A disturbing coaching scene

Dear Golfer,

I’ve started riding my bike to get fitter and lose some weight. I usually ride around the Yarra River here in inner city Melbourne. It’s a lot of fun, there’s always plenty of people about and some great landmarks like the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), city skyline and Tennis Centre to take my mind off the lactic acid build up.

The other day I was riding past some of the back courts at Melbourne Park (where the Australian Open tennis is played) and noticed a young kid being coached. It was obvious that the young fella was a good player and with my obsession for anything coaching I decided to stop and have a look. Luckily my snooping was hidden by some well placed shade cloth so I had a perfect view without upsetting anyone.

The junior player was being taught (or shown) how to make an agressive stroke from the back court and then move into the net. A good move, and if well executed could probably win him many points. His first few tries I saw were excellent, he performed them well and the coach was please. Then something disturbing happened…

He missed a big forehand. The coach stopped the session and half berated the little guy saying, “You can’t miss that shot! You have to minimise mistakes and keep the ball in play”. My opinion is that this is poor coaching. This type of play is a calculated risk – sometimes you are going to miss the big shot. It’s part of the game. This point was missed by the tennis coach. He was trying to turn this kid into a robot. When they went back to the drill the next two forehands were dumped into the net. The kid was playing safe and his confidence and free flowing swing were damaged.

I didn’t hang around any longer, I had seen enough. My thinking is that the junior player would do far better if he was encouraged to hit the ball hard and not worry about getting every shot into the court. Playing safe is hardly going to make him a great player. His natural style could win him many points (and matches) but he would have to be prepared to miss the odd shot or two – you can’t have it both ways.

I witnessed something similar on the golf course yesterday while playing with a potential long drive champion. He was swinging safely, trying to get the ball into play. He was struggling badly. When I told him to forget about hitting the fairway and “let it rip” he was a new golfer. He instantly relaxed and returned to his natural hard hitting style.

Sometimes you have to give up control to gain control. It’s a bit paradoxical but it is the only way. You also have to be prepared for a mistake or two.

Mistakes are good, learn from them.

Good golfing,

Cameron Strachan

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3 Comments

  • Andrew

    Reply Reply March 11, 2008

    An excerpt from http://www.tennismindgame.com that applies equally to golf

    OK, so here’s the Big Myth:

    If I miss the ball, I must have done something technically wrong (meaning I moved my body parts in the wrong way). Thus, if I can correct that mistake (move my body parts “correctly”), then I will not miss the ball again.

    Before I explain more about this myth and why it still persists, let me share the truth with you:

    If you missed the ball, you were doing the best you could in the current circumstances using your skills, such as:
    ball judgement
    timing
    dynamic balance
    coordination
    the ability to decide quickly
    and hundreds more
    … and yet they still were not good enough.

    In other words, you missed because somewhere in this immensely complex process in your brain – trying to perform all the calculations of distances, speed and timing and, at the same time, coordinating over 300 muscles in your body to move at exactly the right speed and force so that your racquet could connect with the ball at the right spot with a very small margin of error -a mistake happened.

    And there is NO WAY you can change or improve a particular, discrete mistake in this process, which is actually going on totally subconsciously, by your conscious effort – i.e., thinking or trying to do something.

    Can you correct the racquet angle by half a degree while it’s moving at 60 km/h toward the ball, which is approaching at 40 km/h, while you are running?

    Can you coordinate your muscles better just by wishing it?

    Can you NOT be 0.02 seconds late, during which time the ball travels 20 cm???

    Let’s keep it simple: if the ball is approaching with 36 km/h, it means that it travels 10 m/s, which means it moves 10 cm every hundredth of a second!

    Can you consiously decide not to make a mistake judging the ball, and swing at exactly the right moment not to be late (or early!) by one hundredth of a second?

    NO WAY.

    Then what can you do?

    Try again. Notice what happened before, and try again. Your subsconsious will make the necessary adjustments. All you have to do is to notice and repeat, notice and repeat…

    Remember, there are just four mistakes in tennis – you either hit:
    too high (too long)
    too low (too short)
    too much to the left
    too much to the right

  • Cameron Strachan

    Reply Reply March 12, 2008

    Hi Andrew,

    Yes…this is great advice!

    I’m actually subscribed to this tennis website. He has some great stuff and also some videos on YouTube.

    Worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about learning.

    Cheers,

    Cameron

  • John

    Reply Reply March 13, 2008

    Hi Straks,
    When your in a free flowing relaxed, state playing any sport you will be playing at your optimum. All too often coaches, the public and the media often want the best possible outcome ie winning. What you, I and many others have discovered is a pathway to reaching the best possible outcome.Playing on automatic. Performing your best on that particular day.As you have said in previous blogs, coaches want robots who perform at the flick of a switch. You and I know it don’t work like that. One of the best things I have learnt from you and others is you can only can control what you do. In performing at your best there are so many variables that come into play that are way out of your control. This could be the weather, other playing partners, conditions of the court or playing surface, crowds etc. List can go on and on.It is intersting to note that humans like to take charge and control their environment. I too have been a big critic of playing surfaces( greens) at our local club. In saying that I recently played in a 2 day tournament. On Sat I shot 74 with a double.Next day I came out and shot 83 with a triple and 2 doubles. In essence the greens or the course didn’t play much diffrently (except pin placements) yet I was the one who played diffrentlly from the day before.I blamed a whole lot if things but I had changed.What was the diffrence. My attitude and playing style. I thought to myself well I shot 74 yesterday I should easily break 80 today. What happened was that I placed an expection on my ability and didn’t play to it. I tried shooting at tough pin placements, I pushed and got shoved back by the course. Yet other players who had a bad day on Saturday come out on Sunday and broke their handicap.Golf in essence is an easy Game. My friend Peter(plays off 3) who played with me on both days said to me after day two “John always remember middle of the fairway middle of the green. Give yourself the best opportunity to play and score your best.Forget about distance on your drives, pin placements etc. If you miss a green don’t get upset, think of it as a challenge to make par and at worse bogey. Wise words.
    Happy Golfing.
    Steady

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