How to give unsolicited coaching (How to play with weaker players)

Discussion in 'Coaching Forum' started by SnowWhite, Jan 29, 2022.

  1. SnowWhite

    SnowWhite Regular Member

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    This started as a reply to a post in another thread, but it grew off topic and out of control so here we are.

    This guide is for players who find themselves playing with weaker partners, and want to help them play better.

    This is an incomplete guide-ish, and a bit of a mess (forgive me). There is so much more information and so much intricacies that I couldn't begin to mention. There are also so many better players, and better coaches, much more qualified than I, to give advice about this subject. But I feel like the interpersonal aspect of coaching is somewhat overlooked. The focus is usually on players who want to learn and actively seek out improvement, like many of the players on this forum, and they don't need any convincing. But there is also a large group of players that may not be willing to put in the time and effort to get better. But they do want to win, and if some free tactical or strategic coaching can help their game, and the person providing it doesn't challenge their ego, they are willing to give it a shot. With these players, a more tactful approach is necessary than with players who are already willing to accept coaching.

    A common complaint is that the stronger player of a pair gets isolated out of the game, everything goes to the weaker player, and you end up losing because you can't do anything about it. Getting frozen out of the game is part of a valid strategy by the opponent. There are plenty of strategic choices you and your partner can make to avoid it from happening. However, most rely on a coordinated effort, and that is only possible if the weaker player is willing and able to be coached, and the better player is willing to coach their partner in a diplomatic way.

    My partner is older, slower, and his technique is significantly worse than mine. He can hold his own in defence, but his ability to attack from the back court often falls short and his high backhand is not consistent, and he can't hit a full length backhand clear. When the opponent is able to pin him to the back consistently we tend to lose. By nature, I like to go forward and control the net, but in our partnership our preferred formation is with me at the back and him at the front. This way, we completely eliminate my partners weakness from the game.

    Thankfully, my partner is coachable, but he can have a bit of an ego sometimes. In our team we have recently changed partnerships because a new player has joined the team after covid. Three other players don't like to play with him, because he has a tendency to blame others when things go wrong, and be very stubborn, especially if his opinions are questioned by players he considers worse or equal to himself. He respects our best player enough to listen to him during games, but that player isn't one to coach his partners during a game, so that matchup didn't do very well either. I am the perfect person to elevate his game, because I'm good enough for him to respect my opinions, and forceful but diplomatic in my coaching.

    Yesterday we played a match. For those that don't know, in this league, you have 3 doubles pairs in a team, who will play each of the three pairs of the opponents team. When we (our 2nd pair) played their 1st pair, my partner was clearly the weakest player on court. Naturally, our opponents tried to attack him and isolate me from the game. To avoid this we did everything we could to get our preferred formation with me at the back and him at the front.
    My partner has a good flick serve, but since the opponents weren't attacking his short serve very successfully, I told him to keep it short so we don't have to give up our attacking formation with him at the front. We often got strings of points with my partner serving, simply because we get to start in our preferred formation. When I was serving, I often flicked, even though it got punished once or twice, because if I serve short the opponent usually got the advantage. A good drive or push, even from below the tape, can be an outright winner since my partner isn't very fast. Even a lift gives the opponent the advantage, because it pins my partner at the back and isolates me at the front. I told my partner that if for some reason he did end up at the back, to play a cross clear to get the pressure off of him and unto me. Even if they clear it back to him, he would have had more time than if he had played a smash or drop, and he wouldn't be in any trouble.

    The opponent couldn't win points by attacking my partner with smashes and drives, because my partner has a fast short hitting action and can play effective counter shots when it's within his immediate reach, so when they smashed at him, he could hold his own and when they engaged in flat exchanges, my partner usually came out on top. When we are in a defensive formation, they couldn't score points at the net, because my partner will just lift it, and our defence will be good enough. It was an exceptionally slow hall, and everyone had trouble getting smashes on the floor. And when we are in our attacking formation with me at the back and him at the front, he is good enough to cover the net without giving up the attack. So their only option is to lift to me, and I'll just fire away. I had a little more success with my smashes, but mostly I was just fast enough to keep the attack going, even if it takes longer rallies and more attacking shots before we got the point. We won comfortably.

