As always the team at Edgbaston priory club and Birmingham university provided an excellent experience for the British junior championships. Somewhere close to 500 kids battled it out across the two venues and it was very encouraging to see so many young players at such a high level when there is plenty of talk about squash on the decline in the UK.
Our small group from Bristol did themselves proud considering this was the first experience of an event of this level. Watching the various age groups is always interesting in particular what separates those who are more successful. There was so many things to learn for all of us as parents, coaches and players but I will focus briefly on one very tricky and key area at junior events: the between games talk.
I was quickly reminded how different the emotional experience is for juniors compared to adults. Don’t get me wrong, I have often had to calm emotions with the best players in the world but their ability to rationalise the situation is much more advanced. I think this really is the key point to consider first before saying anything. What kind of emotional state is going on inside that child? NOT, what emotional state is going on in your head as parent or coach. If we can intercept our own experience and replace that with what we can expect them to be feeling this is a great start point.
The emotional state of juniors will vary according to many factors:
Have they won or lost the previous game?
Did they play well, or did things fall apart?
What stage of the match is this?
What stage of the tournament is this?
On the last day of this event I was talking to an 11 year old who was clearly falling apart. After 4 days of competition his young mind and body was at overwhelm stage. He first needed to understand that this was why he felt so upset and its ok to feel like that, he is bound to. It was then crucial to give him a couple of very simple objectives in relation to this stage of the event. How well can you respond to feeling like this? Are you strong enough to bring yourself back to a focused state, because if you can you will be very proud of yourself and all of us supporting you will also be very proud. The main point being, there is a time to talk about what needs to be done to win the match (When the child is in a clear enough state to take the information and apply it) and then there are also times when the talking about how to win is not going to be the best policy for any child who is melting down, and all parents will know, there is plenty of melting down in junior squash!
Here are my steps for deciding how to approach the between game talk:
– First give them time and space to talk first, breathe and settle.
– Start with a positive comment and / or one which settles the child
– Keep the information very simple – 2 key points is normally the maximum
– Finish with very positive language to encourage the best mental state possible. For example: Make yourself proud, give everything you have for this game and you can’t fail.
There are occasions when the junior is just not giving their all, has given up. This is not excusable and would require a more firm approach to make it very clear this is not an option. From experience this is less summon and if it is the case it’s important to ask next why are they not trying? The answer will not be simple and is topic for another blog.
It’s a very difficult job for even the most experienced coaches so don’t worry if you don’t always get it right. You wont. Review your own performance as between games coach. What did I do well? What didn’t work so well? What can I learn? This is crucial as we should be a team, all aiming for the best performances possible.
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