The inner game of tennis, relaxed concentration, and coaches as role models
I hope you enjoyed my last newsletter article, this time I have three thoughts for you again.
Our biggest obstacle is in our head
We all know those days at which everything simply goes the wrong way. The first missed chance, the first lost duel or the first bad pass, from then on it only gets worse – just a day you want to forget as quickly as possible. While in training everything works, the simplest pass in the game is already a challenge – okay, maybe a bit exaggerated. But I think you get the point.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve often had coaches who would get louder, get angry about mistakes and even yell at you sometimes. Others put a focus on the basics in the next training. Back to the simple passing exercises to master the basics first.
Of course, there are days when a player is not focused, but that’s probably the exception rather than normality. Some players simply perform worse in the game than in training. Furthermore, these poor performances are not due to the fact that the players are technically unable to score in the box or to play a pass over 10 meters to their teammates.
So, what is the problem? The players think too much.
Yes, you heard correctly. Players can think too much on the pitch. Anyone who did a sport like tennis or table tennis will know it. Within these sports there is a constant inner dialogue/monologue. One talks to oneself get upset about oneself, makes oneself bad, or praises oneself effusively. This happens not only in tennis, but also during a football match in the mind of a player. This inner dialogue, whether positive or negative, is the problem.
At least if you believe the book the inner game of tennis. A book that star coaches like NBA coach Steve Kerr or NFL coach Pete Carroll swear by. When Timothy Gallwey wrote the book, he probably never thought it would be such a success. After all, he was just writing about tennis. So why are so many coaches outside of tennis celebrating this book?
Quite simply, it contains many important lessons that can be applied to any sport and to everyday life. It’s all about relaxed concentration. The goal should be to stop having the inner dialogue. Instead, it is about letting the body do its work and not thinking too much about every single action. Because our body knows how to play a pass or put the ball in the goal from 20 meters. Usually, our own head is the biggest obstacle.
In order to overcome this obstacle, we have to start by not immediately classifying actions into good and bad, but by taking a neutral view of them. Because the problem is, if we divide everything into good and bad, we evaluate ourselves and this often leads to a loss of self-confidence. If the next action does not succeed, this leads to a negative cycle, the player loses confidence in his abilities and remains behind his possibilities.
Interestingly, it is similar to positive feedback. If I celebrate myself for a good action, I will measure my next action against this successful one. If the next actions do not reach this level, this again has negative effects on my self-confidence.
Ultimately, our job as coaches is to create a culture in which mistakes are seen as a normal part of the game and not as something positive or negative. In this way, we can help our players to focus on the moment and not on the inner monologue that is blocking.
Coaches as a role model, what does that actually mean?
First of all, it is important to become aware of the influence you have on children. Especially when children reach puberty, they look for role models to emulate. It has been proven that a coach plays a formative role in this, as he is the person to respect on the pitch for 90 minutes at least twice a week.
Consequently, our behaviour on and off the pitch influences the young players. If we shout and insult the referee during the game, we should not be surprised that our players also show no respect. If we are not able to acknowledge that the opponent was stronger that day, why should the players be able to?
In the very exciting episode 3 of the Flying Coaches Podcast with Pete Carroll and Steve Kerr a lot was about the term lead by example. We can’t expect our players to behave in a way that we don’t.
Before we talk about values or tell players how to behave, we coaches have to set a good example. Children, in particular, are guided by the behaviour of adults in their environment. That is why we should set an example of values such as respect, team spirit, supporting each other, or recognizing and appreciating the successes of others.
However, it is not only these values that we as trainers can convey. Things like general education, interest in new things, or respect for other cultures can also be conveyed. It is not without reason that sport is one of the best ways to integrate people of other origins and to form open-minded people.
During the research for this article, I once again came across Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. One of the most diverse teams in the NBA during the championship years. A characteristic that all players appreciated, and which distinguished the team from others. In my opinion, it is very exciting how coach Gregg Popovich tries to broaden the players‘ horizons and to stimulate the interest of the other players in the culture of a player by doing little things.
We coaches in the amateur sector can also learn little details from Popovich to promote aspects such as cosmopolitanism and curiosity in our players. Because Popovich often only uses short speeches for this purpose. During a team address, for example, he asks a question about the capitals of the USA’s neighbouring countries, or he wants to know from his players what a typical Australian meal is.
Of course, we don’t want to have lessons in amateur and youth football, as the children are already at school all day anyway. However, such small questions can stimulate communication between the players now and then, arouse curiosity and bring the team closer together.
My last thought this time is a question for you.
Is it a weakness to be vulnerable?
Think about that until next week, and I’ll give you my opinion.
Until then, stay healthy.