Experts' corner

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Jay Lesage

"Simon Says" - A Deep Look Into the Coaching Process

Want to be the best? Time to find yourself a coach!

01/09/2018 by Jay Lesage

Hey there 60Cards readers! It’s been a while since my last article where I detailed Raichu/Heatmor, my personal favorite deck to emerge out of the European International Championships. I've been enjoying leisure time these holidays with my family, but now it's time to crack down on League Cups and Regional Championships. From testing out concepts on PTCGO, I’ve found the format to be rather stale within Standard for one reason mainly – decks live and die by Zoroark-GX. A card that was once seen as “average” has now become the best card there currently is to offer in Standard, but not for its sheer power! Zoroark-GX is instead known primarily for its vast ability to draw cards using its Trade ability. You’re not just drawing two cards, but you’re also discarding one card – this alone changes the cards dynamic thoroughly. Today, I'd like to talk about two things: a brief statement as to why I think most Standard articles have been based around Zoroark-GX, and why I think coaching is becoming more popular within the game! 

Zoroark-GX at a Glance

I know it seems pretty darn simple on paper, but humor me for a second with this thesis: any deck within the Standard format that doesn’t play Zoroark-GX is inherently at a disadvantage. Too bold? Humor me some more.

When I’m making a bold statement like this, I’m drawing it from logical mentality. I’m going to jot a series of statements that prove my statement is correct below:


• Zoroark-GX makes decks more consistent
• Consistent decks are stronger than inconsistent decks
• Therefore, Zoroark-GX is stronger than other decks


Playing Zoroark-GX not only allows you to draw cards, but also discard a card from your hand, which means that while you’re drawing, you’re also throwing away useless fodder. Simultaneously, this two-fold ability will give you better odds than your opponent who does not play Zoroark to win a game of Pokémon. But this article isn’t about Zoroark, mostly because I don’t want to discuss the Standard format too much. Today’s article is all going to be about a much lesser discussed topic – coaching.

So, what is coaching in Pokémon, you may ask? Pokémon coaching is the same as any other form of coaching, whether it is sports, chess, or any other mental game. It involves a teacher, and a student who strives to become stronger in the game. Coaching hasn’t been a “thing” for very long though, so why is that? The main reason is due to people wanting to get better at the game, of course! Ever since the introduction of technology into the world, players have made lengths to socialize online and share deck lists as well as playing strategy. This spawned online forums, such as those on Facebook (e.g. Virbank City, HeyFonte). Ever since then, with such information being posted online, there has been tons of free information.

The Evolution of “Free information”

Free information has been a blessing and a curse for as long as I can remember. People argue that free information online has ruined the game due to secrecy, whereas others boast that it’s needed in order for the growth of the game. As for my stance, I personally am impartial to either side, because I understand the pros and cons of both! Let’s dwell into why people view that free information has ruined the game – these people are very concerned about their own secretive concepts, and don’t want to share them with the masses. These people tend to get upset when their decks are posted, but also work the hardest on their deck lists. This same group of people tends to be the top performers. Then, there are those that aren’t at the top of the game – the new joiners. The new joiners are those that are highly appreciative of free information, mainly because it will allow them to jumpstart into a new card game without investing too much time. They can just pick up an International winning deck list and pilot it to moderate success at their next tournament, no sweat! While I never had this privilege, I can only assume being able to stumble onto Pokémon and perform at a high level would be exhilarating. Most seasoned players I know didn’t have deck lists handed to them, but rather they made them themselves. Because of free information being shared so rapidly, things have gotten more difficult.

The Skill Ceiling

Ah, yes! A subsidiary effect of free information, the average player has gotten stronger since they have access to the same resources as the best players (in most cases). Typically, this is something that is happening because Pokémon is striving to promote it. They know that if a newer player picks up a top-tier deck, and proceeds to do well with it (and potentially even win), that player has a much higher retention rate within the game. Pokémon uses this information to their advantage, and publishes valuable information in order to string a consistent stream of upcoming players along. Once they’ve created their own legacy, these new players will eventually become the veterans, and the cycle will continue. All the while, the players who are struggling to now beat the new players are wondering “how can I get better?”

Well trainer, that my friend is called a competitive advantage. You need something that can give you an edge over the opponents, so you can beat them to the punch and ultimately obtain a trophy. The biggest thing in question is that with free information circulating everywhere, how can one get information quicker than the pillagers? Primary information, my dear Watson! If all you ever conduct is secondary research, you’ll never hit any fresh ideas, and you’ll consistently be predictable. As players, we want to be the next “it” factor – in order to get there, sometimes players need a little push. That’s where coaching comes in as the next evolution of the game.

