Don’t forget in all of your teaching and coaching to play matches against your students–top players and beginners. It gives you the opportunity not only to see what they know, but also to focus on other areas where they may need improvement. Here are some advantages of this practice.
- Gamesmanship: Coaches can see how students do things other than the nuts and bolts of playing the game, such as how they manage the timer, strategize with making Solutions or handle pressure in a tough match. Sometimes, these “little things” are just as important as setting a great Goal or anything else.
- Competition: For the most part, coaches are much better competition than even the top players on the team. Students “step it up” for matches against the coach, and use it as a benchmark for their own progress. I still remember the first time I beat my coach, because of all of the times I lost to him and how much work I had to do to find strategies and Solutions that could work against him. Sometimes, these matches can raise the level of play in intermediate players and take advanced players to the “next level” that they’ll need at the Nationals.
- Assessment: A coach can gauge which players belong on the top teams because he or she will see close-up how the students are playing and specifically what they need to work on. Sometimes, just the scoresheets from matches don’t tell the full story of how hard a student worked or how tough a match was played.
- Connection: Playing against students allows the coach to learn new strategies that players are using that the coach may not know about. Sometimes, the best new Goals or strategies come up in the middle of a match–not in teaching or regular practice. Also, playing can help point out particular strengths or weaknesses that individual players (or the entire team) has and can work to improve. Playing as many players as possible gives a snapshot view of how the school’s program is doing overall and what specific areas or strategies can be improved upon.
Whether coaches choose to “let” players win or not is entirely up to them, but it can infuse a great deal of confidence in a player to get a landmark victory in a match or it can spur a streak of motivation in a top player to figure out what it takes to beat a coach. Either way, the students benefit from spending time playing matches with coaches.