent and getting better.

So there you have it. Some of my tips for how to get you out of the tunnel vision. I believe mistakes are a part of learning, unless you don't notice them and continue making the same ones over and over. I also believe if we don't dig deep and look at things from various angles we will limit our perspective. So try and film more games, play some stronger players, and think not just outside the box, but as I've heard before, like there is no box! Who would have ever thought that the pros would start using drives down the middle of the court on purpose and doing it effectively? I feel that there is a time and place for any shot you can think of. It's just knowing when and who to play it against and how frequently to use it. Whether the reverse boast, a lob drop or the short server...there is a time where these can all be used effectively.

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