Rock Solid Coaching Philosophy Principles

Are you lost when it comes to having your own coaching philosophy?  Do you have one, but you always like to compare for the sake of refining yours?  You are in the right place. If you have not read last week’s post, we strongly urge you to do so, as this is part two, and we really did put our best foot forward by discussing the benefits of a well developed coaching philosophy.

Those that missed our last entry really should stop to read that first, when you do you will know why. Those that did read last weeks post, presumably have now taken some time to reflect.  You committed a small measure of time to a moment of self discovery. Now let’s take a closer look at a template and an example of a coaching philosophy. Wait! You said you skipped the time of reflection, because that doesn’t apply to you, and are going to go straight to what we tell you to do?  We think that’s not the best way, but let’s say you are just getting started, O.K. We get that. However, there is no time like the present to really begin thinking on your own. You might not have developed a coaching philosophy before, maybe you need some trial and error, and really that’s very good, because this is the model by which our players are going to learn to play their game. So, whether you have truly reflected and are ready to take this article and run with it, or if you felt a bit lost on what to reflect, either way we have something for you right now.

Consider

Let’s consider that our philosophy of coaching should have everything to do with better outcomes for our players. But, what kind of outcomes do we want? What do they want? Do we want our players to have the most rich experience during their time on the team as possible?  Or do we simply want our players to win a larger percentage of their matches? That alone is not as satisfying an achievement as giving them both, but are the two linked somehow?  We believe they are. Bill knows the frustration of focusing too much on winning and losing. When he was younger he valued the players that won more, over the players that lost more.  Early on, his teams underachieved and he was out of coaching high school after three seasons, and only eighteen months, two girl’s seasons wrapped around one boy’s season with very mixed results, and not a lot of fun.

Fun as the Basis

A few years later, Bill met Wayne Bryan, father of the Bryan Brothers, and the rest is history.  Wayne’s talk on fun, and really making the high school tennis experience come alive was what Bill needed to hear.  Shortly thereafter, he reentered the high school coaching arena. Bill continued reading and studying and finally came up with the following, which he developed from Wayne, Jim Loehr, and from thinking through what he really wanted to present. Bill’s time of reflection on what would have appealed to him when he was a teenager really helped.  So, he set about to become a fun process oriented coach, while focusing on doing all the work, while keeping in mind that these are kids, and they need it to be worthwhile, and enjoyable. Which is not to say that there isn’t a lot of discipline in the early going of a season to get everything headed in the right direction.

Pillars Upon Which to Build Your Template

The philosophy that guides him comes from an adaptation of Jim Loehr’s ‘Realistic Goals’ from the Science of Coaching Tennis. Jim explained that winning today, not getting nervous, playing all the big points perfectly are not very realistic, because a. The opponent may simply be better b. Some nervousness is good and necessary, and c. No one plays all the big points perfectly. Instead the realistic goals Coach Patton, inspired by Dr. Loehr and others, has set forth are:

1. Give 100% effort at all times.  This is manageable,  while almost everyone will experience a slight dip in their effort level, once you notice a dip, you can increase your effort level immediately.  This is crucial because it may be the largest dividing factor among high school athletes are which teams give the greatest effort moment to moment in practice, and in games, and in mental emotional preparation for competition.  The De La Salle High School football team, and their coach Bob Ladaceur, (who have been very inspirational to Bill, as he has seen them play a few times), which is one of the most disciplined programs at any level, truly has made ‘perfect effort’ one of their most important mottos.

The coach has to give 100% effort, the players have to give 100% effort and when someone begins to give less, someone has to notice and manage it and say something. That responsibility almost always falls on the coach. Bill has coached at a few different schools, and one aspect seems always the same.  The player’s perception of 100% effort differs from Bill’s perception. Sometimes the players are quite shocked to hear that they are not giving their very best effort.  It’s upsetting to be confronted with that. Nonetheless, Coach continues to enforce the effort level, because its more fun to win than lose, and when you give your best effort you have your best chance at winning. If you take two nearly equal players and one gives 100% effort and the other 95% effort, the player giving the better effort will win the vast majority of those matches. Bill tries hard not to use the word ‘win’ very often, as the focus is on the effort.

