THE STATE OF THE GAME
A PROFILE OF THE WRITER
by John Riches
The Who, Why, and Wherefore of Sound Coaching
In the Australian croquet scene, and I suspect also in other parts
of the world, we coaches have a lot of work to do in order to establish
credibility. We have to overcome certain long-held prejudices based on the
out-moded idea that croquet is, and should remain, a purely amateur sport
(for "amateur", read "one that should not be taken too seriously") in which
the notion of paying a coach to assist you improve your play is often looked
upon as a violation of sacred tradition, and more or less akin to outright
In the amateur sport of croquet, coaching is seen merely as the help
beginners need to grasp the fundamentals. In the professional sport of
croquet, sound coaching of players is essential to achieve the winning edge
in competition. Sound coaching comes from an organized approach to the
training and development of competent coaches.
ERADICATING POPULAR MYTHS ABOUT COACHING
Even at the top level, among players with whom we might expect to share
some degree of enlightenment, there are myths about coaching which will be
difficult to eradicate. The main ones are....
- "Coaching is necessary for beginners who don't know how to play the
various shots, but good players should know how to play them correctly and
what tactics to use."
Try convincing Pete Sampras, Greg Norman, or any top athlete,
gymnast or swimmer that they have no need of a coach! On the contrary,
the higher the level at which you play in any sport, the more vital it is
that you have the regular assistance of a competent coach to help you
maintain your game at top level, and eradicate minute errors before you
yourself are even aware of them, and more importantly, before they become
entrenched habits which can be very difficult to eliminate.
- "But I am already the strongest player in our club (region/state,
etc.), so there is no-one I can get any further help from".
Why do we imagine that the coach should be able to play at a higher
standard than the player whom he coaches? Is Carl Lewis's coach a better
athlete than Carl? In fact, top players rarely make the best coaches, due
to the fact that most aspects of the game come so naturally to them that
they have never had to give any deep thought to what they actually do and
why they do it.
- "There is no need for a coach to be present with the player or team
during a competition, as his work should all have been completed before
then; it is too late to change anything after the competition has started."
People who peddle this line are merely displaying their ignorance
of what coaching is all about. Once again, any top athlete in almost any
sport will tell you that this, too, is nonsense. In fact, psychology (and
in particular mental preparation, game by game) assumes greater significance
in croquet than in almost any other sport. A good coach can be of
incalculable help to a player in assisting him to prepare for variable
playing conditions, a particular opponent, new tactical ideas being adopted
by other players, and in settling him down for the next game after a
devastating loss or a nail-biting victory.
RECENT ADVANCES IN COACHING IN AUSTRALIA
It seems that South Australia in recent years has moved well ahead
of other Australian states in the setting up of an organised system for
training coaches and coaching players. The SA Coaching Committee has
worked hard for the last ten or so years, on such things as preparing
materials; conducting research in the area of bio-mechanics in conjunction
with our local Sports Institute; carrying out experiments designed to test
our theories on the way balls behave in particular shots when struck in
various ways; collecting data for statistical purposes; training coaches;
coaching players; working out exactly what should be taught, in what order
and at what level; and most important of all, finding the best ways of
teaching the things that need to be taught.
The Australian Croquet Association has now adopted many of our ideas and
materials, and is assisting other states to become more involved in the
advances being made.
The generally unenlightened attitude to coaching in this country
until recently is illustrated by the fact that about 15 years ago the ACA
as a member of the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme published an
"Australian Croquet Manual" written by Ron Sloane, who was recognised at
the time as a leading player and coach. It is a useful book, with many
important insights into the way the game should be played; but it fails to
make any mention at all of the most important aspects of coaching. It
tells you the information that a coach needs to pass on to his players, but
not how to actually go about passing it on in the most efficient and
effective manner. It tells you what the coach should recommend his players
to do, but not how to get them to do it.
DIAGNOSIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING OF THE COACH'S JOB
This idea that the sole or main function of a coach is to tell you
what you are doing wrong and what you ought to be doing differently, is
another commonly accepted myth. A coach who does nothing more than tell
you that "You are hurrying your forward swing and twisting the mallet. You
also need to make sure that your backswing is straighter." is no better
than a doctor who tells you that you have appendicitis and need to have the
offending organ removed, but does not know how to go about removing it.
You need to promptly find another doctor and/or coach - one who knows
not only how to diagnose your problem, but how to fix it!
Diagnosis - telling the player what he is doing wrong - is only
the first step in the process of error correction. There is an enormous
amount of knowledge that the coach needs to possess if he is to
satisfactorily complete the task that as coach he should be undertaking.
This will usually involve the development of correct technique (since
knowing what you should be doing and being able to do it are two very
different things); setting of practice drills; designing a training and
competitive programme; goal-setting; monitoring of progress; and many other
things which need to be done in order to ensure that the player adtually
learns the correct technique and is able to use it in pressure situations
without reverting to his old incorrect technique.
In the coaching of tactics, also, there is much work to be done.
A coach must do much more than work out the tactical ideas which a
player should be using, which will vary from one player to another,
depending on the percentage success rates of their various shots. Telling
the player that some aspect of his tactical game is unsatisfactory and
needs to be changed will rarely be of much help. Much time has to be spent
out on the lawn playing through various situations in which the new tactic
applies; ensuring that the player understands why he needs to use it as
well as when to use it and when not to; and most difficult of all for the
coach, finding ways of ensuring that the player actually thinks of the new
correct tactic in a tense game situation under pressure.
Much material is now available covering the areas I have touched on
above, and there is also good material on many other areas of essential
coaching knowledge which have not been mentioned here; but there is still a
very long way to go and much research to be done.
Compared with other sports, the science of Croquet Coaching is still very
much in its infancy.
HOW TO PROMOTE THE IMPORTANCE OF COACHING
So how can we go about gaining credibility and establishing more
firmly our place in the sun? It will take time, but there are some things
we can do immediately.
FIRSTLY, every coach who is still playing the game should ensure
that he himself has a personal coach, whose help he seeks regularly; and he
should not hesistate to let everyone know how much he values the
assistance. Remember that your coach need not be able to play as well as
SECONDLY, we can advise every player we come into contact with that
when some aspect of their game starts to give trouble, they should
immediately seek the services of a trained and accredited coach.
THIRDLY, we should warn against placing too much reliance on the
advice of anyone - even a top player - who has not been properly
trained as a coach. After all, would you allow a 'doctor' with no training
or qualifications to treat your appendicitis?
FOURTHLY, we can point out to every leading player, and certainly
to every team, that if they do not have their own coach, they are going to
be competing under a severe disadvantage against others who have recognised
the importance of good coaching and secured the services of a competent
John Riches will have more to say on various aspects of coaching here in
future editions of his column, "The State of the Game."