Don´t think too much on the court

Have you noticed that many of the things you do in your daily routine, you don't pay attention to? They come automatically, unconsciously, and effortlessly. However, there are many others in which you have to be aware, make an effort, and try your best to do it properly.

Although coaches tend to make players understand the importance of the "what", "how" "when" and "why", in this blog post, I would like to convince you why it is important not to be overly aware of what you are doing on a padel court.

System 1 and System 2

Daniel Kahneman, one of the most popular psychologist in behavioral economics, popularized the concepts of System 1 and System 2 in his book "Thinking, Fast and Slow." According to him, we have two systems that we use to make decisions. System 1 is effortless, unconscious, very fast, and emotional. For example, think about reacting to a fast ball – it happens too quickly for a conscious decision. On the other hand, there is System 2, which requires effort, is conscious, and is more rational, but slower. Consider situations in which rivals make a nice lob and we have to decide whether to execute a lob or a bajada.

Other authors, like Timothy Gallwey in "The Inner Game of Tennis," talk about Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the body that moves automatically, and Self 2 is your brain guiding the body on how it should move. The main idea of the book is not letting Self 2 intervene in Self 1 and just letting it flow. Although similar, Daniel Kahneman's System 1 and System 2 are more validated in academia, so I will use them for this blog post.

Which System to Use in Padel

We often hear about a state called flow, in which people claim they are not consciously thinking, and everything flows. It seems that when people talk about this state, they are referring to System 1. However, entering that state is very rare for the majority of players, and when it happens, it lasts only a few seconds or minutes. Another point that is out of this blog post and I don't want to delve into is that if we are truly absorbed and not conscious during the flow state, how is it possible that we then become conscious that we were in flow?

Anyway, Padel is a sport that requires the use of both systems. On one hand, you have to think about what is happening in the match – for example, between points, you might be thinking about what is going on and how you could make better decisions to harm your rivals. Also, during the game, there are certain situations in which the game becomes slow, such as a lob, and you have time to think and make a conscious decision.

However, I also believe that certain interactions happen so fast that you have to use System 1. For example, in a volley battle, when you are defending fast balls or when you get a fast bajada. If you relied on system 2, you would be probably performing worse. So probably just using one or the other system all the time would not be a good idea; a combination of both would be beneficial.

One important point to raise is that it's not entirely clear whether we are using one or the other; there is probably a mixture, but one of them is likely dominating over the other.

How This Impacts the Way You Learn to Play

We have all experienced that when starting to learn padel, overthinking about what we are doing (System 2) tends to result in worse performance than just letting it happen (System 1). However, it seems that at the beginning of learning something, we need to use System 2. Some authors call it the Cognitive state, in which we need a lot of cognition to make things happen. As time goes on and we practice more, we need less cognition, and things start to happen without our conscious effort.

I will not delve into a big debate in academia about why this happens. Just summarizing it, some authors think that when we do things repeatedly, they become automatic because they are saved in the memory. However, other authors say that it is not possible to save all things in the memory; otherwise, we would need a huge brain. They argue that what happens is that we learn to perceive much better, and then we don't need so much conscious thinking. The reality is that it is not clear how it really works in our body, but the more we do something, the easier it becomes, and usually, with practice, basic movements need less and less System 2.

Coaches Making Players Use System 2

So what I have been thinking about is how coaches can help players find a balance between using System 1 and System 2. The traditional belief among coaches is that players need to know what, how when and why they are doing what they are doing, so using system 2. I have to admit that I was one of them, especially with the why. However, after learning about implicit and explicit learning, I started to hesitate.

Making it very simple, we learn in two ways, explicitly and implicitly. We learn explicitly when we are aware that we are learning, getting explicit feedback on how, what, when and why to do things, and having some awareness that we are learning something. Think about when you start driving a car for the first time – you are aware of everything you are doing, from seating to putting the belt, putting the gear in neutral, and starting the engine, you are using system 2 and learning explicitly. As time goes by, you get more experience, you can go from home to supermarket, talking in the phone and not being aware of everything you are doing, so you are using system 1.

In this process of learning to drive, there have been many things that you have learned implicitly too. In Implicit learning you are not aware that you are learning. Let's think about when you started to play padel. If you had to be aware of all the things you learned, it would slow down the learning process. For example, learning to make sense of the corners – you might be aware that if the ball bounces off the back glass, you might have to start moving forward. After a few shots, you become conscious that learning is happening. But at the same time, you are learning other things implicitly, such as moving your legs correctly, reading the bounce of the ball, preparing the racket, or reading how the coach is feeding the ball, things you are not aware of learning.

