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One of my key roles, as a coach and technical consultant, is to work with national team players from various countries - both men players and women players - and escalate their game to the next level.
To achieve this objective, I observe and analyze the present form of the athlete in individual training sessions. Specific items that I look for are:
Rather than provide high-intensity training, the primary objectives of these individual training sessions is to correct the athlete's technique to execute the basic/advanced skills, to develop their game sense and decision making ability, and educating them on the basic concepts of the game. One more topic of these individual training sessions is to guide the athletes about the list of things which they should do, and equally important, what they should not do.
Over the Christmas break, I had the opportunity to coach two diverse sets of athletes:
1. I had an individual skill training session with 2 members of the national team who had played in the 2008 Beijing Olympic games
2. I also worked with few young and upcoming student athletes, in their early to mid teens
The specific topics covered were passing, receiving, and passing & leading. One would wonder, firstly, what coaching can be imparted to an Olympian, who has seen it all and done it all. How can the coach escalate the game of these Olympians to the next level?
At the same time, what type of coaching did I give to the student athletes, and how was it different from coaching the experienced Olympians, who have represented their country at the highest international level?
The comparative analysis of these two groups is interesting and reveals a lot. One would be surprised to learn that the topics and coaching tips covered were more or less the same. Technical and tactical concepts, and principles which govern the game, were the same whether the audience was a novice player or an Olympian.
Where the coaching differed was in the quality of information imparted and the intensity and speed at which the practices were conducted, as these two categories of athletes were miles apart from each other, in their physical development, game understanding and level of play.
"The first day training of a novice is the every day training of an expert" - Miyamoto Musashi, Japanese martial arts master
WHAT IS OBSERVED AND CORRECTED?
The first step taken was to observe the athlete, and compare it to the mental picture of an idol player who has excelled in this position, and whose style was quite similar - in certain ways - to the athlete being coached. We will take the example of a right-winger for this case study.
Two right winger idol players come to mind:
These two world-class right wingers were considered the best of their times, but had vastly different styles. From the coaching point of view, we have to consider whether the right winger athlete in question can be modeled like Balbir Singh (Raliways) or Kaleemullah? And the coaching steps are taken accordingly.
Given below is a list of things that are observed in the athlete:
|Receiving the Ball|
|Actions with the Ball|
|Actions away from the Ball|
The above are a few of the basic questions which reveal a lot about the player's game sense, knowledge and effectiveness. They are the key factors which differentiate a good player from a great one.
While the coaching process is going on, I quietly observe the attitude of the Olympians. How are they reacting to my healthy criticism? Are they open to a critique, or do they start getting defensive? I adjust my doses of feedback accordingly. After all who wants to impose one's views on Olympians? They have to be convinced from within, before they can accept the criticism.
There is also one more observation, based on my years of experience in the coaching profession. Usually, male athletes don't like being criticized in front of their peers, but are open to healthy criticism in a 1-on-1 situation.
In contrast, female athletes usually are not that defensive in a mini group coaching session. They are open to feedback and healthy criticism within a group, and also, they are more understanding, supportive and respectful!
I would like to use the two action photographs below to share my views on how the athlete's performance is analyzed, in order to provide instant feedback. These photographs are taken from the recent Champions Challenge I tournament. Both these photographs have been taken in an approximately similar game situation and specific zone of the field (near the D top).
|2009 Champions Challenge I, Salta, Argentina (Photo courtesy Matias Aguirre)|
|India vs. New Zealand||Argentina vs. Canada|
a. Photograph #1
The New Zealand forward is running with the ball near the 'D', and is being tackled from the left by Sardara Singh (who went on to win the Player of the Tournament award in the Champions Challenge I).
From the coaching point of view, the Kiwi forward has 2 options - either take on Sardara, or make a pass to his left to his leading teammate. However, the location of the ball in relation to his body slightly diminishes his vision and optimum options.
At the same time, Sardara is tackling with his right foot forward, in a criss-cross footwork stance. This hinders his effectiveness to recover. In case the Kiwi forward opens his left foot and cuts in, Sardara will be left a few steps or a few seconds behind, which is a significant gap at this level of the game. Sardara should have taken baby steps, as this would allow him to quickly change pace and direction as required.
b. Photograph #2
The Argentinean forward is attacking the Canadian defender Rob Short (who was recently named to the 2009 World Hockey All Star Team). The Argentinean forward is keeping the ball at an optimum spot, which enhances his attacking options and vision, and gives him the freedom to scan the field.
From the defender's point of view, Rob Short's positioning is very good, and he looks confident, focussed and determined to get the ball. However, Rob's feet are a bit too far apart, resulting in a wide stance. In case the Argentinean forward changes his pace and direction, especially to his right, Rob may not be able to cover the gap in a timely manner.
Also, if Rob can approach this forward with his stick in a poke tackle angle, this would put pressure on the Argentinean forward, and constrain his ability to scan the field.
Video taping of individual practice sessions is also used to provide feedback to the athletes, and enable them to make the necessary corrections. The video taping is followed by a classroom session, using advanced video analysis programs. During the classroom session, often times the surprised athlete comments, "Oh, I did not realize that I was doing that!"
Incidentally, I also use the video analysis to observe how I interact with the athletes, what my communication style is, and where I can improve.
The Olympian right winger over the course of these individual training sessions realized that his footwork, and the angle at which he carried the ball, needed to be corrected and improved. He was appreciative of the valuable feedback gained through these sessions.
And so were the mid-teen student athletes. It was easier to correct the technique of the student athletes, compared to senior and experienced Olympic athletes.
It is best to develop good habits and correct technique when the athlete is at a young age. As the athlete gets older, it becomes harder to change. As they say, it is easiest to bend the willow when it's young.
Whether you are young or old, whether you are a rookie or a professional, always be on the lookout to develop and hone your basic and advanced skills. Strive for perfection and achieve excellence.
We all know that Tiger Woods is the best golf player on this planet. Butch Harmon, his former swing coach, had changed his swing technique three times. The first time he did it, was after Tiger had won his first major title - the Masters at Augusta in 1997. It just shows that for a serious and committed athlete, it is never too late to change and improve.