Friday, July 19, 2024

Squash Mum: Parents need to team up with the coach

Developing children is a team effort built on trust between pupil, parents and coaches
By SQUASH MUM – Squash Mad  Special Columnist

Sports Minister Helen Grant with juniors at The Mote Squash Club in Maidstone, Kent
Sports Minister Helen Grant with juniors at The Mote Squash Club in Maidstone, Kent

There’s a lot of advice aimed at parents of junior squash players (and children who play other sports) and I think its increasing.

Activity on various social media sites has been noticeable, with various accounts from coaches with useful general comments and advice, not just squash related – @johnallpress52 is a very helpful example of this, his Twitter account providing links to various excellent coaching blogs.

Now a new Twitter presence called @winningparent has appeared – I’m giving this one time to bed in, for me it seems a bit confused so far but time will tell and I’ll certainly look at all the help I can find.

There seems to be an increasing focus as far as I can see on the relationship between the parent and the coach. I’ve seen various coaches and coaching blogs actively courting this relationship, offering advice on how parents can optimise the effect of coaching on their children.

On the other side of the coin I’ve also seen coaches suggest that parents should maybe not even attend their children’s lessons and training sessions. Interesting one that. I’m inclined to think that tips about about how to forge a positive three-way relationship between coach, player and parent are what to look for, but there is a lot of conflicting advice on that subject too.

And what do we do when Squash Child has coaching input from different sources and they all have a different idea of what they want from us as parents?

We are incredibly fortunate where we live to have access to some top-quality squash instruction. Squash Child has a brilliant coach at our club, backed up by a very talented young assistant. On top of that we have some absolutely superb external squad coaching, as well as County and Regional input.

All this has to work together – there are probably five or six individual coaches in total who are all attempting in some way to help Squash Child get the best from his game, and they do not all work at the same place or with the same agenda.

If only in the interests of not confusing Squash Child, surely it’s vital that Squash Dad and I are aware of what’s going on in each of these environments, so any suggestion that it might be a good thing for parents to make themselves scarce at training is going to get short shrift from us.

Squash Child’s school is always very keen to stress the importance of parent engagement with learning in the classroom. Apparently it can be demonstrated that children whose parents take an active and involved interest in their school work and engage directly with the school learn better than those whose parents are detached from the learning environment. This makes sense to me.

So I would be very wary of any squash coach who discouraged me from watching a training session or was unwilling to discuss the content of the lessons with Squash Dad.

Yet I know such coaches are out there, and I also know plenty of parents who, whilst they may be present at their children’s training sessions, have no interest in what goes on during them, and therefore no idea what the coach and player are trying to achieve – surely resulting in the parent not being in a position to support or reinforce the learning process in any way?

I certainly agree that getting the player to tell you what they’ve been doing is a good way to reinforce coaching, but I’m not sure there’s much point in asking Child about what was covered in his training session unless we know whether what he then tells us illustrates the intended point of the lesson or not – and how do we know that if we aren’t aware of what was done?

Squash Dad and I recently spoke to someone whose son had been developing his game nicely for some time, but had suddenly reverted to old habits. Apparently when they talked about it, it seemed that the lad had completely missed the point of what his recent training sessions had been trying to teach and was suffering as a direct result of trying to apply what was in fact a mistaken idea.

Nothing wrong with the coaching as such, but this lad needed more than that, he needed the wider context of the lesson to be explained so that he understood WHY he was being asked to do the drills and routines he’d been covering.

I know the coaches did this but sometimes with youngsters things need to be reiterated and a group environment isn’t always the best place for that – and no-one had been watching, listening or asking the coach to fill them in on this lad’s behalf.

I’m sure that there are parents out there who might step beyond reasonable involvement into interference and I assume that this is where some of the negative views about parents, which I have heard from coaches, come from.

It can be difficult to avoid what I have previously referred to as “passive interference”, by which I mean the kind of behaviour as a spectator which causes the player to be continually looking out through the back wall to see what face Mum is pulling…this must be infuriating for a coach and I know I can be guilty of it.

But good coaches can coach parents as well as kids, and Squash Child’s says he is very pleased with my progress..! More direct interference isn’t something that I have witnessed first hand but I am aware that it can happen.

A friend of Squash Child’s has never managed to work with any individual coach for a sustained period of time because his dad always finds himself at loggerheads with them.

Another lad we know is often working in groups which are unsuitable for his level because his parents think he should be there, and have indicated that they aren’t willing to bring him to the slightly less advanced session which would actually be better for his development. The coach doesn’t want to risk the lad not coming at all, so he has backed down. Who benefits from this?

Squash Child’s relationship with his main coach is very good. They’ve been working together for a long time now, Coach can read Squash Child like a book and always knows exactly how to get the best out of him. An added benefit is that Coach and Squash Dad have known each other since junior days, so that relationship has always worked easily (although perhaps if Squash Dad had been a better player back then it might not have done..!).

I’ve had to work for it, though. These days it is good, mainly thanks to Coach having the patience of a saint, being willing to let me make my mistakes and always being happy to help me as well as Squash Child. That’s quite a skill set. The external coaches Squash Child works with are a relatively recent addition to The Team and they’re still getting to know both Squash Child and us (although again Squash Dad has known them a long time).

They seem to accept that we aren’t going to be passive in Squash Child’s development and that while we are more than happy to let them do their job, we will do ours too. After all, we’re all after the same thing and we all have a role to play in getting there.

There have been occasions when they’ve made decisions which we don’t particularly like, but their job is to get the best out of Squash Child and we have to trust them to know how to do that. So far that trust has been amply rewarded with real, noticeable improvements to Squash Child’s game which may not be obvious immediately but are clearly observable over time.

I wouldn’t be at all comfortable with the idea of separating significantly from the coaching and training process. Any coach that works with Squash Child is going to have to engage with us, that’s for sure. Maybe we are demanding parents, but I think we’re entitled to ask people who are working with Squash Child to be accountable to us.

I believe that any good coach would expect this too, so reticence on their part here would immediately ring alarm bells for me about their suitability as a coach. I want a working relationship with these people, not a passive one and I think they should want that too. We are grateful for the fact that they are true experts and as such we will listen to them and be guided by them, but they have earned that huge degree of trust in part by also being willing to listen to and be guided by us when we feel it is necessary.

In return, I think they trust us to take what they are doing and back it up on a day to day basis. I see it as a pivotal relationship with the coach at one end, the player at the other end and the parents in the middle, a balance point if you like, with the actual work going on at either end.

I’m not sure that analogy exactly holds, but I know what I mean. What I am sure about though is that if the parents don’t actively put themselves in there, or the coach won’t let them, something may be lacking.

As always, the results play out on court and Child is definitely moving forward on all levels. For Squash Dad and me though, we have the satisfaction of seeing the things his coaching team is saying and doing week by week actually sinking in.

Every time Squash Child is on court we can look back at all those training sessions and pick out something that right now he is clearly thinking about and trying to do, which shows that he has listened, practiced and above all understood what he is being taught.

Win or lose, nick or tin, we can focus on that because that’s what really represents progress.




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