So, I have a bit of a feeling that coaches want to make players aware of certain things that players don't necessarily need to be aware of. The other day, I watched a video in which the coach was explaining how to move when you are in the back of the court. Essentially, he was explicitly teaching that if the ball is a bit short, you should move forward; if the ball is a bit deep, you should move backward, and if it is too deep, let it pass to the walls. Do we really need to make players aware of this? It is not obvious that the majority of players with decent motor skills, given enough opportunities, will figure this out without consciously thinking?

The same can apply to the "why" of things. We discuss among coaches that players need to know why they do what they do. I have to agree that there has to be a certain awareness of the "why." However, I have my doubts about whether it is necessary or even beneficial for everything you do on the court to have a reasoning in order to do it well.

I will give you an example that made me understand this very well. Before starting my career as a coach, when I found myself playing a lot, I remember that in difficult situations at the back of the court, I tended to play down the line. That was something I just felt was right, and I was not aware I was doing it; I didn't have a "why." Nobody told me to do that. However, when I started coaching and thought a lot about the game, I became aware of this, and I started to teach players that when you are struggling at the back of the court, it is better to play down the line.

Now I understand that as a player I learned that implicitly, however as a coach I learned it explicitly; as a player I was not aware of the what, how, when and why I was doing it. In fact, I can tell you that nowadays when I find myself in this situation again as a player, even though I now know that defending down the line is a good option, I continue doing it, but I am still not consciously thinking that I have to play down the line; it just happens.

Learning implicitly or explicitly

So, should we learn more implicitly or explicitly? I think we are far from really understanding all this. But I have a certain feeling that we should give players more chances to learn implicitly because, by default, coaches tend to intervene, making the learning more explicit. There is solid evidence that things learned implicitly are much more robust to mental disorders like schizophrenia or Parkinson's. But also, about choking in a match, which will be another blog post.

As a general idea, I would probably opt for the following approach: let´s consider a time scale, on the right side we have the moment when the player hits the ball, and on the left side, we have the breaks during points. So, as a coach, I would prioritize explicit learning on the left side, when the player is still far away from contact with the ball. This would include thinking about which tactics to use, how to regulate emotions, or how to communicate with the partner. The coach plays an interesting role here and can be of great help. However, as the time scale becomes shorter and shorter, so we are moving to the right side of the time scale, approaching the point at which the player is going to contact the ball, I would probably emphasize more on implicit learning.


Rethinking Training Tools: Lost in the Bucket and Bucket Dependency

This blog arises as a result of reflections I've been having after some of the players training in our academy lost confidence in a shot during a training match and asked me if we could do a series of bucket exercises after the practice in order to regain confidence. Why does a player need the bucket to regain confidence?

Let's try to go back to the beginning of all this. Why did someone decide that to hit well, repetitions of a shot using a bucket were necessary? I wonder if our human being-machine approach, that is, continuing to think that humans behave like machines and that continuous (decontextualized) repetition will improve a motor skill, has contributed to the use of the bucket. Phrases like 'the key to learning is repetition' have been misinterpreted. Repeating the same thing doesn't necessarily lead to learning unless there's a certain variability that introduces new information and prompts adaptation. I would prefer 'In order to learn repetition without repetition is very important.'

Returning to the topic why players who need to regain confidence in a shot ask for bucket repetitions: Have we sold the idea to players that there's a perfect way to hit the ball? Is that why the player needs repetition with the bucket to find that perfect way? But is it realistic to consistently hit the ball perfectly in a match? The player probably has believed so and might even get it with the bucket, but then comes the match and most situations are very different from those the coach has trained with the player and the bucket, and the player starts to feel that they hardly hit any balls as they did with the bucket. But of course, they keep seeking those feelings because they've been told (and felt) that the ball should be hit that way to be correct. In the end, we end up with confused, frustrated players who lose confidence in matches because they don't have good timing.

My Spanish friends addicted to the bucket

I have two friends from Spain who have been playing padel and competing for about 20 years. Both have trained in academies where the bucket is the main training tool. During my last visit to Spain, I found a coach who was not very popular in the area but had a holistic training approach. He didn't usually use bucket with robotic repetitions. I talked to my friends and invited them to train with this coach. After several sessions, they told me: 'Wow! These trainings are really, really good, thank you very much for the recommendation, Nacho.'

