This piece is for any parent out there who has children playing tournaments. Now having my own children who are playing tournaments I share your pain and struggles, highs and lows. I have tried to pull out some of the key things I have learned so far and hope at least some of these insights can be helpful in navigating the squash landscape ahead.
Most recently I have been working on developing a clearer mind. Part of this process involves changing responses to things which I don’t like by keeping a distance from my thoughts and watching them instead of instantly reacting to them. This has been very powerful and led to much clearer thinking and decision making especially in the coaching and parenting environment.
Last weekend we attended the British junior championships where our players from Bristol and Bath tested themselves against the best. Part of our group included my own children Elliott and Peter who were put to the test on multiple levels as was my focus on clarity of thinking and decision making under pressure…
I have been coaching for over 30 years now and would consider myself to be pretty good at finding the most effective ways to help people maximize their potential. I have been fortunate to work with some of the world’s best squash players along the way and gained vast experience into the workings of the minds of such high level players and what makes them successful. I can see patterns quickly in people and pretty consistently give good information at key moments but when I coach my own kids all this experience and practice is put to its greatest test and often fails.
With every tournament there are highs and lows. Very rarely is it all plain sailing. It’s often hard to see why some matches go well and others are far from successful. I think partly this is because there are so many variables at play in every situation.
The stage of the event
The fatigue of the individual both physical and mental
The maturity of the individual both physical and mental
A passing comment from a fellow player
And the list goes on…
So if there are so many variables which can affect the performances of our juniors where do we start in trying to help them find their best during events which bring all of the challenges above and more?
Setting a vision and clear objectives
The first thing to accept is that there are many things we can’t control. As parents and coaches it often feels like it’s our job to figure it all out and solve all the problems as they come, but we cant. What can we do? We can start by being very clear on the objectives for the event and these objectives are already shaped in part from the vision for the child. Returning to a clear vision helps us manage these intense emotional battles. Asking key questions like: What is this squash journey for? What ultimately do we want from this sport? And when I say we I mean child, parent and coach. I had a lovely conversation with a parent at the BJC who told me he had written down a vision that his Son will still be playing squash by the end of GCSE’s. He figured if he still loves the sport by then he will carry it on for the longer term – what a simple and great vision. When the vision is clear it’s easier to set effective objectives for each step along the way and keep us on track as parents and coaches. A vision focused on reaching the top ranking of the age group will require different objectives for one which is focused primarily on making new friends and having fun. That is not to say new friends and fun cannot accompany being number 1 but they will not be a primary objective, when i reached U19 number 1 in the UK my priorities were not about hanging out with the other competitors it was about beating them but right now for my ten year old who is just starting his journey this could not be further from the plan.
Setting simple objectives and goals in the context of the current vision for each match and event will mean there are multiple ways to get small wins. It will be possible to lose but still achieve some or all of the objectives and possible to win and miss some of the objectives. It will be possible to see the patterns between reaching the objectives and positive outcomes. The brain likes patterns so we must create positive ones wherever possible rather than repeating the negative.
it’s not about you, it’s about them.
As a former high level junior and professional player I often see the game through my own eyes and cannot understand why my children respond in certain ways which are not the same as mine. That is because although they are my children and are part of me they are not the same as me. They don’t see the world the same as me, have had different experiences and therefore different ways of dealing with what’s in front of them. That’s a tough one to process sometimes. All parents will know that this doesn’t just apply on a squash court; it’s in everything our children do. ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ ‘Why did you do that?’’ You wouldn’t catch me doing that.‘ ’When I was growing up I wouldn’t get away with that.’ Our past experiences will be useful and can help in some situations but also in many instances they are not comparable to our children so we have to distance ourselves enough to see things from their perspective not ours.
One of the biggest challenges for us in the coach role (be that parent and/or coach) is to separate our emotions from the child’s emotions. This can seem impossible at times as we see our kids throw away a match with a series of mistakes, stop trying, totally melt down, or just shut down and freeze. When we lose control because we can’t handle the situation in front of us we will not make good decisions and give useful advice so keep asking the question: what is he or she feeling right now and how can I help them? This could include some firm words and a kick up the ***** or making them feel safe and supported. It all depends on what we can sense is best for them in the given moment but its not possible to get that clear sense if we are emotionally out of control.
It’s ok to be their friend,
Being a parent and coach can become a role which we embody and play out in the given situations. Great coaches (in my opinion) don’t try to be a certain way with their players, they just turn up as their most authentic selves. The ‘I am the teacher you are the pupil’ dynamic is outdated and not the most effective way. Great leaders gain full trust by developing a deep relationship with their teams and individuals. There is a clear structure of who is responsible for doing what but also a strong sense of ‘we are doing this together’. We don’t need to dictate information as if we know all the answers because we don’t. Instead we can be a friend and coach and learn together. This is so powerful mainly down to the deep level of trust that can be developed, No one is faking it.
We all know what it feels like to have someone who has truly got your back. It feels so secure and strong. Be like this for your kids because when they are under the most pressure this is when they need this sense of security most. We can then share the highs and lows together, figure things out, review, improve, tweak and after its over look back years from now at a rich and rewarding experience for all