We all want to see our club-mates, friends, and teammates do well when they step on court. Sometimes this leads to the player being literally swarmed by people between games each offering them their 2 cents. Other times a single well-meaning coach can confuse the player with too much feedback.
In these high-pressure situations, there is an art to delivering feedback that leads to improved performance when the player steps back on court.
- The most important thing to remember is that the time in between games is a break! When a player has been under pressure or has just had a very emotional game – maybe they lost 16-14 to go 2-1 down – they may first need some time to cool off and regroup. Having a swarm of 2, 3, 4… 5 people (however well meaning) can take that away from them.
- Decide upfront on who will talk to them in-between games. In certain cases, for example, the player receiving coaching may want 2 inputs.
Congratulations, you have been chosen as coach by your player! Your job now begins.
- Before the player goes into the court for game 1, have a quick discussion about their game plan. If they don’t have one, help them decide on one. The most basic strategy is to focus on getting the ball past the opponent to get in-front of them. Having a game plan gives you something to watch for through the game and assess with them afterwards.
- While they are on court, watch the game! It sounds like a given but it’s easy (as we all know) to get distracted and lose focus on what’s happening inside the court. Make sure that, regardless of distractions, you remain focused on a few points (minimum) to look for consistent patterns. If you only see one point, it might not reflect how the actual game went!
- When they come off court, allow them time to break and regroup. Approach the player and bring them a towel (if they don’t have one) and water. Let them take a drink of their water and wipe off before you start talking.
- Respect their between game ritual. Different players have different rituals in between games. Some like to sit. Some like to stand. Whatever they prefer, stay on their level. Sit down beside them, or stand talking with them. You’re a team!
Now you can start talking about what you saw.
- Avoid negatives/reinforce positives. Your player hit 8 tins on shots that would have won the point and they’re discouraged. “You were making the right choices, just a little higher and it’s your point! Don’t stop hitting them!” Don’t let them get caught up in their mistakes, focus on what they’re doing well!
- Keep bringing her back to the game plan: How do they think it is working? Get them thinking about what they’re doing and how they can make their plan work. Your player says “She’s so strong off of my cross courts! I can’t get them by her; she’s killing me with her volley drop.” Bring her back to the game plan, how can she make the cross court get by her opponent? Hit it higher, wider, can she keep it straight instead, is there another option that can be played?
- What works on one person might not work on the next. Everyone has different strengths. The trick is to avoid playing into them! If the opponent likes the ball shoulder height on their forehand then give it to them above their head or down by their feet; experiment with what works. Here is where you can think your way out of the problem! Your player might not notice these things on their own, so pointing out that their opponent is strong or weak in an area will give your player ideas for making better choices.
- When in doubt, go back to basics. Remember, the first goal of a rally is to get the ball past the opponent to get in-front! Especially midway through a game it’s tempting to drop off of the serve which can end up getting players into a lot of trouble and swing a game the other way. Get the return of serve high and to the back (straight or cross) and look to volley short off of the next shot!
- Don’t forget to tell them what they are doing well. As players we all tend to focus on our errors and correcting them rather than our areas of strength and exploiting them. You don’t want your player to stop doing what is working for them, so remind them!
Keep in mind that everyone is a little different, some people might want you to tell them exactly what to do and go out and be able to do exactly that, some want a discussion on tactics, and other’s might want to complain (vent) about a call the whole time. Ultimately there is no correct way of talking to someone in between games, but you (likely) know the person you’re coaching so use that relationship to help them to the best of your ability!