After talking to both of them a few months later, they still recognized that the trainings were changing their way of playing, and they were very happy. However, both admitted that they missed the bucket they used with other coaches because those repetitions with the bucket gave them a lot of confidence in their shots. My reflection upon hearing this is as follows: I have no doubt that it's true, that these players probably regain confidence by hitting with the bucket. But my question is, why do you need the bucket to regain confidence? Is it because the bucket is mandatory to regain confidence, or because a dependency on it has been created to have confidence? It will probably be a mix of both and will depend on the player. However, I can assure you that with many of the players I have trained, including myself, they have not needed the bucket to regain confidence in the game, probably because bucket repetitions were not present in most of the trainings, and they have found a way to regain confidence during the game without having to go to the coach to feed them balls.

Jack Nicklaus, a retired American widely considered to be either the greatest or one of the greatest golfers of all time expressed the following about his coach:

“Jack Grout taught me from the start. He said I need to be responsible for my own swing and understand when I have problems on the golf course how I can correct those problems on the golf course myself without having to run back to somebody. And during the years that I was playing most of my competitive golf, I saw Jack Grout maybe once or twice a year for maybe an hour. If I was in the Miami area or something, I’d run down and see Jack and we’d spend about an hour and we’d spend five minutes on the golf swing and an hour catching up. But he taught me young the fundamentals of the game. He taught me how to assess what I was doing. When I made a mistake, when I was doing things, how do you on the golf course fix that without putting yourself out of a golf tournament and then teaching yourself”. 

Let's think about this experiment, We take 10 children, 5 of whom are trained with an approach emphasizing the importance of timing and hitting the ball at the sweet spot; a basket is frequently used for this purpose. The other 5 are guided to understand that achieving perfect timing is unlikely during games; match situations are applied. During a match, which group will lose confidence more easily when not having good timing?

Consequences of the bucket in the game: confidence, timing, adaptation and decision making

I will dedicate one entire post to reflect about the side effect of the methods coaches use, which is something we rarely consider. But now let´s just introduce the topic with this specific case of the bucket. The coach tends to focus on the visible and immediate result of the training. For example, in this case, a coach who uses the bucket a lot sees that the player hits the ball much better. As it is so, he keeps doing it because he sees that the player "improves."

Let's consider the (unlikely) case that this type of training makes the player better in matches. But as a consequence of what? What are the second or third-order effects that this type of training has on the player? Usually, the coach does not think about this, and probably does not see it (many times it is very difficult to see). For example, in the previously mentioned case of the players from our academy, with a strong tennis background, they have acknowldeged that they learned to hit very well the ball with lots of decontextualized repetitions. But what happens now with the dependency they have on the basket when they don't hit well? Or what happens to their adaptation ability during a match when they lose the confidence in a shot? Or what happens to their decision-making ability in real contexts? This makes me wonder about the side effects of training has had on some players when, to my surprise, they do not know what to do on those days when they lack confidence. What is obvious for some, playing with greater margins, reducing speed, for them, who are probably used to relying on the basket to get the confidence back, is not.

Some players think that we don't like the bucket, but that's not the case. My point of view is that the bucket is not being used properly. Using the bucket must have a very clear purpose, and not just creating robotic exercises where players run around the court, receiving balls predictably and hitting them without any sense. The bucket plays a very important role in training if the purpose for using it is clear, both for the player and for the coach. The bucket can be a good training tool or becomes a generator of frustrated players who think they will hit the ball in matches as they do when they receive it predictably and in a series from the coach. I have not yet seen a single player hitting the ball with the same confidence, speed, and precision in trainings with the bucket as in trainings in match situations.


Master the 3 phases of the game

Let's imagine we are watching a professional padel match. Each player has a light on their head, and the color of the light changes depending on whether they are attacking/counterattacking (green), building (orange), or resisting (red). We would be amazed to see that the color of the light is changing dynamically, probably staying in the orange (building phase) for longer periods.

Today, we are going to explore the different phases of the game and why coaches and players should be aware of them and train accordingly.

Resisting Phase

If we are in the resisting phase, our mindset should be focused on defense. We should be in survival mode because our rivals are attacking, putting a lot of pressure on us. The most challenging aspect of being in the resisting phase is that players want to quickly get out of this phase because they feel pressured, leading to poor decision-making. We have to train and learn to thrive under pressure and wait for the opportunity to build or counterattack.

Examples of the resisting phase:

  • The rivals are making sharp volleys and not allowing us to hit lobs or play soft balls to their legs.
  • The rivals are hitting hard bajadas, and we are forced to block.