Simon Says

Coaching is something that’s been discussed in small corners of the world, but now it’s become a full-fledged phenomenon this year. It’s helped people of all ages reach new heights, all the while giving people confidence in both their playing abilities as well as deck construction skills. I think it’s important to note that coaching has become more popular because of the aforementioned heightened skill ceiling – if the ceiling didn’t rise, the need for coaching wouldn’t be present, and the demand would decline. In this case, the skill ceiling is showing no sign of slowing down with more and more free information being released daily, whether it’s by third parties or by Pokemon themselves; I’d go as far as to say coaching is becoming essential in younger divisions. I’ll go into that a little later on in the article, but for now I’ll go over how most coaching processes are completed.

The Process of Coaching

As somebody who’s done private coaching for three seasons consecutively, I’ve had a ton of success placed upon me from my students. Alongside my brother Zachary Lesage and our flight of elite coaches, we’ve been able to melt coaching down to a science. We start off by using Skype to communicate, and playing on PTCGO. The main reason we use PTCGO over using real copies of cards is for a few reasons:

• the game state is clear for both players
• the speed of games is much more efficient due to easier “shuffling” phases
• PTCGO allows for quick deck edits
• you can test decks online and not have to purchase/proxy cards

However, there are a few occasions where we prefer to use real cards…

• when a new expansion is coming out and it isn’t released online yet
• when you need to test how quickly a deck can conclude a real-time 50-minute series

You can either play a 1-on-1 with your student, or play against randoms online on the PTCGO ladder; I personally prefer to play against randoms, and use Skype to watch how my pupil is playing (as well as what decisions they are making). Rather than play against a lesser experienced player than myself in the form of a student, I’d rather work with them to beat down an opponent on PTCGO. This way, they’ll have a much higher win-percentage than they would have against me, their teacher, all the while learning more information. Using Skype, I can actually share my screen with the student in order to ensure that they don’t click things and make a hurdling mistake – it gives me control over the situation, all the while allowing myself to guide the pace of play. The student will just instruct me on what to do each given turn.

In a 1-vs-1 with myself against a student, I’ll typically not ask to see their screen because I don’t want to know what’s in their hand (this will cause bias in my plays). The main reason why you’d play a 1-vs-1 against a student is to test against specific decks, or in order to gauge their skill level. I tend to stray away from 1-vs-1s with my students unless I’m comfortable with their playing abilities.

What are the effects of coaching?

I’ve found that coaching has made a significant difference in my student’s skill levels; this isn’t just assumption, this is fact. In many testing sessions, I was able to solidify my facts by performing tests. Below is a copy of the test format:

The "Test"

Section I: Physical Cards

• Clean Play /2 (is your play area generally clean, are you taking too many shortcuts?)
• Concealment of Hand/Deck /2 (can I see what’s in your hand/in your deck?)
• Concealment of Information /3 (can you keep your game plan a secret?)
• First Deck Search /3 (did you try to identify your Prize Cards?)
• Timer Lookout /3 (do you see the nearest timer? is it within easy reach?)
• Necessary In-Game Attire /3 (do you have a GX marker? damage counters? burn/poison? Etc.?)
• Pace of Play /5 (are you playing at the correct speed for that scenario?)
• Sequencing / 5 (did you play your cards in the correct order to maximize effectiveness?)

/26

Section 2: PTCGO

• Luxury Searches /3 (are you searching your deck when applicable? frequently noting both players discards?)
• Prioritization /5 (did you make the right choices at the right times?)
• Prize Mapping /3 (did you take the best route to take all of your Prize Cards?)
• Strategy /3 (did you have a strategy? were you thinking ahead?)
• Matchup /5 (do you grasp the matchup?)
• Resource Conservation /5 (did you ration your resources properly? should you have played N instead of playing
/24

DEDUCTIONS


• -1 MARK if playing too slow/too fast during certain scenarios
• -1 MARK if there is a blatantly obvious misplay/takeback (per misplay/takeback)

BONUS MARKS (and how to achieve them)

• +1 MARKS are awarded for going above and beyond average level play
• these can be obtained through abstract things that can be inside/outside the game
• there is a set list of these that will remain undisclosed so that they won’t be taken advantage of
• in order to get these …
• think of the greatest Pokémon players of all time, and ask - “what would they do?”


