Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Coaching Makes You a Better Player

by Sarah Davis

The offseason stretches across the dreary months of November through April, and in Seattle that’s the rainiest and greyest time of year. To most, it seems like the right time to sit inside, drink tea, and stay dry.

So of course a large proportion of Seattle’s club players spend their offseasons coaching.

Coaching has the obvious benefits of strengthening the Ultimate community by giving kids opportunities to play and chances to learn from positive role models. But beyond those community-wide plusses, coaching is the best way to develop your confidence and mental game.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Riot.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Riot.

This year, I wiled away my offseason coaching the Nathan Hale girls’ team for the third time. When I got to Riot tryouts in April, one of the most noticeable improvements I saw in myself—an improvement I attribute to coaching— was the ability to identify problems occurring on the field. This used to be a weakness of mine; I was the sort of player who ran around and never thought about why the running around did or didn’t work. Watching high schoolers struggle to adapt to new situations – dealing with a force middle, how to use the wind to their advantage on defense, or identifying why their endzone O wasn’t successful— gave me reps and experience in on-field problem solving, which led to an analytical eye toward my own play. Instead of blindly clogging the handler set, I communicate where I’m going, or if I did clog the handler set, I can identify why and figure out how to adapt. The same happens on defense: I make smarter switches and have an improved intuition for where the disc is, both of which come from hours of watching the team I coach experience the same thing.

Coaching also improves your ability to give feedback. When you’re working with new players, it’s important to be both succinct and constructive while also making a pointif something needs to be changed, a player needs to know about it. This carries over into how you voice instruction, encouragement, or feedback to your own teammates. This is critical not only for your teammates, but for yourself: it pays to be able to acknowledge what you’re doing and how to fix it without dwelling on it too much. Instead of walking off the field feeling frustrated when you didn’t get the disc or were out of position on D, take a second to recall and analyze why that could have been, then set the goal of making a small improvement in that area next time you step on the field.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 6.53.04 PM

Photo courtesy of Bruce Prang.

The ability to give quality feedback also comes in handy while you’re on the sideline, which is a critical, and sometimes neglected, part of the game. For younger players who are not yet accustomed to listening and reacting quickly to a sideline voice, the things you choose to say as a coach should be short and to the point. Making your sideline talk short enough to be processed but descriptive enough to be impactful is difficult, and oftentimes the players who are best at sideline talking are those who’ve had plenty of practice doing it while coaching. Specifically, practice talking to the mark and talking to downfield defenders who have their back turned to the disc. To the mark, tell them where the immediate throwing threats are. To the downfielders, let them know if the disc moves, and to where. Minimizing the time that your defense spends gauging the situation around them will simplify their job and allow them to have a singular defensive focus.

One of the greatest challenges of coaching is mustering energy while being confined to a sideline. Energy often comes easily if you’re playing, but let’s say you’re injured at a tournament or practice. If you’re on a team, it’s still important to be a contributor from the sideline, and for that, you need energy. Coaching gives you practice with how and when to turn your energy on to engage a group of people, and the repetition with a group of kids that looks up to you alleviates the fear of using your voice and body language to make it happen.

And coaching is not a one-shot deal, either. A lot of game strategy comes down to trial and, sometimes, error. You get to try new things, test them out. If they work, great. And if they don’t, you have the added challenge and opportunity of inventing a new solution. Coaching seasons you and improves your ability to weather the storm of mistakes made during play. Mistake-free games are rare, and coaching gives you practice staying mentally balanced in the face of adversity. Instead of yelling when your team drops it or hanging your head when a defense you set up proves ineffective, coaching pushes you to keep your emotions afloat and your body language positive. When you’re a player, doing this shows your team that you are confident enough to put forth your best effort in the next point or half and that they should be too.

If you want to improve how you communicate – on the field, off the field, wherever – some of the best advice I can give you is to start coaching. If you’re looking to improve your sense of in-game strategy or work on how you approach the ups and downs of a tough game or be a player your team looks to for a spark, start coaching.

Coaching is a great way to give back to the ultimate community. It’ll also make you a better player.

  • Naji

    I couldn’t agree more! Great article Sarah!

  • Scott Veirs

    Brilliant observations, Sarah. I concur and would add that thinking
    about how to introduce my elementary and middle school teams to basic
    strategy (vertical or horizontal stack; 1-on-1 or zone defense) has
    greatly advanced how I strategize as a player and analyze the tactics of
    my adult opponents.

    I’ve linked your thoughts into this intro for new youth coaches — http://www.youthultimate.net/coach/