I often contemplate the arbitrary nature of how professional players come to work with a coach. There seem to be but a handful of coaches who players will actively seek to work with due to their renown or success as a player or with producing players.

The terms of that success are mostly down to player interpretation of the coaching achievements and the “man” in question. Some who have contributed to a player having a world number one ranking or a world championship crown will rightly attract attention but many will be chosen based on geographical convenience or because a player who they know is a part of the coaches stable. It is questionable beyond a certain number of players (or busyness) how much influence the coach can actually wield but a successful training environment will certainly help to cultivate a good attitude.

Of course many professional players will have access to a national coach should they be in that position so are required to have a take on the views of perhaps an unwanted additional coach.

A real danger for those players who are with a coach without meaningful assessment could be a coach with a predilection towards polarising certain principles within the game – although some players may benefit from this approach by coincidence. Take the example of the position of the wrist which always elicits a difference of opinion. During the natural course of the game the wrist position will need to be specifically adaptable to the situation presented. This is where a “non system, system” approach to coaching is rewarding.

For example the ‘system’ would be the basic position of the wrist you wish to synchronise consistently with your movement and swing for a clean strike and subsequent accuracy. The ‘non system’ would be the freedom to move out of this primary position to execute a certain shot, or to improvise when the preferred body position is difficult to attain or maybe when you want to use some deception. The ‘non system, system’ can be applied to all aspects of the game and I think it prudent we do not get too rigid in our doctrine. Coaches often put themselves into one school of thought and by doing so restrict the coached player to one action to cover all possibilties. This will often lead to poor results in certain areas of the court.

I find this “one size fits all” concept difficult to understand with different personalities, physical specimens and playing styles. How can we teach each player in the same way? In short, we can not and should not although you see it a lot in particular with coaches from developed countries where there seems to be a temptation to mass produce players as you might imagine with an industrial model of production. In fact it is interesting to see how players who do not fit with this mechanical approach are marginalised in these countries – one such instance could be a natural shot maker in the UK.

It must be difficult for a shot player to develop organically in the aforementioned conditions where most are trying to get you to fall in line with everyone else because that style of play is the only one they have the manual for. These players require strong minds to succeed or they have to perhaps move continents!

In my view there has to be constant experimentation (mostly in small doses) when working with different players. As coaches we have to be prepared to be wrong as well as right over time to become better at our trade and help develop different players. It may take us ten different ways to get a point across, we may have to repeatedly approach the principle from a different angle and in the end it may be a sentence from another player or coach which gets the principle to “click” with the player! As long as they finally understand then the work is done. The “non system system” at work.

I content that generalities cannot accompany elite sport, if we were answering questions about the “one size fits all” approach you could answer with both a yes and a no. The paradoxical nature of sport means it is unwise to crave order and a concrete answer to every dilema. I am sure this type of fixation is ultimately flawed. I believe players will eventually have not one coach but have several and importantly they will piece all the parts together to suit themselves.

Two final points; there is more than one road to Rome but take note not all roads lead there, and if a player decides to try coaching then please do not become your old coach otherwise a vicious cycle continues and nirvana will not be reached someplace down the line…..

It reminds me of the half plagiarised Kraaijenhof quote, “it is easier to change a coaches’ religion than it is to change their methodology”

One thought on “Yes and No

  1. I agree. I think we are far too structured, particularly in the UK and this is not always the best path for a game like squash which is very nuanced. There is also a tendency to rely on accolades, whether it is coaching qualifications or playing results when choosing a coach. I have often found that formal teaching can stifle creativity and may not be ideal for a thinking coach who uses a non-system system, as you put it. That said, it is for coaches to use the structure and communicate their own take on the game, in order to become good coaches – much like passing a driving test, then learning to drive. Many of the best coaches have not been great players, but they are able to coach great players because they are good coaches. Similarly, very good players may be good coaches or become good coaches, but their playing standard does not make them a good coach in itself – they have to learn that too. There was a good example in rugby a few years ago when Sir Clive Woodward stepped down as England manager and was replaced by Martin Johnson because he was the England captain at the time. He was great as a player and captain, but useless as a manager: The important thing is the ability to coach, but that is often not how people see it.

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