OVERALL

/50


The test consists of two sections: a PTCGO portion of the test, as well as a physical portion of the test with actual cards.

 

Physical Cards

Physical cards refer to many things that are seen as “simple” but can give you a huge edge over your opponent. The weight of each part is reflected by how important I view it as: for example, the most important parts of the physical test include sequencing as well as pace of play. Since we can only track pace of play in real time, it’s important during the test to check the student’s processing speeds. If they are playing too slow during a time when they should play faster in order to not run out of time, they will lose marks. The majority of other marks in this section of the test reflect upon a player’s ability to provide necessary in-game manners (i.e. a clean game state, GX marker, etcetera). The most interesting part of this section is the allotting of their Prize Cards – this is specifically in the “actual cards” portion of the test specifically because it is far too easy on PTCGO to identify your Prize Cards. All you’d have to do is peak the totals of each card during your first deck search, and figure it out from there. When you have to physically search your deck in a timely manner, this is when your searching skills come into place. This is arguably the most difficult skill to perfect in this portion of the test because it is very reliant on a strong memory coupled with lightning-fast search abilities.

The PTCGO section is a laxer section in terms of your playing field; PTCGO neatens everything up for you. This section is very technical, and rewards players who are very attentive to details. Typically, I’ll play a 1-vs-1 matchup against the student where I consistently monitor their hand to make sure they are sequencing their cards properly, and that they are making the best decisions given the scenario at hand. Matchup knowledge is required to ace this section, so I’ll typically play a 50-50 matchup against the student to see how extensive their testing has been in current formats. This is arguably the most subjective section because there are several ways to approach situations, so I tend to reward students who speak their insights out loud; at least this way, I know what their thought processes are. The test isn’t perfect, but it’s a starting point for trainers to see where they started from, and where they are now in contrast!

Both sections have their purpose as stated in earlier, and both must be used in order to gauge the student’s skill level. What I’d typically do is give a student this test, provide feedback comments, and then give them the same test later on in the season. I’d seen amazing improvements amongst many students who were willing to partake in the test, and I’d highly suggest you use this testing basis amongst your own testing circle. While you don’t need a coach to play well, I’d suggest one at specific stages of your PokeCareer because sometimes it’s nice to hear authorized feedback (especially from somebody proven).

I’ve noticed that kids who used coaching usually ended up playing more confidently at higher levels, and were remaining more calm underneath pressure. Having a mentor to talk to in-between rounds is a huge boost at tournaments, and is one that is often overlooked when people think about coaching. When you’re going up round after round against highly intelligent players, you’re going to want to capitalize on every advantage you can get.

You’ll notice I sometimes allude to children being the students, and that’s because they are – in fact, 90% of the students that my brother and I coach at the PokeAcademy are Juniors/Seniors. The reason for this is mainly a financial one – most older students can’t justify spending money on coaching lessons, whereas parents of children see it the opposite; they would rather spend their money on academic coaching lessons than on something physical such as sports or dance. This was an interesting behavioral aspect that shows parents are caring more about getting their children academically tutored over sports – at least when it comes to PokeParents.

Why is coaching becoming essential?

Over the course of the next few years, you’ll see that the skill ceiling will rise to insane new heights; the skill level will become so high, that newer players to the game will have to partake in some form of coaching in order to catch up to existing elites in the game. Without coaching, they would simply fall by the wayside, but with coaching they would be able to rise to the occasion and combat the competition. It’s become a psychological thing too – I’ve seen players actually on edge because:

A. They weren’t able to receive a coaching session that week.
B. They don’t receive coaching in the first place.

Most students face the latter – they don’t have any coaching currently, and they’re going up against players that do have coaching. This is a troublesome thing to get around, because mentally most children feel inferior right off the bat. This is a symptom that leads me to believe coaching is something innovative; with innovation comes strategies that will stay. Although it costs a fair chunk of cash, it can be a worthwhile investment if you utilize the information given to you.

The inner struggle.

For some trainers, it’s very difficult to pull yourself together in order to get the help you need as a player. I’ve been there to the point where I’m so stubborn at something, I’ll block everybody out and only be blinded by what my own thoughts have to offer. Whether these thoughts are right or wrong, this should never be somebody’s mentality when trying to be good at something – coaching isn’t for everybody. However, I think everybody, no matter what their skill level is, should try it out. If you never expand your learning circumstances, you may never reach your peak potential! I’ve narrowed the coaching game to a science, stemming from the basic principle that some people only learn certain ways.

