By Greg Bach
When the junior varsity tennis team at Parkway South High School in Manchester, Missouri gathers for practices, they are greeted by a poster hanging on the fence surrounding the courts.
The slogan they see emblazoned on it before they begin cracking forehands and smashing serves, Compete–Learn–Honor, was created by Dr. Peter Scales.
He’s a psychologist and internationally known scholar in positive youth development who also happens to be the school’s long-time JV tennis coach.
And a mighty successful one, too.
“Every day we have Compete–Learn–Honor up there and usually our underlying team motto, which is ‘We Build People Up, We Don’t Tear Them Down,’ because those are the bedrocks of the whole team experience,” says Scales. “If we do those things we’ve had a successful season, whether we win or lose every match.”
Scales is the author of Mental and Emotional Training for Tennis: Compete–Learn–Honor, which details his philosophies and methods in helping young athletes build character, behave with honor and compete to the best of their ability at all times.
“You’re in coaching because you love helping players develop and improve in their sport and as human beings,” he says.
PRACTICING WITH A PURPOSE
Before the teens at Parkway South step on the courts for practice, Scales spends a few moments with them on a specific mental/emotional habit that is also prominently displayed on a poster on the fence, such as Adjust, Adapt, Survive.
“Somebody has to read it and explain what it means to them,” Scales says. “And we have a brief discussion on it. It doesn’t take more than a couple minutes but it focuses us on a new mental and emotional idea each day and then I try and reinforce that through how I act and what I say during practice.”
His coaching approach – and the messages that accompany it – often requires a period of adjustment from some parents and players before the season gets rolling. But once they fully grasp his desire to impact young lives in much more profound ways than simply how many matches are stacked up in the win column, the journey for everyone tends to be a rewarding one.
“When I say we’re not emphasizing winning that doesn’t mean we’re not training to win and that doesn’t mean we don’t want to win,” Scales says. “Of course we want to win. Once they get the idea the kids are eager to come to practice and they’re eager to put out 100 percent effort.”
By the way, there’s plenty of winning going on, too.
He recently led the boys JV team to back-to-back undefeated seasons, the first ever for either the varsity or JV squads in the school’s 42-year history.
ON THE MOVE
Scales’ teams can expect to work hard and be on the move throughout his sessions.
“Beginning coaches talk way too much and experienced coaches talk less and watch more,” he says. “The idea is use lots of variety for how you are coming at a particular skill. I want to keep it interesting. Kids can not do a half hour of a drill – it’s boring.”
Another way he banishes boredom from his sessions is visualizing the practice ahead of time, which helps alert him to any potential problem areas that could grind down the fun and bring productivity to a standstill.
“Look at your practice plan through the lens of how much movement is there going to be and how much standing around is there going to be?” he says. “Anybody can write these things down on a piece of paper and bring it to practice and say ‘ok, now we’re doing this and then we’re doing that’ but you’ve got to visualize the practice just like you want your players to visualize playing in the different situations you are teaching them to handle. You, as the coach, have to visually run through your practice in your mind and see what the movement is going to be and where the boring moments could be that you need to make as quick as possible. Or maybe you find you have two moments back-to-back that won’t work.”
PRIVILEGED TO PARTICIPATE
Sometimes even the best plans and perfectly designed drills don’t produce a stellar practice filled with great play.
But Scales loves how working with young players always delivers some meaningful moments, no matter the quality of their performance.
“Every day is worthwhile,” he says. “Even those practices where it didn’t work the way I wanted it to invariably there has been an interaction with one or more players where I felt like I did something to help that player. Or they showed me a side of themselves where I learned something about them.”
And that’s where the real joy of coaching resides.
“The relationships are what make it worthwhile,” he says. “You’re there to help these young people grow and develop and your sport is just a vehicle for that. As the adult you are in this incredibly privileged position to have a little bit of influence on their life and the kind of person they are becoming. And you get to be influenced by them too, and that’s an amazing honor.”
Dr. Peter Scales
MedStar Health’s Dr. Korin Hudson, a team physician for the Washington Capitals and Wizards, shares tips for helping protect young athletes from heat-related illnesses ranging from heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke
A leading psychologist and two-time Olympian targets four areas you can focus on with your young athletes to build teams that are more united, motivated and focused to perform at their best
Less is often more when it comes to sharing feedback with young athletes, says Mark Williams, a renowned sports scientist and co-author of THE BEST: HOW ELITE ATHLETES ARE MADE
Former University of Arizona star Damon Stoudamire, head coach at the University of the Pacific, on helping young players develop and thrive under your guidance