Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thinking about being coachable

Having finished my Sunday stint of coaching tennis I was sitting down with a cold drink pondering the characteristics of what it means to be coachable. These things don't just apply to tennis, they cross over into every area of life where we are learning. So it's important that we are coachable wherever we are and whatever we are doing. The uncoachable person is surely doomed to keep repeating errors and mistakes without ever learning any lessons.

So what would make your list of coachable assets?

My list is currently quite random. In fact I haven't thought it through at all. I'm doing it as I write! The first thing that comes to mind is a willingness to be taught. Unless you are willing to learn, coaching has no value. It's not just about listening either. Of course you have to listen, but you also have to apply what you hear. I despair sometimes at the inability some people have to process what they are being told. Okay, so maybe I need to find a better way, a simpler way, to get the point across sometimes. But when you've repeated yourself 100 times and still they revert back to the old pattern you do wonder why they haven't got it yet!

Second would be a positive work ethic. Progress takes work and the better you get the harder you have to work to improve. At first you can make almost quantum sized leaps in a very short space of time. But as you progress those once cosmic strides become seemingly infinitesimally small steps. So you have to be willing to work hard every time you show up.

A third trait would be something along the lines of a desire to improve and learn. What I'm trying to find a word for is an attitude that is tenacious about progress. Stickability might be a good word for it. If you're learning something new you have to deal with disappointment. Something might come easily or quickly. Some things won't. I reckon it's taken me 2 years of fairly relentless practice to take my backhand from a liability, to something that doesn't cost me points and now towards something that can win me points. Overall it's taken 5 years to get to this point and there's still an awfully long way to go. To be honest, after 5 or 6 years of leaning to play tennis I'm only just in sight of the ladder, let alone approaching the bottom rung! If you can't stick at it, you stand no chance of getting to your destination.

Application goes alongside stickability. Practice doesn't make perfect, no matter what you might have been told. I've seen lots of people doing a lot of practice. Practice has to be purposeful and constructive. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Application is taking what you're learning and practicing it with a purpose. I often find myself talking to some of my young tennis kids about doing drills. Some of them don't like it. They think that doing drills isn't playing tennis. I try to help them understand that drills are what make playing tennis possible. That brings me to another characteristic of a coachable person.

You've got to love practice. I have the privilege to practice with some good players. Players I would never get near in a match. What we have in common is a love of practice. When our coach says let's do a drill, we all say, "Which one?" and off we go. We have our favourites. I could happily spend an hour hitting a ball down the centre of the court and never play a single point! I love doing the drills. Even when I'm struggling to keep control of the ball, I keep going. It's the only way to improve. And even at my age I get excited when I manage to do a drill well. You should have seen the smile on my face when I made 100 consecutive cross-court forehands with a single ball!

Well that's five I've thought of as I write. I'm sure there are more, or maybe just a more refined way of describing the ones I've outlined. Perhaps some don't transfer into other arenas, but I think most would.

What I've learnt from becoming a coach and being coached is that even the best coaches can't coach the uncoachable. If I'm not ready to learn, apply myself, practice and put everything into each session, then I'm in danger of becoming one of the uncoachables. I'm not ready to let that happen.

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