We’ve already discussed how to play better in matches twice before. Here are those two articles, if you’re interested:
Today, we’re going to address a very hidden aspect of match play that might be holding you back:
Coach-you might be a really terrible match coach.
Let me explain what I mean. There are two versions of “you” that exist in harmony with each other when you play tennis: player-you and coach-you.
Player-you is the you that’s actually coordinating the body – moving, swinging, recovering, etc. Player-you is playing the match, firing the muscles, feeling the game.
Coach-you, on the other hand, is watching player-you as player-you plays. Coach-you is thinking, analyzing, correcting, and always looking for ways that player-you can improve. For you to reach your competitive peak in tennis, both coach-you and player-you must excel at their respective jobs.
If you’ve been reading Fault Tolerant Tennis, chances are that coach-you is a great technique coach. When you’re practicing, coach-you can typically figure out what’s wrong with the stroke and give a quick cue to correct it. Coach-you is constantly studying the bio-mechanics of tennis, and has a long list of small tweaks and changes that player-you can implement over time in order to improve your game.
Again, coach-you is a great technique coach.
But technique coaching and match coaching are two completely different skills. Further, the best technique coaches actually make the worst match coaches if the technique coach doesn’t understand the difference between technique coaching and match coaching.
So let’s get into a few ways to improve coach-you’s skills as a match coach.
1. Be Less Mean
Many of my readers are coaches themselves. Let me ask you a question: if your 13-year-old student just missed a forehand because he didn’t move for the ball, would you yell “move your feet, you idiot!” across the court at him?
No? Well then why do you do that to yourself?
If coach-you is a jerk during matches, it’s time to change that. Coach-you should be detached and analytical. Good coaches are not emotional. Good coaches don’t allow their emotions to ebb and flow with the match (the way their players’ emotions often do). Coach-you should remain level headed and friendly at all times.
2. Don’t Give Advice; Wait Until Asked
Again, let me ask you a question. If your 13-year-old student is playing a match, do you correct them after every miss?
“Caught it late”
“Get their quicker”
“Took your eye off it”
No, of course not. That would overload your student with information, and they wouldn’t be able to actually focus on the ball.
If player-you feels lost, player-you will ask for help. Wait until that happens. For the most part, just let player-you relax and play. If player-you decides he/she is sufficiently confused and wants a coach’s input, player-you will ask for it, and you can provide it.
3. Very Rarely Give Technical Advice Mid-Match
During a match, advice should hardly ever be technical. Even once player-you has asked for advice, mid-match advice should almost always be psychological or strategic. If there’s a simple, glaring technical issue that player-you is making over and over again, you can try to correct it, but this is dangerous. It’s tough to focus on technique and focus on the ball at the same time, so only give player-you technical advice during a match if it’s a technical flaw which is extremely damaging.
4. Some Useful Advice Examples
Here are some common useful pieces of psychological advice that are appropriate to give mid-match (when asked for):
- Relax, you got this
- Trust it
- You’ll miss some shots, you’ll lose some games. No big deal.
- You can go all day. No rush.
- Relax and track the ball (slightly technical, but vision is a great thing for player-you to focus on)
Here are some great strategic pieces of advice:
- You’re going to [Shot X] a little too often. Ex: You’re using that backhand drop-shot a little too often. Maybe drop it down to 33%, and hit 66% of those as deep slices.
- Need to move your target in about 3 feet on the down-the-line-shots.
- Need to aim a few feet higher over the net on your approach shots.
- Your opponent’s down-the-line passes are awful; shade cross-court when you’re at net.
Again, ensure you only provide this information when asked by player-you. If you provide this constantly, every time player-you loses a point, you’ll overload player-you and prevent player-you from competing in top form.
In Short – Conservation of Mind
We’ve talked before about the mental resources squeeze that happens in matches. Well, this is yet another aspect of that. Player-you and coach-you share a single brain. That brain needs to use close to 100% of its capacity in order to execute your tennis game in peak form. This means that coach-you can’t be monopolizing those resources during matches.
On the practice court, coach-you’s job is primary. Coach-you uses up lots of mental resources in order to ensure that player-you is always on the path to improvement.
A match is a very different animal.
Coach-you still has a role to play, but that role is far smaller than it is on the practice court. Coach-you must try to make as big a positive impact as possible while using as little mental resources as possible. If coach-you uses too many mental resources, player-you’s game will suffer.
Much of this article was adapted from things I learned from Timothy Gallway’s book: The Inner Game of Tennis (I’m unaffiliated with him). I picked up a copy on Kindle, and if coach-you really struggles as a match coach, I’d recommend you do the same.
While you’re over there, pick up a copy of The Fault Tolerant Forehand as well (it’s actually $4 cheaper ;), and turn coach-you into into one of the best forehand technique coaches in the world.