Coaching is like baking a cake: You never mention the basic ingredients
By MIKE DALE – Squash Mad Chief Reporter, UK Bureau
In his second exclusive blog for Squash Mad, Danny Massaro explains why he thinks coaches are like the flour in a tasty cake. The coach and husband of world champion Laura also pays tribute to his ‘inspiration’ David Pearson, revealing how the former England coach turned Laura’s career around with a little help from 80s pop singer Nik Kershaw…..
I believe the relationship between a coach and his or her player is like a cake. The sugar, the currants and the cream all make the cake tasty, but you also need flour. The coach is the quality of the flour – it has a big impact on the cake but it’s never talked about.
You never say, ‘Wow, this flour in this cake is good,’ you say, ‘These currants are juicy,’ or, ‘This cream is delicious.’ I think if you are a really good coach, your influence is so subtle that you should never really be looking to stand out or receive adulation.
I actually believe the players are the ones who make themselves better. They hit the shots, do the training, travelling and thinking. But as a coach you have such a strong influence in the background.
I think players play an important part in getting the best out of their coaches too. They must give back and help the coach’s confidence. It’s a shared relationship and like a marriage you’ve both got to work at keeping it alive. Little things can end up becoming massive things.
David Pearson, Laura’s coach, has told me to keep my playing level up as long as I can because it helps to understand those you’re coaching.
Because I wasn’t a professional player it’s important that my own swing and movement looks vaguely in the ‘right ballpark’. It gives me empathy too, to know how it feels to still play the game hard. You can forget.
When your heart rate gets up and your brain won’t settle it is bloody hard and even simple things get tough, like hitting a good length.
I’m 40 now and I’ve decided to keep pushing it. I feel young. I can’t just roll over and let players beat me; they got to earn it. Squash is flipping hard. I can only imagine what it feels like at the top of the game.
Speaking of DP, I’d say his influence on my coaching has been just as big as his impact on Laura’s career.
Every time I watch one of his sessions with players I learn more. Observing him at work is the best course I could go on anywhere in the world.
He is a throwback coach; very simple and massively effective. It’s the way he talks, his mannerisms, the way his moods change, how he uses humour, his vulnerability and openness with players, exposing his faults and frustrations.
His listening skills impress me; how he holds a dialogue with players, not in a clunky question-and-answer way, but with humour to settle people down, then incisive technical bits, using metaphors. Off-court too, he knows how to be friendly but keep that appropriate coach/player distance.
He has an utterly natural eye for understanding the rhythm of the game and how it links to the skills you need to play and work the ball into places your opponent will hate.
Because of his work with Stafford Murray, a top analyst at the English Institute of Sport, he has developed a technical breakdown knowledge of how to refine players’ biomechanics and then how to relate that back to skill with a racket in their hand.
My coaching has benefitted immensely from him. Obviously Laura has too. When DP said he would coach her it was a massive turning point. Just look what’s happened since.
When he started with Laura he freshened her mind immediately, which leads to motivation. There were new ideas; changing her grip, basic movements and joint control. All very slow, single feeds and not much pressurised stuff. It looked like the same lesson 20 times over but it was far from it.
Other coaches snigger at DP and say he only has one lesson plan but they fail to appreciate that he sees the game at much deeper layers than most. I think it’s impossible to pass that on, it’s just earned by the person themselves through experience and intellect.
DP spent many months with Laura going on about dreams and replaying the Nik Kershaw song, “The Sky’s The Limit,” persuading her gradually that there should be no limit to what she’s capable of.
There was, and still is, lots of humour and mickey taking, getting Laura to laugh at herself more. He is great at tournaments too. He always brings a positive, bigger perspective to things.
At the Tournament of Champions last year in New York, Laura lost quite heavily in the final to Nicol David and despite having a good week was naturally disappointed with the result.
DP said to her, ‘Right, let’s go out and celebrate. Here we are in New York, playing sport for a job. You’ve got a brilliant marriage, a wonderful family and you will always be a British Open Champion. You lost to arguably the best female player there’s ever been and played in the greatest venue on the tour. You’ll have your day again soon. Let’s go out and have a laugh.’
We had such a great night, just the three of us. There were loads of stories and mickey taking, we got drunk and opened up more to each other. No analysis, no bad emotions, just fun and silliness. It’s amazing how much those things help Laura and our life together. Two months after that night, she became world champion.
Coming soon: Danny begins his exclusive “self-do” exercises for Squash Mad readers, including “Dream Power”, “Thankful Force” and “Self-appreciation”.
Pictures courtesy of Danny and Laura Massaro