Building Phase

If we manage to get out of the pressure, we might enter the building phase. Now the mindset should be more about patience and looking for opportunities to counterattack (if we are at the back) or attack (if we are at the net). In this phase, there is no clear team leadership. One team might be executing good overhead shots like viboras or bandejas, but the other team still has some control over the game by playing good lobs and low balls.

However, this can change with just one shot. If one of the lobs is short or one of the bandejas bounces too much, the team can transition to the attacking or counterattacking phase.

Examples of the building phase:

  • The most common shots at the net are bandejas or viboras and transition volleys.
  • The most common shots from the back are lobs and playing low balls.

Attacking/Counterattacking Phase

When we enter the attacking/counterattacking phase, the mindset becomes aggressive and risk-taking. We have built the point well enough that it's time to smash and volley hard if I'm at the net, or lose the position in the back to go to the net and take some risks.

Interestingly, sometimes we might enter the counterattacking phase not because we want to but because our rivals force us. For example, they might try to attack with a hard shot, but it's not good enough, and the ball stays in the middle of the court, forcing us to move forward to the net and start counterattacking.

Examples of the attacking/counterattacking phase:

  • At the net, hard and sharp volleys, smashes
  • At the back, good lobs that pass rivals, bajada to the legs, and moving forward to volley, passing bajada, or block-volley the bandejas.

Why It Is Important to Train Accordingly to the Phase You Are in the Game

Coaches and players need to understand that in padel, most of the time, you should be in the building phase. The reason is that the size of the court and the walls make the game very tactical and do not allow for very aggressive shots continuously. So basically, your mindset should be to look for opportunities but remain calm. Using an analogy, it's like hunting in the forest. You are active enough to look for opportunities but try to stay calm so you don't make bad decisions, such as shooting prematurely or taking a path that the animal can see or hear you.

So, if you agree that most of the time you should be building, it makes sense to train the building phase a lot. As we mentioned in our blog "Master These 2 Game Situations," there are 2 situations that are repeated during a match, lobs and low balls (situation 1) and  bandejas/viboras and transition volleys (situation 2). So in our opinion, these are the 2 situations that must be prioritized in trainings.

But why is it so hard to stay in building mode for long periods of time?

If you don't feel comfortable in either of these two situations (bandeja-volley and lobs-low), what is going to happen is that instead of building, you will try to move into attacking/counterattacking mode. A classic example is the players who are not familiar with the walls and corners when at the back of the court, and as soon as possible, they try to go to the net to block the bandejas. The same applies to tennis players when getting lobs; they don't know how to make bandejas, and they end up attacking with smashes in a bad situation, losing the net or even the point.

But I build a lot but then I don't know how to attack/counterattack

Some players build the point very well but when they have the opportunity to attack/counterattack, they are not able to enter that phase, continuing in the building phase and ending up frustrated because they feel they could have won the point before.

If you are in this kind of situation, you should be very happy. Remember that if you have to prioritize one phase in your learning process, that would be the building phase, because it is the most repeated one and also the one that will allow you to attack/counterattack. But why is it so hard to change to counterattacking or attacking? The hardest thing is that in one shot you have to change your mindset from being “calm” and looking for opportunities to aggressive and risk-taking mode, and that is not easy at all. Second is that if you don’t trust your attacking phase, you feel like you might want to continue in the building mode because by entering the attacking phase you might end up losing the point.

So this means that the attacking/counterattacking phase should also be trained a lot, but in our opinion not prioritized over the building phase. And this does not mean that you should be training all the time in building mode, and until you don´t master it, you don't train attacking/counterattacking phase. We have mentioned in other posts that padel is non-linear, so you might train both at the same time, but we would prioritize the building phase until you are able to create many opportunities to attack/counterattack.

Different players, different characteristics

Another thing to consider is that each player, by nature, might feel more comfortable in some phases of the game than in others. Using the example of soccer, there are some players that feel quite good in the defending area but not making goals, others feel good in the mid area of the pitch because they can build the game, but they don't feel that good if they have to defend or make goals.

In padel, it's pretty similar; some players feel very good smashing or counterattacking and making an aggressive game, while others prefer to build the point, lead the strategy, and be more patient. So you have to recognize which kind of game you are naturally better at, without forgetting that in padel you need to be very good in each phase of the game.

In the professional level, we can see players such as Galan, Tello, Coello, who feel very comfortable in conditions that require them to be very aggressive, but they might struggle a bit more when they have to defend and be patient. On the other hand, players like Di Nenno, Stupa, Chingotto, or Sanyo are more strategic and prefer to build the point and be patient until they have a good opportunity to attack/counterattack.

