7. Between Games Coaching – 90 Sec Break

Recommendations on what to do and say in the 90 sec break by Coach Mark Allen

So often when I watch tournament matches I see enthusiastic friends or parents clambering around the competing player between games all offering their own interpretation of the preceding game and offering advice on how the player should proceed in the next game.

Whilst support is a positive thing, understand that unless advice given between games is simple and concise it is going to be of no use to your player at all, and in many cases may hinder rather than enhance performance. Several people talking around the competing player results in too much advice being given, and the end result of this is that nothing at all ends up going in.
** More than one voice distracts attention away from the person delivering the key point (if others want to show support then they can do so by handing/holding the water or offering a towel but they would be better to refrain from speaking and confusing the core information you are trying to communicate).
These are my recommendations if you are helping someone between games.

Part 1 Preparing the player to receive information (15-30 seconds)
1. Move to somewhere private where the performer is free of distractions
2. Have them drink their water now, and when they are finished
3. Make them stand/sit still and make eye contact with you
4. Let them speak first if they have something they look like they need to say

Part 2 Giving the advice (30-60 seconds)
1. Address their emotional needs
2. Give your tactical advice
3. Use positive statements (what to do) rather than negative (what not to do)
4. Do not give advice of a technical nature
5. Repeat the same simple message several times

Part 3 Preparing the player to play (15-30 seconds)
1. Have them drink for the second time
2. Ask them to repeat the advice given back to you
3. Offer a final word of encouragement before they step back onto court
Our short term memory lasts only 20-30 seconds – especially in the midst of intense physical exertion.

For advice to be of any use beyond the opening couple of rallies we must get the information into our players long term memory store. In highly stressful moments (and between games is such a moment) the brain is only capable of transferring one or two simple pieces of information to the long term memory. The skill in coaching your team-mate is in selecting the most significant one or (at a maximum) two pieces of advice and to make absolutely certain that they go in!

The crucial part of the 90 seconds is the mid section – what I have called “Giving the advice” and I would like to look at the five bullet points listed in more detail;

Point 1 Address the emotional needs:
In my experience this makes a bigger difference to performance than anything else that you do and for this reason it is a significant advantage to know and understand the personality of the person you are helping. Ideally in a team situation we should each coach the team-mate we have the strongest personal relationship with and try to stick to helping that same person for the duration of the season. Your ability to make a difference to their game will improve as you learn more about how they react to the advice that you give.
If too tightly wound up from a referee’s decision toward the end of the game then they will need to be calmed down.
If they are being negative then you need to try and give them a more positive mind set, and if they are tired then remind them that their opponent has also done a great deal of work.
If they are not trying then it’s time to give them a severe kick up the butt! Remember this all needs to be done whilst keeping your own emotions in check.

Point 2 – Give your tactical advice
You will have a far greater chance of helping your player if you stick to focusing their attention toward a game plan and specific issues of shot selection.
Hit hard and low cross court to his forehand, Use your straight drop shot from the front of the court when he is hanging back. Start to cut the ball off on the volley on the backhand wall, and Take your time and focus on hitting a quality serve, are all the types of useful pieces of advice that have a chance of enhancing performance.

Point 3 Use positive statements (what to do) rather than negative (what not to do)
As often as possible find a way of presenting advice in terms of what your player should be doing rather than what they should not be doing. For instance if your team mate is boasting too much from the back and this is getting her killed, then play down the wall and deep when you are behind your opponent is better advice than whatever you do don’t boast!! Telling someone to be patient, lengthen the rally and try to keep the ball in play longer, is better than telling them stop making mistakes!

Point 4 Do not give advice of a technical nature
Technical advice between games should be avoided. Over the years I have heard frustrated coaches trying to teach their pupil how to hit a drop shot between games. If they aren’t doing this already then it is not going to be learned in 90 seconds! Any advice along the lines of changes to grip, swing and footwork patterns should be avoided, it simply will not work.

Point 5 Repeat the same simple message several times
Remember that the message that you are trying to get across needs to be repeated, so do not shy away from saying the same thing, the same way, several times in a row in the short time that you have available. A simple message repeated several times has a good chance of being remembered.

THE CLOSE
In the closing seconds of the time just before the player leaves me for the court I like to make sure the advice has been received and understood, so I ask my player to repeat it back to me. I will then close out by offering some kind of positive encouragement just before they step back onto court such as, keep going girl or this game’s yours Dan.

Mark Allen

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