    I know it sounds like we were just better than them, but before the match we were considered the underdog, and even at the start it wasn't clear which pair would end up winning. When it comes to consistency, speed and technique, they were close to my level and far better than my partner. On paper we should have lost. They got close scores against our 1st pair, that in theory should have performed better than us.

    We won because we played a strategic masterclass. My partner was by far the worst player on court, and yet the opponent couldn't take advantage of his weaknesses. Some people with less insight (like one of the spectators), would say that I carried my partner. We almost played like a mixed doubles with my partner adopting the 'lady's' role at the front, and I scored most of the points from the back court. But we didn't win because of how I played, we won because of how my partner played. He played in a way that completely nullified his own weaknesses, and that is difficult to do when you are playing against better players. I made sure to praise him for his ability to be open to coaching, to adapt to the opponent and to play in a strategic way to minimise his weakness. (It is especially impressive because he had to accept his weaknesses and admit that him playing the 'lady' was the best strategic decision, which can be difficult, and unthinkable for him at the start of the season).
     
  2. SnowWhite

    SnowWhite Regular Member

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    There are regular posts on this forum that ask for advice on how to play with weaker partners. Especially because players coaching each other isn't exactly the norm in many clubs. Players are reluctant to ask because they don't want another player to get all high and mighty authority figure on them, or give them useless platitudes that only reminds them of what they are bad at without actually being helpful. And players are reluctant to offer unsolicited advice because they don't want to risk upsetting the player and souring the mood.


    You have to have a certain attitude to play successfully with weaker players.

    1. If you don't do anything, nothing will change, so you have to be willing to try and coach them. Some will be receptive to coaching, some will need a bit of reassurance (that you aren't criticising them) before they accept your coaching, and some will never accept anything you say like a pile of bricks. But never judge a player too early, someone who is initially defensive and closed off can sometimes open their mind when they've had time to cool off and you approach them with tact and as an equal. Finally, the saddest and most tragic case: there will be players that want to accept your coaching, but they are simply unable to, and the bad habits are too ingrained.

    2. The fact that you are a better player doesn't mean you are morally superior. It also doesn't mean that everything you say is right, or that you don't make any mistakes. Since coaching mostly involves correcting someone's tactical and strategic mistakes, the only way your partner is going to accept your coaching is if you are open about your own mistakes. A player is more willing to accept their own mistakes (and therefore correct them) if their partner is willing to admit theirs. And conversely, a player will immediately shut their minds to you, if you deny your mistakes, make excuses, or worse, blame them on your partner.

    3. It is psychologically harder to play with a better partner than it is to play with a weaker partner. They might feel like they have to prove themselves to you. They might feel like they are not worthy to play with you. The only thing worse than failing yourself, is to fail your partner or your team. Appreciate the fact that your partner could be playing under this mental weight. Every mistake they make could be confirmation that they aren't worthy, and make them play with less confidence leading to mistakes, or try to make up for the mistake by playing fancy, risky shots, or work harder and take on more of the court than they have to (which, since they are the weaker player, is the last thing you want). Your partner has a much more difficult job than you, because aside from the mental pressure, they are also simply an inferior badminton player, and you are asking them to perform above their level.

    4. You are partly responsible for your partner's play. Your partner is trying their best with the limited ability they have. As the better player, you have the knowledge and insight to help them play better. If you keep quiet, or give empty criticism without telling them how they can play better, then you are partly responsible for those mistakes. With great power tactical and strategic insight comes great responsibility. Similarly, you have to be the pillar of mental fortitude during the game. As long as your partner thinks that you believe together you can win, they are more likely keep trying and stay focused as much as they can. If you show frustration, especially if it is frustration about your partners mistakes (but even if it's frustration about your own mistakes), your partner is more likely to lose hope and play with less confidence.

