From time to time a coach must revisit their coaching principles and question whether they can justify or still believe in what they advocate or whether it is time to break out the apology cards.
Many professional players turn to coaching and it is reasonable to imagine that many will look towards their own game to find the answers to someone else’s squash questions. It is what you know so you stay close to home. To me this can make objectivity difficult. To only apply anecdotal evidence to your student may not provide the depth or reliability to serve the uniqueness of the each individual.
My (current) methodology while still drawing on ideas and experiences from playing professionally and working with many fine coaches is to assess the commonalities between the worlds best players both past and present.
In doing so you reveal a broad – and perhaps narrow – range of mental strategies, movement and positional patterns, ball striking techniques and tactical approaches which have achieved the game play principles which mark out a top player.
In this way I hope to retain some objectivity and not just consider the player based on a narrow perspective. All players will have strengths and a natural inclination towards a style of play which will be an extension of their personality. This is a good position to consider the players’ path to improvement. If the playing identity is not developed – whatever the age – then this should be addressed as it will be a key area to securing fundamental game structure, confidence and a vision of future progress.
As technique or playing styles will be individual (perhaps sacred?) it is wise to tread softly and only contemplate change in consultation with the player. If the player wants to fundamentally change their style or technique then I will naturally help them do this but I will not instigate a drastic change even if I feel it is needed or correct.
This leaves the troublesome dilema, what if the player does not seek a change? What if they never ask about their path to improvement? To perhaps have the knowledge at my disposal on how a player can progress but to choose not to share it.
In this unusual situation I still believe withholding the information is the best thing to do. If a player doesn’t have the ability to initiate a change then they may not have the maturity or independence to deal with change and the work it brings. This inability or reluctance to analyse or evaluate may stem from arrested development.
Dependency severely limits the ability to learn and to mature. As the shelf life of an athlete is relatively short it makes sense for coaches to develop the thinking processes for life after the professional tour. It is important for a coach to guide the player to independence. This is essentially away from the security a coach can provide.
Some coaches may feel a dependent player is acceptable and although I have serious doubts, in some cases it may well be. How you determine the end game will mould your outlook. One thing is for sure I have observed some very successful players who I believe have unhealthy and overly dependent relationships with their coaches with both parties satisfied with the situation and in denial of the longer term issues.
An independent and secure person among other things will not fear change, have the personal awareness of and provide feedback for their behaviours, seek out differing perspectives on things, hold the curiosity to question the people closest to them and importantly, be prepared to get things wrong in order to move forward.
Of course, sporting careers are rarely a linear rise to the top so the idea of failing as a vehicle to success is an interesting concept – one soundly rejected by most. Failure in competition is inevitable as you make your ascent to the top but at the correct time and with the correct evaluation it could be the shortest step to understanding and improvement. But who would have the maturity to follow this concept in their professional life? It does not have to mean a reduction in competitiveness or effort but would permit a conservation of mental and physical energy held in reserve for the biggest events.
It goes against societal convention but then the alternative often does, so maybe when advising your players in the future, ask them to plan when they will fail and to fail well!