My First Coaching Lesson

I remember one of the first times I coached at Bellevue Badminton Club. I introduced myself and told the athletes that they could call me "Toby". I never cared for titles, nor how to pronounce my last name (it's pronounced "ing" by the way). I never liked being called "Coach Toby" because it was a title given to fit a job description, but did I really have power?

Apparently yes, because I told the group to do 10 pushups and they did.

But after a couple pushups, I told them to stop. "Why are you doing pushups?" I asked them.

No answers at first, but someone eventually said it, "Because you're the coach."

Good. Wait, no... I mean NOT GOOD. So clearly, there's a certain unspoken culture that has existed in the program. Don't question the coach? The coach is always right? No, I don't believe that and I still don't. I've had a lot of great coaches I've worked with, but they weren't always right all the time. But if I could never question them or stand up for myself, then everything would depend on the coach.

As an athlete, I would never want to rely on someone who wasn't playing on court to be responsible for how I played. And now that I'm coaching (pun not intended), why would I do that to my athletes?

So, the very first lesson I taught my players was that if I was making them do something they didn't understand, they can ask for clarity. It's okay to ask "why" they're doing a certain drill because if I can't give them a satisfactory answer, then why should they do it then? That seems logical, right?

The other element in play here is that I'm trying to give up my power. I know I may not always look like the most sociable person (ha ha ha), but I cannot say "no" to a reasonable request. If you need to do something, like leave early, go to the bathroom, or get some water, I usually say "yes". As I veer toward an assent-based coaching style, I let the athletes do what they want to do.

That's based on self-determination theory. That's sport psychology 101. I still remember it from university because I had to memorize the basic psychological needs via the acronym CAR:
  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness

"Self-determination theory (SDT) is a macro theory of human motivation and personality that concerns people's innate growth tendencies and innate psychological needs. It pertains to the motivation behind people's choices in the absence of external influences and distractions. SDT focuses on the degree to which human behavior is self-motivated and self-determined" - Wikipedia.

If I'm demonstrating a new concept or technique, there should be improvement, even within the same lesson. It won't be consistent, but there should be elements of success; otherwise, it is probably too difficult and a regression is needed. I have been able to clean up a lot of technique quickly, but if it's easy to do, it's also easy NOT to do. But showing people it can be done in a controlled environment is definitely a first step towards competence. It's just that game situations are open environments, which take a lot more practice before a new technique can be used.

Autonomy is what the athlete wants. There's a difference in not knowing what you want, and not being able to communicate what you want. Everyone should have at least some desire of what they want to learn or improve. If that doesn't exist, then what's the point? If you don't know what you want to do, then it doesn't really matter what you do.

If you cannot communicate what you want to do, then you actually have a communication problem, which needs to be addressed first. If you have an injury, then you have a health problem, not a badminton problem. That idea comes from Functional Movement Systems, where pain in the FMS screen should be addressed first by a professional. Don't try to add skill on top of dysfunction.

Relatedness is pretty straight forward. It's the feeling of belonging in a group. This one is the most interesting because you can directly see group dynamics in action and trends over time. There is also the difference in perspectives from being inside a group and being outside a group. It's remarkable how much things have changed over generations. And to have experienced different group dynamics over time, it gives me a lot to think about. There's often an "us" versus "them" mentality, which is silly. But how can you expect someone to understand something without experience and social anxiety at an all time high?

Consider how things escalate. You start with rivals in your training group, then between clubs in your city, then in your state/province, then east/west coast, then countries in your continent, then countries in the world. It's happened before when parents have expressed concern about a rival player from a local club. I try to give them a view from above, like, "Well, at nationals, we're all representing *insert state/province here*, aren't we not?"

We are all in this together. It extends beyond international badminton because sometimes, all badminton players need to stand together. For example, consider Olympic sport status. And sometimes, all sports have to stand together too. We are all part of something bigger than us, but each individual is important too. What is discouraging to see are the people who only try to belong at all costs. They are most concerned with relatedness and that is their only focus. Competence and autonomy get thrown out for the sake of belonging. Once again, that's a bigger problem that needs to be addressed, even though it's just bad perspective taking.

It's like what author Ryan Holiday once said when asked why he promotes other authors at his bookstore. He says that other authors aren't his competition, but rather people who don't read. Taking this idea, if we want to promote badminton, our competition isn't those who we play against, but rather those who don't play badminton. Perhaps that's why the sport has trouble growing because we are too busy competing against each other.

It's not the first time I've addressed focusing on the process instead of the outcome, but let's try to explain it again in a different way. Picture your destination. Junior national champion? Pan American champion? Olympian? Often we get so absorbed wondering what it would feel like when we get there, especially if we've never experienced it before. Sometimes we get so absorbed into the anticipation that we forget that badminton IS the journey.

Every time you hit the birdie in training or competition, that's part of the process. Coming from someone who has done two of those three things, I can tell you that getting to play is truly the greatest feeling. Winning and losing are parts of the process, but each time you get the chance to step on court is a moment to be enjoyed.

That's why I like to nudge people to push themselves. They have to choose to want it, although I try to lead by example because that's often the best way to do anything. If you cannot lead, then should you really be telling people what to do? That's why I still play, because I need to show that I can still do things. I still want to play because I love playing badminton. I hope that never changes.

A coach that just instructs is like an athlete who talks down to other players. It's easy to play the relative game in which you only need to be better than someone else and not be at the bottom. Or sometimes those with a bit of success will talk about their one victory they won by default. Repeatedly.

What happens with kids that can't motivate themselves? Sometimes the parents will try to push them, or worse, they try to get me to push them. But in a way, I do. I just give them the power to push themselves. I've given them the tools to succeed, and they only need to put in the necessary work. That's why I like giving people books as gifts, because the gift is in the self-discovery of the knowledge contained inside the book. If you do not put in the necessary work, then you will not get that necessary reward. It's a bit sadistic in a way, but I'm still the one buying more books than I can read, so I'm not free from this problem either.

Or just get busy reading. Get busy practicing.

Sometimes lessons are hard to give to those who don't have the necessary experience. I understand social anxiety is rising and times are changing. But maybe it's that we hide ourselves behind things that prevent us from doing the necessary things that scare us. I'm not going to be the one to push you. You're going to have to find your own way.

But if it helps, I'll go first. If I can do it, you can do it too.

No, you can be even better. Because you can learn from my mistakes.

You can be better. I believe in you.
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