As you might notice, all these players are continually evolving, and now you can see that players like Di Nenno can be very aggressive and score points with smashes, but players like Galan can defend quite well and build the point if the conditions do not allow them to play aggressively. However, their natural tendencies are quite pronounced in each of these cases.

Conclusions

Remember that padel is not just about shots; it is about situations and mindsets. Each of the situations in the game is linked to a mindset, and players should be able to identify them in order to act accordingly in each phase.

We recommend that you reflect on your game if you are a player or on your players if you are a coach, and try to identify in which of the phases you/they feel naturally more comfortable. Based on that, if you are more inclined towards the building mode, you should assess if you are creating enough opportunities to transition to the attacking/counterattacking phase.

On the other hand, if you feel more naturally inclined towards defending or attacking/counterattacking, it is probably a good time to train the building mode, as we mentioned, it is the predominant phase/mindset in padel.


The Importance of Position in Padel: Understanding and Evolving

If I had to describe padel in a few words, I'd say it's a game of positioning. When you watch a padel match, it's essentially a battle to secure the best position at the net. Players continuously shift their positions in this pursuit. As we mentioned in our Fundamentals of padel blog, positioning is a critical aspect of the game. In fact, it's the most crucial concept because the entire game hinges on it.

In our view of padel, there are four levels of positioning, primarily differing in decision-making and the size of the position area.

Level 1: Beginners

At this stage, players need to grasp the optimal positions right from the start. Think of it like driving on a road - if you don't know your lane's position, you'll be crashing all the time. So, beginners must understand where to position themselves both at the back and the net. They should aim to be there, waiting for the ball patiently and not rushing. If their opponents force them to move, they should quickly return to their position.

The key characteristic of level 1 positioning is that players mainly focus on themselves rather than their rivals or partners. They wait for the ball without abandoning their position.

Level 2: Intermediate

As players improve, they've already grasped level 1, and their technical skills have grown. They can now make decisions to maintain or regain their position. For instance, they might execute a lob from the back or a slow bandeja because they understand the need for time to recover their position and have the skills to execute it.

Level 2 positioning still centers on the player's self-awareness, but now they're more capable of making tactical decisions to safeguard or regain their position.

Level 3: Advanced

At this stage, players become more aware of their surroundings on the court. The key difference from level 2 is that they can instantly identify the positions of their rivals and partner. Based on this, they make decisions to protect their partner and put pressure on their opponents.

What distinguishes this category is that players don't necessarily wait for the ball in their position; they might intentionally move a step or two inward. Furthermore, their perception and reaction time are far superior to players in levels 1 and 2.

Level 4: Professional

In the elite category, players possess exceptional perception and intuition. Their optimal positions are relatively large, and they have the skills to move around the court without compromising themselves or their partners. They can play effectively from almost anywhere on the court, making position changes dynamic while maintaining a high level of performance.

Conclusion:

Often, players aspire to play at higher position levels without having the necessary skills. For instance, you might see advanced players attempting level 4 positions or intermediate players frequently stepping in and losing their position without the skills to anticipate.

Remember, your position is the foundation of your game, and you should determine your skill level and adapt your position category accordingly.


How to Play on Those Bad Days?

David Ferrer, a former world No. 3 tennis player, once stated that he often struggled to perform well. Out of the 70 matches he played in a year, he felt he played very well only about 5 times. However, he acknowledged that it's not always possible to consistently play at a high level; most of the time, he had to win matches even while playing poorly, especially in the early rounds of competitions.

In this post, we will explore the days when you might feel like heading home or giving up on padel, and we'll discuss strategies to not only "survive" but also learn from such challenging days.

Padel Problems: A Parallel to Life

At the core, life and padel share many similarities. If we were to dissect the 30 days in a month and evaluate how they went, it's common for people to experience quite a few bad days, a handful of fantastic days, and the majority of days falling somewhere in between. Apply this to the 30 days you play padel, and you might notice a similar distribution of very good, average, and bad days. These two realms are interconnected; a great day often translates into great performance in the court, and vice versa.

I like to view it as a problem-solving endeavor. In a padel match, you're confronted with different challenges continuously, and your task is to find solutions to overcome them. The problems can stem from opponents, environmental factors, or even internal struggles. How well you explore diverse solutions to address these challenges and adapt to varying scenarios can determine whether you survive the toughest days or simply give up.

When we have an exceptional training session where all four players are performing at their best (which is quite rare), I like to remind them that while this is remarkable, it's an exception. On the other hand, on days when one or more players are struggling, I emphasize that these are the most valuable lessons we can learn from. These tough days are the ones where it's easiest to throw in the towel.