Different subjects respond different to stimuli, whether that is through listening (audio), kinesthetically, linguistically, or mathematically. Based on current schooling systems globally, some of these learning measures are never contrasted upon common techniques. I’ve tried to expand on what current schools are doing to the point where I’ve even gave students “chess” homework, where they use unorthodox means to break out of their shell.

By playing a game such as chess, you can stem out and improve on several subjects. These subjects include (but aren’t limited to): decision making, board state evaluation, general awareness, and prioritization. I found that most students who play well at chess or grew up on a background involving chess at some point of their life naturally were better at Pokemon. The same parallel can be made from Pokemon to chess; a great Pokemon player is most likely better than a beginner chess player.

Other things that I found players struggled with was general engagement and intimidation: some students didn’t want to learn as much as others, while some actually were intimidated by how strong a player the coach was. In order to break down this barricade, I’ve often found the number one best working approach to this was to become friends with the student; by becoming friends with them, you not only gain their trust as a person, but they’ll also take advice easier (as well as a loss). Speaking of losses…

Taking a loss in training can be the absolute biggest roadblock. 95% of students will most likely be weaker than the teacher in terms of playing ability Over the course of months of training, this can factor in greatly to a bad win/loss ratio against the professor. I know for a fact that I hate losing to the degree where if I’m not winning “x” amount of games, I’ll simply stop playing Pokemon for a bit! I can only imagine how frustrating this can be for somebody who is older than me (and losing to a younger person), or dealing with a younger child who is striving to become a seasoned veteran. Either way, the process can be miniaturized by assuring the student that even if they lose, they still played correctly (if they did indeed play well). I’ve had students take ten losses in a row to me, only to best me in the following next ten sets by playing flawless – hell, even BETTER than myself. That’s what Pokemon is all about, improving by playing against those that are superior to you. How else you gon’ get better?

“Repetition is the essence of learning!”

This is a phrase that echoes in the back of my head since my first semester of college! It’s important when you take a coaching lesson that you follow up with a certain degree of repetition. It’s kind of like going to the gym: going to the gym once will certainly benefit you, but if you seek results on a grand scale, you have to remain consistent with it! You can’t just give up either – you have to keep going at it until you follow the process to a tee.

I usually suggest at least two hours of coaching a week, pending on the scenario at hand. Each student has individual goals that have to be approached differently – some students also require more effort than others pending on their learning abilities. There isn’t a maximum amount of coaching, but I have to say that if you’re doing coaching that often, it will eventually become a cadence in the back of your matches. I’d rather space myself out between lessons in order to not fade out the relevancy of a coach’s advice. If a student (especially a young one) is force-fed too many lessons, all the info will feel like a giant pile of mush. Learning is a delicate balance! For serious students, I’d advise 3-4 hours of training per week over the course of at least two months for serious improvement.

Why you should be coached!

I remember at Toronto Regionals this year, I was so jealous that all of my friends (many within the Top 16 of North America) were doing so well – I had just started the tournament 4-0, and proceed to lose three rounds in a row! It was very disheartening for me to finish 6-3 after such a promising start, so I ended up talking to Azul Garcia Griego and Mike Pramawat. I begged for their coaching at any rate, because I know that openly they are more accomplished players than me – but their response shocked me. They both said, “You Jay? You want coaching? But you’re already good man!” This was unfortunately not the answer I was looking for, because in that moment I realized that even the best players can become stronger. There are always higher heights to climb too, and bigger goals to consistently strive for, so no matter how accomplished you are I believe coaching is important. Pokémon can take a nod from professional sports leagues – namely golf – where even the best of the best still have a coach in their corner at all times.

While I can’t attest for other coaching services such as Tablemon, The Dark Patch, and CutOrTap personally, I can assure you that I’ve heard great things from all of them. The PokeAcademy, a brainchild between myself and my brother, Zachary Lesage, is among the best coaching services, as the coaches take as much time as the student needs to reach their goals. Coaching has been something that I’ve enjoyed the most about this game; I’ve had the unique chance to watch kids go from their local leagues to the World Championships, and let me tell you: it’s heartwarming! If you’re interested in receiving coaching (or purchasing coaching for your son/daughter), I urge you to reach out to the aforementioned groups because they all do a phenomenal job. Practice makes perfect folks, and when you’re not out their working on your craft, somebody else is. Until next time, trainers! Get lucky and run hot!

- Jay Lesage
#PlayPokemon

 

[+17] okko


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