Gotcha! You Do!
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” George S. Patton
Styrling and I have very similar coaching philosophies. We each have also influenced each other fairly significantly. We expect you the reader and coach to be different from us and our personal approaches, but want to hear your voice so that we can learn something new. We also know that the collaboration (Which Sandbox Do You Play In?) between all of us who are like minded will be an influence on you, and by extension the industry of coaching. When all the like minded coaches who believe in true collaboration come together, the potential is there to transform the sport of tennis.
It’s a funny thing to hold strongly to principles, while at the same time allowing our principles to be challenged, tested and refined. It’s vital to take some time on this, instead of being so preoccupied with players strokes (The Importance of Technique in High School Tennis). We all have to start somewhere. We see some coaches who hold fast to a dogmatic approach for whatever reason, and we also see coaches who seem unable to make a decision, to put a value on something and stick with it. As we have, we want to encourage you to examine and re-examine your coaching philosophy. This is a great thing to do ahead of a period of being very busy as with summer programs. Another great time to reflect on our philosophy is before or right after a season. If you want or need to change the direction of your program, its times like now that you can do this.
An article like this one, or a book like The Art of Coaching High School Tennis, Top 5 Strategies and Tactics for Winning Tennis (read the reviews for a look inside the mindset of some folks), or many of the other fine books out there on tennis can help you form the basis of your philosophy. Take the principles that really resonate with you, and will help your team to grow.
At the core of developing a definite philosophy of coaching with a handful of core ideas, values that you really hold onto. For me the #1 thing to which I subscribe is that everyone is to give 100% effort. It’s challenging, it takes time to notice the difference between 95% and 100%, and yet it goes without saying that if two people are nearly equal in ability, then the one who gives 5% more effort will come out on top.
In discussion with other coaches about what they believe or don’t believe in, sometimes you find detractors, and it’s ironic to me that the detractors are not usually the ones who have strong opposing views, they are usually the ones who don’t seem to believe in anything. So as a matter of developing a stronger self respect, develop a philosophy that has an element of respect for others as well. After further reflecting on this topic, it came to my mind the poem below which has been a great source of inspiration. While I have heard some people say that they don’t like Rudyard Kipling for one reason or another, if you simply look at what he has formed here, it’s hard to argue with the truths contained within. That in and of itself is an important part of what we can do for the better, separate the truth from the person and simply look at what is being presented.
Many people are familiar with two lines from a poem that are the last things players see before entering center court Wimbledon:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same.”
When you read the whole poem, then those cryptic lines begin to make much more sense as part of the whole idea.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
It’s important for us to stand on strong principles that we can rely on, so that when things are difficult, we know in what we can trust. If the principles we believe in as coaches, are strong enough to weather the storm of player’s and parent’s doubts, then surely it will be tried and true. One principle that is foundational in my program is that, “We begin with the end in mind.” All of our preparation is for a strong finish of the season. This, of course, will be tested, if we were to lose an early season match that might be winnable, if we were not training so hard. Players and parents may question, “Won’t this affect our seeding in the playoffs?” My answer to that is, “I would rather be a better team that is underrated, than not be a better team and be overrated.” At the school where I was questioned on this, we won the following match-ups as the lower seed. 2008 Boy’s #9 v. #8 , #9 v. #1. 2008 Girl’s #10 v. #7, #10 v. #2, 2009 Boy’s #3 v. #2, #3 v. #1. That’s good proof! Last year my last place team that seemed to be improving very slowly, made a quantum leap in the last two weeks of the season, coming very close to beating an overconfident #1 team, following that up with individual victories over that team in tournament play.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
How do we keep things in perspective? What is the meaning of winning and losing? Do we become enslaved by our goals? When trust is broken and things fall apart, do we simply pick up our tools and begin again? This would be a prime opportunity reexamine what we do as coaches. Is there something about our philosophy that broke down? Everyone is fallible, and the players sometimes have character issues that cannot immediately be solved by encountering a coach with a great system. In fact, my last boy’s season was cancelled, because a a major crisis of character. What should have been the leadership of the team, was destroyed by a lack of commitment to academics, selfish attitudes, and a lack of perspective in the value of competition. This also calls to mind that its better to have process oriented goals where you are measuring improvement, than solely having outcome oriented goals that can have you feeling like a failure even after massive improvement. Improving speed around the court, the number of consecutive shots you can make in the court, the ability to make a smart ‘+1’ shot after a serve or return, changing a thought in the mental game, all these things can be tracked for improvement.
Ultimately, the ideals we hold to are going to be tested, and possibly ridiculed, so its important for us to know how strong they are.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
It’s a game. The game is a drama. The outcome is not at all predictable. On match point will you hit an ace, a double fault, or the wildest unconventional shot that no one would ever coach? I have seen players walk off with an ace, a player who double faulted on match point for a sectional championship, and one who hit a forehand sharp angle half volley drop shot at a 10 degree angle to the net while holding a backhand grip. Think about it. The other team holding match point was so stunned they lost the next three games and the match. How do we prepare our players for what can be wild swings in fate? Developing a philosophy for how to deal with winning and losing, and fine tuning it so it’s the best can have a dramatic positive impact on players as they learn to win and lose with grace, humility, and poise. Ultimately, we want to celebrate sportsmanship and great competition, whichever end of the scoreboard we find ourselves on.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.
Finally, what are the social motives behind competition? Do we teach players to be humble champions and how to lose well? Do we assign too much meaning on winning and losing? Or are we teaching the moment to moment joy of working on improvement? Do our relationships ride on the outcomes, or on the journey together? Training players with principles that affirm who they are as people, bringing out their strengths, and helping them to recognize and mitigate their weaknesses takes time. Having the opportunities to mix with important people, and lift up the less fortunate are both available in this sport. When the amount that you receive from tennis is nearly equal with what you give back, then the whole sport is enriched. How can we have a philosophy that has giving back in it? Sometimes, the most simple thing you can give is your respect, to everyone you encounter.
In next week’s blog, we will provide a template for a coaching philosophy, and give you planks from which to choose to assemble your platform for success, and make it your own.