    5. Your partner isn't trying to make you lose. They don't make unforced errors for the fun of it, and they are likely just as frustrated by it (if not more so), as you are. Respect their efforts as much as you do your own. Games are won and lost together, and the credit is shared equally. In the game described above, I scored more points and played better than my partner, simply because I'm the better player, but my partner won that game just as much, if not more than me, because he played the best he could within his limited ability.


    So, lets say you are playing with a weaker player, and they have opened themselves to your coaching, and you have taken these points to heart, now what?

    If you can coach and help them practice their technique or footwork, that's great. However, most players won't want to take the coaching that far. Either because it's too much of a hassle. Or they don't like to be directly confronted with their weakness over and over. Or they don't want to stand out socially since on club nights, no one ever takes a court on the side just to practice backhands or serves.

    So the coaching will probably be during, and in between matches. And the following advice will be geared towards those situations.
     
  3. SnowWhite

    SnowWhite Regular Member

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    1. Focus on tactics and strategy. No one is going to improve their technique in the middle of the game. Telling your partner to use more forearm pronation, or trying to correct their footwork is useless. At best, they ignore you. More likely, they get distracted or make mistakes, because the new movement they are trying to do is unnatural to them.

    2. Keep it simple. If you want them to play a tactical pattern they've never consciously played before, that is more than 3 shots long, it will be difficult for them to consistently apply it. More likely, it will confuse them, and lead to indecision in their shots. Instead, give them a something that is easy to understand and easy to implement, for example: 'when you're at the net, if you can, try to play back to the net instead of lifting'. Or: 'no need to go for the lines with your smashes, just keep it safe, smash at the opponent, or in between them'.
    Or as something more specific: 'When they push you to your backhand corner, just try to hit it hard and flat. They will kill anything loopy. It doesn't matter if it goes wrong, it's worth the risk'. Or: 'When you get into a flat exchange, try to be the first to block it to the net and follow up to cover the net. They will be forced to lift and we can start attacking.'

    3. Keep it to 1 or 2 things maximum. If you give the exact reason why you lost or won a point every single point, your partner won't be able to implement anything. Their are probably more factors that could improve the game, but if you try to tackle all problems, you will fix none. Think about what will have the greatest effect on the outcome of the game, and focus on implementing that. For example, if you partner keeps getting bullied on their backhand, tell them to move their base position more towards their backhand so they can play an overhead forehand shot instead. Or if the opponent keeps scoring points by smashing at your partner, tell them to try to lift as little as possible, and instead play netshots and pushes.

    4. Repetition. Players are not computers, we need conscious effort to implement something we have not done before, and it is difficult to break previous habits. Repeat your coaching every time it is relevant. If they fail to implement it, remind them. Generally it is not unwillingness to implement, but inability. In the heat of the moment, players fall back on old habits. Sometimes they might realise they made a mistake the moment they hit the shot. Sometimes they might realise after the fact. Sometimes they completely forgot. Sometimes they knew what they were supposed to do but they were under too much pressure to do it. Remind them, without criticising their failure. Tell them when it happened, what the result was, and why the alternative is better. Show that you understand that it is difficult to implement new things, especially in hard fought games where you're playing strong opponents. If they say they were under too much pressure, or they weren't in time to play that specific shot, or if they say that they tried, but couldn't, say: 'I understand', or 'yeah it's difficult'. Your understanding will motivate them to get it right next time.

    If they successfully implement it, let them know. If you tell them when they do it wrong, but not when they do it right, they could feel like their efforts aren't appreciated. After all, you are the one that wants them to play this way, so when they do, you should show your appreciation. If it leads to a point, tell them: 'that's it', 'that's the way', 'this is how we're gonna win'. If they tried to play the shot, and they made a mistake or it didn't lead to a point, reassure them: 'that's alright, keep trying, it will win in the long run', 'great choice, too bad it didn't work this time'. If it leads to a point, even after many many shots, let them know. Often my partner will play a netshot, forcing a lift and after a long rally of me attacking from the back we finally get the point I tell him: 'that netshot won the point as much as my smash did'. 'that cross defence kept us in the rally, even if we ended up losing it'. 'you got yourself out of trouble, even if they scored afterwards'.

