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Tournament Coaching - what's happening?

“What do you say to players between games?”  This is one of the most frequently asked questions to experienced squash coaches, and as with most questions the answer is both simple and somewhat nuanced.

Why is this question worth writing about?  Glad you asked.  Two basic reasons.  Firstly there may be circumstances where parents or kids may need to coach players in tournaments or school matches, and it would be great to make this an enjoyable and successful experience!  Secondly, if everyone is on board with “the process”, then it becomes easier for the player as they understand expectations and simpler for the parents, as they know what is happening and how to help.

The briefest of brief checklists looks like this…

Step 1 – Let it go

“Let it go” was fashionable in between games, even before FROZEN!  Fundamentally the most important things that can occur between games for a player is that they emerge mentally regulated and ready to compete to the best of their abilities in the next game!  If the previous game was unsuccessful, the player needs to stop dwelling on their disappointment and get ready to move forward.  Strangely the same problem is encountered by a player who may have been successful.  Fundamentally I don’t want the player who walks off court thrilled at hitting 11 winners, I want the player to be in the mental state they were in when they first walked on court to commence that super successful game.

Step 2 – Establish a tactical agenda preferably based upon pre-match discussions and the players “A” game

I’d always suggest not to add anything new and to strongly avoid technical feedback.  Fundamentally players should be most aware of “where the ball is going”, rather than “how is it getting there!”   For example, if the player can’t hold the racket properly, you ain’t gonna teach them in the 90 seconds between games… Players should be able to recreate patterns of play that they have rehearsed in practice, this is one of the most important components of successful programming.

Step 3 – Affirmation 

“Come on Phil, you can do this!” – is an example of an unoriginal, but fundamentally respectable affirmation as long as the player’s name is Phil.  Ideally we send players out with an emotionally resonant exhortation.  There may be no atheists in fox holes and there is certainly nothing too cheesy for an affirmation.  Whatever makes the player feel empowered is more than appropriate, and obviously the closer the relationship between coach and player the more likely this affirmation is to assist in performance.

Clearly this is the most basic of basic 101 checklists and I would be loath to break things down to “just this”… but hey, let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Consider the 3 steps of  between game squash equivalent of the medical practitioners Hippocratic Oath to “uphold specific ethical standards”, or at least to do no harm!


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