Listen to advice

I used to be pretty good at table tennis and regularly won matches against very good players. So it was with sense of enthusiasm that I took on a dad at a party last weekend.

To my surprise I lost, but I wouldn’t give up and challenged him to another game. A lot of the children also wanted to play but my competitive edge had got the better of me and I wanted to take him on again, even though in the back of my mind I knew I was being a bad sport.

It reminded me of how hard it is to be the loser in sports. I know what to do when a child lets in a goal or misses an easy chance – I can help them with the right words because in my team the players are not afraid to make mistakes. It’s a very important part of being a coach. But sometimes it is the coach who needs that bit of advice or a word from the right person.

I remember early last season we played a team that had twice beaten us by the odd goal the previous year. So you can imagine how I felt when, with a few minutes to go, the referee made a bad call and from leading the match we let in two late goals to lose.

Pep GuardiolaAt the final whistle I was feeling disappointed for my players and annoyed that the referee had shown what I felt were biased calls that had changed the game. But as I walked towards him, my right hand man got hold of my arm and looked me in the eye. “The players are disappointed and they need to hear from you,” he said. He was right and I just shook hands with the ref and hastened over to where a group of dejected players sat.

“I was so proud of you today,” I said. “You played a fantastic game and showed how good you are.”

It was exactly what they wanted to hear – that I was not annoyed or disappointed or angry, but pleased at how they had played. I know they will think about the match later but the overriding experience was a good one and I want them to remember that.

Thankfully, by surrounding myself with coaches who have the same philosophy, I was reminded that it is the players that matter above all else.

Going back to my table tennis match, what I should have done was congratulate the dad on winning the game and let someone else have a turn. But then I didn’t have a right hand man to put his hand on my shoulder.

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