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Friday, January 8, 2016

Communicating with a Partner - Changing the Game

We have discussed a couple of partner communication essentials – off-the-court and during a rally. There remain 2 periods of time that have yet to be discussed. These are the breaks between rallies, including time-outs, and post-match. Let’s first focus on the between-rally breaks.

Most play allows very short time periods between rallies, necessitating very brief communications. Generally, these should be limited to one of two quick statements:
  1. A player informing their partner of a very specific shot or tactic that may be attempted 
  2. Encouragement and compliments 
If Player A has noticed a weakness or tendency that was not discussed pre-match, he might choose to try something outside his normal style of play, such as a lob, poach, or alternate third-shot. Player A should communicate this intent to his partner so he can be properly prepared. This type of communication will likely be rare during a match.

A more common use of the short break is to build confidence. The off-the-court post included the following:

The pre-match conversation should create an air of confidence between partners. Players should support each other and avoid any negative thoughts. Such discussions help to build winning attitudes that will move from off the court to play on the court…” 

This communication may be something as simple as a high-five or tapping of paddles and saying “good shot” or other positive feedback. It also might take the form of a more specific compliment aimed at encouraging a particular shot like "way to hit it at their feet” or “great dink”. Always be positive with these communications. Nothing kills a player’s attitude more than hearing criticism mid-game. Also, make sure that complimentary words are matched with positive body language. Partners can read a false compliment. It might as well have been a criticism. 

There is no prescription for building chemistry between partners. Some need more enthusiasm and compliments while others need less. It comes only with time spent together on the court. But, once an understanding is developed, it can be invaluable during stressful times such as close matches or during a comeback. Do not underestimate the importance of frequent supportive and encouraging remarks. Everyone likes a compliment. 

In contrast to the brief breaks between rallies, a time-out provides an opportunity for a longer discussion of strategies and corrective actions. Time-outs should be taken when things are going wrong, if for no other reason than to break an opponents’ momentum. But they should also be used to discuss why things are going wrong and what needs to change to reverse the direction. Both players should be open to constructive criticism at this point. But the players should remain positive that the changes are both doable and right. Time-outs should also be used to communicate any weaknesses or tendencies of the opponents while setting a new strategy to exploit them. 

There remains one last period of time where communication is essential – post-match. This is when players must honestly and openly assess their games. Immediacy is important because memory of bad results will fade with time. Such is human nature. Players should determine what areas of their game need improvement, whether technical or strategic. They should carry that knowledge forward into drills and practices. 

I will end this post with part of an article by Gale Leach

A good partner communicates well, both verbally and non-verbally, emotionally, and technically. Ensure that both of you are able to “read” each other well, and that your partner is not afraid to give or take constructive criticism when it's appropriate. As an ideal partner, you should be happy to receive advice and act on it, if you think it's correct. Remember, you're trying to become a better player, right? 

Don’t underestimate the importance of good communication in doubles. If you communicate well, you’re more likely to enjoy playing, and, if you enjoy the game, you’re much more likely to play well.” 

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