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When Not To Coach

Sometimes you find yourself with a less experienced partner, and you’re tempted to coach that partner in the middle of the game. You might want tell your partner to come closer to the non-volley zone, to return serves deeper, or to quit lobbing into the wind. These can have immediate good effects. But sometimes mid-game coaching will have the opposite effect on your game. Either your partner will be intimidated, and will then have to play with damaged morale, or will try too hard to comply with your request.

One of the best examples of something not to say, if you want to win the game, is to suggest to an intermediate player that s/he should start dropping that third shot into the kitchen. That’s because what invariably happens, is that the partner can’t do it. If you’re a normal 4.0 player or above, you may have forgotten just how hard it was to learn to drop balls into the kitchen that don’t go too far back, bounce too high, or hit the net. So, when you instruct your partner to do this, you will have just guaranteed a whole series of lost rallies.

As an advancing player, you may also forget what it feels like to receive unsolicited coaching. Therefore, I try to remember to keep quiet when I’d rather critique, congratulate my partner on well-executed moves, and avoid coaching unless I really feel the need. When I do, I also try to ask first. I’ll say something like, “Would you like a tip?” or “Can I offer a suggestion?” If they say “Yes,” which they usually do, you can then instruct quite successfully. On the other hand, some players will actually say something like “No, not now,” or “I can’t really handle that right now.” You’ve got to respect that. Finally, notice their physiology. Some people will say “yes” to be accommodating, but they would rather say “no.” If you see them hold their breath a bit, raise their shoulders, stiffen up, then you probably don’t want to offer advice. Unsolicited advice often hurts feelings.

There is another way to advise, which doesn’t result in damaged emotions. That is through metaphor. You can say things like, “Oh, it took me weeks to learn not to lob into the wind.” Or, “Have you noticed that the first person to accelerate a kitchen rally is invariably on the side that looses?” It is best to offer these metaphors at times other than when the person has just committed one of these errors. For instance, between games, you can say something like, “Gosh, it amazes me that Luke won’t come all the way to the kitchen. Look how many rallies he’s losing from no man’s land.”

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