I could probably just leave it at that; there must be some record for the shortest blog post ever that I could go for…
But seriously, everyone. That doesn’t mean everyone is right, or that you should follow everyone’s advice. But it does mean you should be open to the possibility that everyone could tell you something useful.
Sometimes it’s obvious. That guy/girl on the World Games squad, who won Nationals last year, will know things that will help you. Few of us would scorn advice from people like that. But the most impressive-looking players are not the only ones who can teach you.
That quick guy’s cutting technique? Run fast. That tall guy’s method of boxing out? Just sky them. That jacked-up unit’s way to generate power on a backhand? Grip it and rip it.
But that 45-year old handler who just schooled you upline in summer league? You might wonder how he did that. The guy who can barely lift the weight of his beer but hucks full-pitch; the girl of 4’10” who competes in the open division; the guy with neither speed nor height who incessantly gets blocks in zone defence – these people know things.
The point is that anyone can help you. Maybe that really quick guy actually does understand good cutting technique. Maybe that old handler knows some tricks, or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe that complete beginner you coach will ask a question that makes you realise something important about your own game. Ask them all, and judge for yourself what is valuable.
Alia Ayub was a beginner up here in St Andrews many years ago. We didn’t have a women’s team. There was no coach. I’d been playing a couple of years longer than everyone else, but had no idea what I was doing (we never even had the numbers for playing outdoors).
She would ask me for advice constantly. Alia wanted to learn – she didn’t care from whom, she just wanted to know things.
Let me be honest – not one of the things I told her would be something I’d say today. I talked rubbish. Nothing I said would have helped much. What did help, though, was her attitude that everyone might have something to say that would be helpful. She asked everyone, she understood that everyone could teach her something, and she took what was useful from everything anyone ever told her.
The picture above is Alia being inducted into the Athletic Union Hall of Fame at the University of St Andrews, in recognition of her many achievements – representing GB Women, helping to form the club team Iceni (with whom she’s won 7 national titles and 4 Europeans*), creating the UKU Women’s Tour series and, back in the day, dragging our Uni club into the real world.
She didn’t do all that because of her talent or her opportunities – she did it because of her attitude. Never assume you know more than the person you’re talking to, and definitely don’t waste all your conversations trying to prove that you do; instead, try to find out if there’s anything you can learn.
One of the best coaches I know is Barry from UTalkRaw, and it’s no surprise to me that he now has a podcast where he just asks questions. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him give an unsolicited opinion when talking to another coach; all he does is ask questions (and damn good ones, usually).
So I’m off to RISE UP Amsterdam today to get taught by people maybe 15 years younger than me (and far, far better players than I ever was or will be, of course). Maybe I’ll come back and need to rewrite every blog post I’ve done so far in light of my new knowledge.
And you know what?
That would be a good thing. I’d have learned.