Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coaching During Matches & Tournaments

With the first tournament of the season coming up this weekend I feel it's appropriate to discuss my philosophy for coaching at tournaments. This includes prior to matches, between games, and post match discussions. I'll divide them into 3 categories. It's important to remember that every athlete is different and getting to know how to best handle them in various situations takes time. I've made the mistake of giving too much information and talking too much. Some people need a kick in the pants (because of the Adrian Peterson situation I should declare that this is figuratively speaking of course!) to get going and others don't want to hear anything you have to say. During competition many of us become quite emotional and coaches have to be sensitive to this.

Prematch Talk
Here I like to keep things positive, short, and simple. Depending on the athlete I may get into a strategy against the specific opponent, but others I will get them to concentrate just on their own game. Whichever it is, I like to focus on a very simple game plan. If they are tense sometimes it's talking about something other then squash or even making a joke. As for the tactics at the start of the match, you may have seen in my previous post that I like to suggest trying to establish your length. If someone is naturally a slow starter I will make sure they have a good warmup and will give them a goal like getting to 5 points first. The timing of the prematch talk is also important. Sometimes I have so many kids playing I don't get a chance to talk to them all. If possible I like to talk to them before they warmup. I don't like talking too much just before they are about to go on court, but if I do I like to get them to take a couple of deep breaths to calm themselves down, relax, and focus.

Between Games Coaching
There's a rule of thumb of 30 - 30 - 30 for between games. Let the player get a drink for the first 30 seconds, talk/coach for the second 30 seconds, and then the last 30 seconds is for them to refocus and get back on court. This rule also ensures we don't give them too much to think about. What you say to each athlete depends on the person and the situation. Saying too little is always better then saying too much. With kids a lot of the time it's about getting them to hit the rest button if they are losing. You can do this again by getting them to take a deep breath followed by a few positive reinforcing comments. There is no need to point out their obvious unforced errors...they know they missed that drop or return of serve. Focus on the positive and keep it light. If someone did well then it's important to keep their focus and momentum so that they don't ease up thinking the match is over before it actually is. This happens a lot to kids and it's just about concentration. Playing every point with the same intensity and focus is always a goal I have for my athletes.

Sometimes I will get into strategy if I notice something and I feel the athlete has the ability to make the adjustment. I prefer using guided questions like, 'what do you think?' or 'what's working?' or 'what do you have to change or improve for the next game?' If they are unsure I may lead them towards an area I'm thinking about. I want them to be able to make adjustments on their own if not now then one day down the road.

There may be a weakness or strength or a pattern I notice in the opponent. It may also just be something like the athlete is hitting too many poor widths or their length is landing too short or they got tentative after making a couple of unforced errors. This has happened to me in a match and I remember getting good advice between games and was told that I have to go for the shot when it's on. There is to be no hesitation and trust your skill. Instead of the coach pointing out my mistakes and saying that I shouldn't have missed them or not to play them anymore, he gave me some positive reinforcement because he knew they were shots I can and will make next time. The brain often gets in the way and sometimes slightly altering your thinking can help you relax and play better squash.

Other times it's about getting the person back to their original game plan. Something may have happened and they deviated from what they set out to do. Or if things aren't going well, I try and get them to focus on the basics; finding a way to get the ball by your opponent and into the back corners.

For just 30 seconds worth of coaching, this could cover a number of posts. It really varies depending on the child and the situation. Also the type of coach plays a major role. I've seen one coach get really worked up and yell at the child. It was pretty harsh but it worked as the kid ended up coming back and winning the match. But this isn't the method that suits my personality, so if a kid is relying on a coach to get them up for every match they play then they are going to have to look elsewhere for some between game 'talks.'

Post Match Talk
This depends again on the athlete and the result. If the player lost they normally want some time alone to calm down. The first thing is normally to make sure the person begins to replace fluids and does some stretching or gets on a bike. They should also get out of their sweaty clothes (especially if they have to ref) and have a snack to begin refuelling. As for discussing the match, if they lost and have to play again you have to try and help them move past this and refocus on their next game. This can be a tall task for those that lost a close match or that didn't play well and lost to someone they feel they should have beaten.

I like to use this time for learning and setting some goals. Especially for kids competition is all about learning, win or lose. I always want to mention some of the good things I saw them doing on court. Now is also when I have more time to use some questions to poke around and see what they learned from the experience. Were they prepared and focused at the start of the match? What worked well? What area did the opponent struggle with? What do we need to work on? Again I won't get into this too much if the tournament is still going on. I don't want them going into their next match thinking about what they need to work on. But I like talking some strategy after the match is over so they can learn what was happening on court and so they can continuing developing their tactical knowledge.

I used to give all my athletes a list of things they did well and other things they can work on for next time. But I now ask my athletes do this in their journal. I can help them with this if they are unsure. With all of the talks we have during the course of the weekend they should have a good idea about their direction moving forward.

Get to know your athletes and what they like to hear and can interpret between games. Learn who can handle strategic information and who needs to be calmed down and refocused. This is something you can discuss with your athletes and some of them may know what works best for them. I also make sure to avoid using the terms 'can't' and 'don't' and 'shouldn't.' Even if someone is making a lot of repetitive mistakes I wouldn't say 'don't hit this' or 'don't do that.' Whenever someone says 'don't hit tin,' they usually hit tin. Instead I would go around it in a more positive manner, and say something like, 'you've got them set up now, keep up the pressure.' Or just tell them how well they are setting up the points.

I really could have broken this into 3 posts and written into more detail about each topic. I may do this someday down the road.

What do you like to hear between games? Have you ever been over coached? Yelled at? If so, did it help or hinder your performance?

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