    When you fail to follow your own advice and it is punished by your opponent, let your partner know. It will be a good example, and they can see the consequences in 3rd person, which can help them understand the situation better. Also, it will show them that you make mistakes too and that the both of you are trying to implement the same strategy, which will reassure and motivate your partner, and foster team spirit. 'I shouldn't have played that shot there, that was not smart', 'I should follow my own advice', 'I keep telling you not to do that, and then I do it'.

    After the game, if you won, and it was because your partner implemented your coaching, let them know. Let them know multiple times. Praise them. Praise your teamwork.

    If you lost, but your partner implemented your coaching but it was not enough, let them know it wasn't their fault. Tell them they played as well as they could have. If they implemented the coaching, but made unrelated unforced errors, let them know that you appreciate that they listened to your coaching. 'next time, without the unforced errors, we can beat them'. If you lost and your partner played well, let them know.

    5. If they make unforced errors unrelated to the coaching, and they get frustrated with themselves, don't focus on the mistakes, but move the focus to the next point. Don't say: 'unlucky', because often, it wasn't lack of luck, but lack of skill that caused the mistake, and your partner knows it. They know you are downplaying the mistake to make them feel better, and it just keeps their mind on the mistake. Everything that refers to the mistake will just keep their mind on the mistake, like 'better luck next time', 'I know you can do it', 'too bad'. Instead say things like: 'ok, the next one is ours', 'ok, we're still ahead', 'ok, we're still in this'. It takes the focus off the mistake and onto the current situation. The past doesn't matter, this is the score now, and we are going to play some good badminton. If they don't seem frustrated by their mistake, it is better to say nothing at all. Anything you say about it will just be a reminder.

    6. Smile when things go well, or when things go funny. Badminton is a fun game. Share the fun with your partner.



    Here are some common motifs that tend to be helpful when playing with a weaker partner.

    Tell your partner to hit defensive shots cross court. This will make it harder for the opponent to attack your partner successfully. In the same vein, try to keep your own defensive shots straight to keep the pressure on you and off your partner.
    It is often not the first shot on the weakness that scores, but sustained pressure. Often the opponent is attacking and your partner keeps hitting it back in a way that allow the opponent to keep attacking their weakness. After 2 or 3 shots, they get stuck and can't get out from under the attack, and a few shots later the point is lost. The key here is for your partner (or you, if it happens to you) to deal with it on the first shot. The moment the opponent attacks your weakness, you need to play a shot that keeps the opponent away from your weakness while you still can. Tell your partner to play the shot that keeps the shuttle as far way from their weakness. For example, if your partner has a weak backhand, and they are in time in their backhand corner to play a forehand overhead shot, a cross clear can be a good idea (if you aren't worried about the opponents smashes). If they are crumbling under the opponents smashes, tell your partner to try to block to the net, or play a counter drive, or lift cross court. If the alternative is getting smashed to bits, it is often worth the risk. 'just try it'.

    You can't fix weaknesses during a game, so the coaching should be about how to avoid the weakness (like moving your base to cover the weakness better), and about how to stop the opponent from attacking the weakness (the opponents can't attack us if we are attacking them).


    Other things you can do as a player (rather than a coach) when playing with a weaker player:

    Try to take over more of the court if you are able. (it might take some coordination with your partner).
    Try to put as much pressure on the opponent as possible. The more pressure they are under, the less options they have, and the less they are able to actively attack your partner.
    Try to stay on the attack. If you play a bad attacking shot, your opponent might be able to take over the attack, but the rally continues. If you play a bad defending shot, you probably lose the point. The more you attack, the more margin of error you have.
    You can try to play with a little more risk when it comes to scoring points. If you score 4 smashes and 4 go in the net or out(because you are taking risks to score points), normally that might be a terrible ratio and you are better off playing safer. But if the alternative is the opponent hitting it to your partner and isolating you for the rest of the rally, scoring point after point after point, then it might make sense to play with more risk.



