Everyone in a positive headspace
In a training session, from the feeders you want intensity. I don't mind a couple of errors as long as the intensity is high.
At a world level, there's not much point in training at 80% speed. So that's important but other things that would make a great session are good music and everyone in a positive headspace to make improvements.
Absolute 100% commitment from both players
Without this then for me, it is a waste of a session.
Some days you will feel tired or slow or not on your game but as long as you are both committing 100% then no one can complain. But there is nothing worse in a sparring session where you are giving it everything and you can see the other player is unmotivated or doesn’t really want to be there.
A great sparring session is a balance
- Variety of players so you learn to adapt and play against different styles
- A balance of competitive and fun mindset/ atmosphere
- Players need to not feel too much pressure to experiment but also to be competitive
The organiser needs to be aware and be sensitive to these points. Remember that these are only headlines and you will have to assess and plan yourself
My sparring was more than just playing matches
I liked to play someone who is challenging to play and makes you work hard. However, to get killed and lose badly isn’t good as it can affect you mentally.
I had good success from training with the doubles boys back in the day. They were able to push me enough to have hard rallies. The outcome of our matches often varied, depending on what I was practicing and how the stage of the season.
Jurgen Van Leeuwen
People need to consider the definition of 'great sparring', it can mean different things
Sparring is often talked about as essential yet we don't seem to have a blueprint to work off nor do we agree on what we want to get out of a sparring session.
Having people give their views in a forum like this is great news as it creates discussion. I don’t think we will be able to completely agree on what "good" looks like. However, I do think there are some key ingredients to consider:
- psychological safety
- Psychological safety: players must be allowed to express themselves as if they were playing a tournament. They also should be able to prepare as they would normally do.
- Purpose: agree with your players on why you play matches and perhaps suggest implementing certain areas that you have worked on that week. I am not a fan of disrupting the flow of a match by conditioning it too heavy as it’s not a match then.
- Preparation: as a coach, I like to think about what matches I put on and let players know the reason why I do this. Different playing styles, power vs skill etc. When possible I try to copy a first match on an actual tournament as part of their preparation. I.e if one of my players has to compete against a super-aggressive player I will try to pick the most aggressive player in my group and let him/her spar.
- Planning: as we get closer to a major event we have worked towards to we increase the hrs of sparring. It’s something I feel works and I know many will disagree with me on this. For example, our U15 kids leading up the Nationals literally spar 4-6 hrs in the week leading up to the tournament.
It's both an individual and team effort
A good sparring session is one where players understand each other’s goals and help one another to achieve them. It is important to also give your best when you are just sparring.
The benefits come from everyone contributing and also everyone competing.
A competitive atmosphere is essential!
We’ve been involved in sparring sessions before where people don’t want to be seen losing to their teammates, so they stop trying or just stop! This is of course not helping anybody on the court get better!
There needs to be an environment of “win or lose, I’m going to put everything into this match like I would in a final of the Olympics”.
We think the Danish men’s singles are a great example of how to create a thriving environment, where they are competing against each other to better themselves. They fully acknowledge the importance of the internal competition they have, and that it benefits each of them!
There are many aspects that create a great session, here are a few
You need to know the reason why you are sparring, what can you achieve from that session, there should be many possible reasons. I valued sparring throughout my career and worked hard to find players of different styles and different matchplay attitudes.
Don't just think about your approach to sparring but also think about the other players and use that to your benefit
- When you need physical conditioning - find players who are very consistent. They should give you longer physical matches then you can rally with them ( be cooperative with them)
- When you are in a pre-competition phase - use the same physical players, but try to win faster against them and be dominant (if you can)
- Playing attaching players
Variety and planning are key
- I think you want players with slight differences of level so that players get used to playing up and down levels. You want players of different styles and physiques so you learn to play in different ways.
- Ideally, you would also do it in different conditions, say 1 session in 1 hall, and the next in another to get used to playing different ways.
- I would also add different paced shuttles, for different matches and even different brands of shuttles., especially if it's a pre-tournament sparring session and you know the brand being used at that event.
- I think having players willing to give and hear feedback from each other I also important, but this does need careful management by the coaches or organiser
If you like to know more about creating a great sparring session then take a look at these 2 posts below
I wonder how many of the ideas you agree with?
Thanks to everyone for their time and considered thoughts
If you'd like to join this expert team and start sharing your knowledge, send me a message and I'll send you some questions