2. Enjoy the Competition. This is a powerful phrase and each word is loaded.  Enjoy is generally the word that gives boy’s the most trouble in competition, mainly because in general, they assign a lot of meaning to the outcome, and in general they are more driven to win than girls.  Of course, there are many exceptions. Again in general, competition is the word that many girls struggle with, because they value the relationship, and to be seen as cooperative and helpful. So enjoying a fine game of tennis is not very difficult but really competing hard to win the match intentionally, instead of accidently, could risk the relationship with the girl on the other side. Teaching boy’s to realize how much they have to be thankful for simply to be running around and playing, and teaching girl’s about the strength of character and maturity that comes from effectively dealing with competition, while maintaining good relationships are priceless lessons moving forward in those players lives. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but this goal could become an entire blog in itself.

For Bill in practice situations, this means coaches must something that the players like almost every day, something about practice needs to be enjoyable. Coach makes sure that there is a plan to play a game to finish the last fifteen to twenty minutes of practice every day. It’s always a game that mixes fun, with the potential for teachable moments and a variety of skills necessary to do well. Bill also schedules the maximum number of matches that he can for his team, so that they can learn to compete. Coach Patton also believes that too much intra-squad competition becomes stale, and can lead to team chemistry issues.

3. Show yourself strong and wise. Show yourself strong is the physical part of good body language, confident walk, head up, eye contact with the opponent, confident sound of speaking.  Being wise is about having great demeanor, being diplomatic, exhibiting great sportsmanship, setting an example, and maintaining high standards of behavior.  A wise player does not allow the opponent to affect them mentally, emotionally, or to continue to make bad calls without some kind of intervention.  The wise player may choose to ignore some aspects of the opponent’s behavior, but will never allow bad calls to continue unabated.  Bill works with his players on ‘if the player is visually distracting, don’t look at them between points. If the way they speak or the things they say are annoying, let it go in one ear and out the other.  Of course you might have to answer them. Finally, once you see a third bad call, you must do something about it.”

It’s necessary to teach some of these things as many players will struggle with self confidence, and that will play out in their body language, or their ability to engage the other player in good sportsmanship, or to deal effectively with an opponent who is a bad sport. Bill creates procedures and situations for teaching players how to handle difficult situations on the court. Stooping to the level of the other player is never a part of those solutions, including making calls.

4. Learn from every match and practice. Bill sometimes tells players, ‘O.K. You failed at the first three goals above, but if you learn from it, then there is something to gain from it.  If you don’t, then it’s a total loss.’ It should also be noted that after winning matches, he has told his players ‘It felt like a loss today, because you did not achieve the first three goals as a team’. Coach Patton has not had a team that he coached in his first year, where a significant number of players failed at the first three goals in a match. It usually leads to a bitterly disappointing result. Over time, he can now see that this is a natural process the players need to go through to learn the importance of the above goals. Once this very poor performance comes about, it becomes a concrete example of what not to do.  Without experiencing the pain of that, players have nothing to reference.  Subsequently, the quality of effort, enjoyment, competition, strength and wisdom greatly improve, but only if a coach fully empowered with a coaching philosophy that is genuine and addresses these items takes the time to discuss that moment with their team.  At the foundational bedrock of all this is learning, improving, process orientation for everyone.

Process of Improvement

Once the coach and the players sell completely out to the process of improvement, then improvement comes more rapidly. Dr. Carol Dweck gave an incredible eleven minute TED talk on “The Power of Not Yet”, which is profoundly inspiring to help young people to learn about having a growth mindset.   Everyone would agree that the more you improve the better your chances of winning.  Of course, these are still only chances of winning, because generally the better player wins, and the better player on the day wins, there are very few ‘lucky’ events that can change the outcome of a tennis match.  Even so, a player who improves dramatically and thus competes much better in a losing match, can still come off the court exhilarated to have played a much better player very closely.

When players really grasp the these four principles are what Bill uses as the core of his coaching philosophy, there is the potential in any given match, that they will experience the same exhilaration. You can mimic those, change them, include a few more, etc.  Whatever you do, do it thoughtfully, and really it should better reflect what you discovered from reading through our last blog post. Make it yours, and the players will make it theirs. If you just swipe it from this blog, and don’t really think it through it might not ‘work’. Don’t blame us!  If it does not work, it’s most likely because you did not do the work, and you have harmed your own authenticity in that way.  When you do the work, and your authentic approach comes forward, players and parents will recognize that.  When it does work, congratulate yourself, and maybe send us a ‘thank you’, but don’t give us any credit, it was all the players who hit all the balls, you just facilitated the program that helped them succeed.  We think that can be enough.

Are you a cookie?  We didn’t think so, so don’t use a cookie cutter approach.

 

Bill Patton, Executive Director is the Author of The Art of Coaching High School Tennis and Visual Training for Tennis.

Styrling Strother’s  Book    7 On Court Strategies to Enter Your Play State was released July, 2017

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