    Finally:

    If your partner is a pile of bricks, find a different partner.
     
  4. Hbmao

    Hbmao Regular Member

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    Good post. I think good communication aside, the necessary skills for someone to succeed in an “unbalanced” pairing are, in order of importance:
    1. A good short serve. As OP said, the best chance to win points for an “unbalanced “ pair is when the “weak” player serves. His serve cannot be punished right away.
    2. An average defense. It will be inevitable that the “weak” player becomes the focal of opponents’ attack, so be able to play defense or be comfortable in receiving smashes is also important. Please note that one doesn’t need to be “strong” in defense, as a lot of the times the opponents will “force” their attack to the weak player’s side, meaning subpar smashes.
    3. Have a good forehand clear, more importantly can exchange clears with opponents without being caught “backpedaling “. Very often opponents will try to “pin” the player to the backcourt by repeatedly hitting high clears, and the weak player often is on a rush to come to front after returning just one clear shot, and caught in a bad situation. Have a dependable overhead shot is definitely very useful.

    I think with these 3 skills, a “weak” player can be very effective in a “supporting” role in a double’s match. The rest, such as an effective backhand, or a good backcourt attack, are bonuses.
     
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  5. Cheung

    Cheung Moderator

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    2 and 3 are unlikely to be changed during a match itself.

    Apart from the serve which I totally agree with, the other effective tactic during a match is to tell the partner to keep the racquet up when at the front of the court - make it like an automatic reflex.

    It actually quite common , even in pretty advanced players, to be a bit slow in putting the racquet up at the net.

    This advice is probably my most used piece of advice for the following reasons:

    1) quicker reactions at the net for the front player
    2) psychological effect on the opponents is to place more pressure on them,
    3) opponents lift the shuttle higher giving the rear court player more time.

    Even if my partner messes up the front court shot but had their racquet up, I will still tell them it’s all good. Why? Because over the course of a game, we are going to more and better gameplay situations. Even if we lose, we are going to lose by a smaller margin.
     
    #5 Cheung, Jan 30, 2022
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2022
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  6. nprince

    nprince Regular Member

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    This is a common challenge in club level matches.

    We do play 2-3 days a week in a closed group of advanced players. There I find no challenge as all are evenly matched and everyone has basic understanding about how to move around the court and when to play what shot.

    Other 4 days are real challenge when you play in mixed group with weak partners. Opponents find it convenient to isolate and attack weaker partner. To make matters worst, these weaker players try too hard to compensate and go for every shot. No clear understanding which one to go for and which one to leave.

    A typical scenario is when this weaker player has managed a great net shot-yet he will not wait near the net to kill the return, insead will take a couple of steps back to the mid court. That leaves the net open for opponents. Even if they do a weak lift, the weaker player already reached the mid assume the shot is his and rush back to play a weaker return.

    Coaching during the game will give only adverse effect. No one want to admit that they are weak/wrong (That includes me as well-human psychology-we look for fault in our partners). Also most can't think and adapt during an intense match situation.

    That leaves us with 2 options.

    1. Play around your partner. Support and encourage him to continue his efforts and do better. Wait for your opportunity to make the kill.
    2. Give indirect coaching. Tell them they are on their on to cover the whole front court while serving and receiving. Also encourage them to attack net as much as they can. That will give you a few opportunities at back to make the attack (Smash/Drop/Deceptive clear). after 2-3 errors, that will set in to their mind that they are not getting any assistance from you to cover the net.
    In the second scenario, while I am serving or receiving, will act extra aggressive to force a lift from opponents. This time, weaker partner at the back. But he is dealing with the lift and that is your best chance.

    Thanks for sharing your inputs.
     
  7. nprince

    nprince Regular Member

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    Here is same scenario we were discussing. Only difference is, I am the weakest of the group (Age 45+, ACL reconstruction and recent MCL tear make me the slowest of the group)

    As I have a strong partner (And opponents too :)) My focus is to support/ create opportunities for partner and make it count from front and mid court.

    It worked! :D
     
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