Interestingly, I've never heard a player who had a remarkable padel performance complain about having a bad day at work, feeling tired, dealing with subpar balls, etc. However, many players tend to seek excuses when they have a bad day on the court. These excuses might seem to explain their poor performance, but from my perspective, they often stem from the mind's inclination to avoid acknowledging personal responsibility.

How Can We Play Decently on Those Challenging Days?

  • Acceptance: The initial step is to grasp and embrace the fact that most days will either be average or not so good. Exceptional days are, indeed, exceptional. Once you internalize this, you can start seeking solutions.
  • Maintain Movement: On challenging days, you might feel tempted to give up. However, if you stop moving and cease running for the ball, your chances of overcoming the situation plummet. Keeping active is crucial.
  • Adjust Your Level: On good days, your performance level is around 8 out of 10. You can play with speed, maintain short margins, and use different directions. On bad days, it's important to lower it to a 5. This means playing with less speed, employing wider safety margins, and choosing straightforward shots. As you successfully return more balls, your confidence will likely rise, enabling you to gradually elevate your level to a 6, then 7, and hopefully back to 8.
  • Collaborate: Ideally, your partner understands the situation and provides support. Depending on your personality, you might need constant physical and verbal encouragement, along with tips from your partner. However, if you're the partner, try to avoid isolating yourself or showing frustration towards your pair; these actions could increase pressure on your teammate.

Winning a match on such challenging days can greatly boost your confidence. Nobody enjoys playing poorly, but more than that, people dislike losing. So, even if you play poorly but manage to win, you not only get another chance to play but also bolster your belief in performing well when you're in better form. Remember, the ability to navigate and triumph over adversity is a hallmark of a skilled and resilient player. Best players are very good in their average days.


Exploring Cultural Influences on Padel Dynamics: Finnish and Spanish Players

Introduction

The world of padel is shaped not only by technique and strategy but also by cultural nuances that shape players' behaviors, values, and interactions on and off the court. In this intriguing exploration, we'll delve into the distinct cultural contexts of Finnish and Spanish players, shedding light on how these differences impact the way they approach and play the game.

As we journey through the fascinating interplay of padel and culture, it's essential to acknowledge that the insights shared are but generalized trends, each player being a unique mosaic of influences.

Socialization: A World of Difference

One of the most prominent distinctions between Finnish and Spanish cultures lies in their patterns of socialization. Spaniards are accustomed to a life filled with outdoor gatherings, park outings, bar visits, and various social activities. Parties are a cornerstone of Spanish culture, fostering camaraderie. Communication holds a very important role, and there's a tendency to address issues through dialogue, often injecting humor when the situation permits.

Finnish people navigate social interactions differently. Factors such as weather conditions contribute to less frequent contact with others. They hold a deep respect for others' personal space, and communication is approached differently with a tendency toward less verbal and physical interaction. Engaging in controversial conversations might pose challenges.

Structured Lives vs. Going with the Flow

The approach to planning and structuring life also varies significantly between the two cultures. Finns exhibit an inclination toward clear schedules and planning. Knowing their commitments well in advance and adhering to structured routines is a hallmark of their lifestyle.

On the other hand, Spanish embrace a more adaptable outlook, balancing the desire for certainty with an ability to go with the flow. Their daily lives allow for flexibility, with a preference for spontaneity in social planning.

The Impact on Padel Dynamics

So, how do these cultural differences manifest in the context of padel? Let's take a look at a training session and a match scenario to understand the distinct approaches from Finns and Spanish players.

Padel Training

In the Finnish training scenario, commitment is paramount. Finnish players diligently adhere to scheduled training sessions, often arriving early, and are able to follow a structured approach with methodical drills. Their appreciation for systematic steps aligns well with well-planned training sessions. They can work systematically and enjoy it, making the task of coaching very easy when setting long-term goals. The environment created in the session may lack exuberance due to a reserved communication style.

Spanish players might find difficulties with long-term commitment, making the task of the coach more challenging in terms of helping players develop in the long term. During training, players shout, jest, and engage in friendly banter, turning the training into a spirited competition. Flexibility in structure is more common, with a willingness to deviate if needed. Following structured and methodical training might be challenging for them.

Match Dynamics

The disparities in socialization and structured routines also become evident during matches:

In Finland, the concept of "vakiovuoro" is a common practice, whereas in Spain, I haven't come across such an arrangement. While some Finns might opt to secure a regular court at the same time every week for a season, Spaniards might prioritize schedule flexibility, even if it occasionally results in a lack of court availability.

Finnish players tend to maintain a more silent environment, with less externalization of feelings and voices. Spanish players, on the other hand, display enthusiasm and camaraderie on the court, expressing themselves with animated voices and gestures.

Teamwork and communication vary as well. Finnish players might approach problems independently, while Spanish players are more likely to collaborate and address issues collectively.

The level of physical contact on and off the court also diverges. Finnish players need to have their own space and may share a racket shake after a point, while Spanish players display greater physical touch and encouragement.

Tactically, Finnish players might be very successful if they lean toward systematic play, embracing structured strategies. Spanish players, however, can struggle if they have to stick to a certain tactic for a long time; they might seek freedom and adaptability, sometimes challenging a single fixed way of playing.

Lastly, the Finnish approach to working systematically and following a programmed schedule with well-scheduled activities might hinder their adaptability to uncertainty. Spanish players' familiarity with uncertainty and "go with the flow" style may enable them to adjust more easily to unplanned scenarios.

Conclusion

As we can observe in other sports like football, there can be two very different styles to comprehend the game, such as those seen in Germany and Brazil. Both styles have been highly successful, reflecting the cultures that have shaped the players. It's likely that the Finnish playing style in padel will be more akin to that of the Germans, while the Spanish style will be more reminiscent of Brazil's. Both styles have their own advantages and disadvantages.

As a Spaniard coaching in Finland, I genuinely appreciate the strong commitment that Finnish players demonstrate towards their goals and work ethic. I am also gaining numerous valuable lessons from the Finnish approach. The harmonious interplay between Finnish dedication to rules, processes, and habits results in an incredibly effective learning approach. This characteristic presents a challenge for our Spanish counterparts. However, within this contrast, it's worthwhile to contemplate an exchange of virtues. Finnish players could benefit from adopting Spanish flexibility, embracing uncertainty, and fostering open communication—three qualities that can help them navigate the unpredictable realm of padel.

The understanding that our cultural tapestry shapes not only our style of play but also our mindset and interactions adds a captivating layer to the intricate landscape of padel. So, as you step onto the court, remember that your every move reflects not only technique and strategy, but also the rich hues of your cultural background.


Adaptation: Are Finnish Padel Conditions Too Good?

Lately, I've been following a series of interviews featuring well-known tennis coaches. One recurring question is: What are the key skills possessed by top tennis players? Coaches frequently highlight a crucial skill: mentality, the ability to navigate emotions. I agree with this viewpoint, yet I wish to expand this skill into a broader trait known as adaptability.

Lastly, I've been reflecting about the adaptation skills Finnish players are developing while playing under nearly perfect court conditions. After observing the Senior and Mixed National Tournament in Jyväskylä, which was held outdoors, I believe it's the perfect time to share this blog post. This post delves into the impressive adaptability displayed by both humans and exceptional players. We'll also contemplate whether the Finnish padel environment might unintentionally hinder the development of adaptability skills.

Homo Sapiens: Masters of Adaptation

As we embark on the captivating journey of evolution, a deeper understanding unfolds about our species. Why do we behave the way we do, our physical forms, our social interactions, and more become clearer. One of the most intriguing aspects is our extraordinary capacity for adaptation. Throughout history, we've faced diverse challenges like wars, scarcity, epidemics, heartbreak, and harsh weather. Our ability to adapt has endowed us with remarkable resilience.

However, in recent decades, we've constructed environments that are safe, comfortable, and predictable. These secure settings inadvertently hinder our inherent ability to continuously adapt. Think about the routines of daily life: waking up at the same time, having the same breakfast, and dwelling in a consistently warm home. We drive to work in our cars, arrive at the office, take the elevator, and sit in comfortable seat, enjoying predictable meals at the same time every day. This pattern persists throughout the day, minimizing surprises.

While it's natural to seek stability and avoid randomness and unpredictability, it's crucial to remember that our growth as human beings historically arises from the drive to explore, navigate uncertainty, and adapt to a range of contexts. We don't need to return to times of constant threat; we live in the best era. However, it's worth considering whether excessive comfort and predictability are making us mentally and physically weaker.

Finnish Predictable and Optimal Conditions

So, what relevance does this hold for padel? Ultimately, a game of padel thrives on unpredictability. Even when you know your partner, your opponents, the location, and the type of ball you'll play with, the outcome remains uncertain. Padel inherently thrives on unpredictability.

However, it's possible that the environments we're creating in Finland tend to diminish some of the positive aspects of uncertainty. In the city where I reside, regardless of the club I play on, the expected conditions remain largely consistent. Mondo carpet courts, consistent LED lighting, clean glass walls, courts with big doors and space enough to allow external game and familiar fellow players characterize most matches. Moreover, the inclination towards indoor play, due to challenging weather, heightens predictability and creates more stable conditions compared to the inherent unpredictability of outdoor conditions. Some players even avoid outdoor play during summer due to the perceived difficulty.

While playing in perfect conditions is undeniably enjoyable and comes with numerous benefits (Finnish C-category players play outside the court better than A-category players in Spain) I'm uncertain whether it's the best scenario for fostering resilience and an adaptable mindset. So, when we compare these conditions to those I'm accustomed to as a Spaniard, we find two vastly different contexts, particularly in terms of court conditions. If you haven't played in Spain, the environment often involves switching between indoor and outdoor play, encountering different courts, and using varying ball types. Court conditions might include sand, slippery glass, and a range of carpet textures. Additionally, the abundance of players in Spain means you're likely to face different opponents frequently, contributing to the continuous development of adaptation skills. Even more challenging conditions are present in Argentina.

Though it's not a direct comparison, as the contexts of Spain or Argentina differ significantly from Finland due to the weather, as a passionate padel coach, I find myself pondering how I can help Finns develop adaptation skills by creating less optimal conditions. I observed the National Senior and Mixed Championship last weekend. While it's understandable that Finnish players might find outdoor play challenging due to their limited exposure, I've come to believe that the perfect conditions found indoors might, at times, be counterproductive. Despite the sunny weather and temperatures around 22 degrees Celsius with minimal wind—a nearly ideal outdoor playing environment—I heard numerous complaints both on and off the court about wind, sun, brightness, and more. Even though 80% of players were wearing caps and sunglasses, they still struggled with elements like the sun when missing a shot.

Enhancing Adaptation Skills for Coaches and Players

It's crucial to acknowledge our desire for certainty and comfort. However, as I mentioned earlier, this inclination can weaken our ability to thrive amidst change. Since we can´t change the conditions of the weather in Finland and we must play indoor during most of the year, what other steps can you take to embrace uncertainty and adaptability as a player?

  • Diverse Playing Locations: Firstly, aim to play in different venues whenever possible. If that's not feasible, try varying the courts within the same club. This adjustment will introduce changes, such as different lighting angles and court layouts.
  • Embrace Variety in Partners: Secondly, consider playing with different partners. I'm always amazed by how some players tend to stick closely to their regular padel group. They prefer the familiar comfort of playing with their close friends. While this camaraderie is valuable, there are notable advantages to partnering with a range of individuals.
  • Stepping Beyond Comfort Zones: Thirdly, playing alongside more skilled individuals will push you out of your comfort zone. It's equally valuable to engage with players who might be perceived as less skilled. I find it intriguing how selective players can be when choosing rivals or training partners. They may express dissatisfaction with certain players' pace or skills, yet these players might surprise them in competitions.
  • Exploring Both Sides of the Court: Fourthly, make an effort to play on both sides of the court. How is it that someone with less than 1 year of experience already labels themselves as an A or B player?
  • Embracing Ball Diversity: Fifthly, vary the type of balls you use. Different brands offer distinct characteristics, and the more attuned you are, the more pronounced these differences will feel.
  • Embracing the Finnish Summer: For Finnish players, take advantage of the summer season, even if outdoor play is less comfortable. Embrace the opportunity to develop your game by playing outside whenever possible.

There are countless ways to step out of your comfort zone. What about coaches? What can they do to enhance players' adaptation skills? Coaches should consider the level of unpredictability and uncertainty they introduce in a session. Regardless of skill level, players benefit from facing certain levels of uncertainty. This mindset shift is essential and contributes to a culture of adaptation.

  • Modifying Rules: Coaches can manipulate the task by altering rules. For example, you might require players to serve with their second service or restrict certain moves like smashing or approaching the net. Modifying conditions helps players think differently and adapt to varying situations.
  • Environment: Experimenting with court size, racket choices, and ball types can significantly impact players' ability to adapt. While varying courts might not always be feasible, altering court conditions, even slightly, can make a difference. You can make the court bigger or smaller for some of the player, you can come up one day with very shitty balls and the next day with new balls, or even in the same training you can mix them.

In Conclusion:

As we look to those who excel in various fields, one common theme emerges: their willingness to confront challenges and adapt. While you may not aspire to reach the top of the ranking in padel, the path to improvement involves embracing change and uncertainty. This journey might not be effortless, but the rewards are significant.