One of the aspects of coaching I have encountered is the reluctant athlete that questions if they should have a coach. That is the type of athlete that feels they are talented enough that they can reach the elite level without anyone that has provided them with an elite experience. That is something difficult for me to address because my entire career has been deeply embedded in having a coach. From the day that the racket was put in my hand, until my career ended and I became a coach, I traveled this planet looking for a coach that knew more than me, or taught differently. The 18 coaches I had during my career represent a multitude of approaches in table tennis, with the main goal of assisting the athlete to reach their full potential. Here are the benefits of having a coach for Table Tennis if you are that player that is hesitant to move forward on it.
Structured Training Program
One of the first benefits of having a coach is creating a proper training program. For every first lesson with a student I have had over the last 25 years, the first question I have asked the player is, “How do you get to 11 points”? I have never had a student successful explain to me how they win matches. So, the first benefit of the coach is being able to compartmentalize what shots the players need to hold up that identifies their style. That is what will make it effortless with regards to creating a training program. This will set the tone that we aren’t looking to start out creating new shots, but putting your shots under scrutiny to get them to perform better in tournament play. Almost all players without a coach will struggle with how to look at their performance post-tourney, and continue to train in a way that enhances their skills, but not their overall performance. Almost all players recognize their performance by looking at the result, but having a training program is what allows you to organize what aspect of your game was responsible for the result that went good or bad.
Creating a Language
Another great benefit of having a coach is, you get to create a language out of how you play and how to analyze deeper. All players are fantastic at analyzing “That” they missed a shot, but not aware of “How” they missed the shot. This is how a player can make the same error 10-12 times in a match, and not change it. That equates to 3 unforced errors per game, and can easily cost you the match. Your coach creating a component based technical training approach will allow you to analyze an error, plug that error into a formula, which will allow you to point at the component inside your shot that was responsible for the error. There is about 8-10 seconds between the time the ball hits the floor, to the time you get back to the table to prepare to engage in the next point. The faster you can analyze the error, the faster you can make the adjustment in your mind without it affecting your tactical approach. All too often players won’t have the system to analyze their errors when it is happening, but they can analyze it deeper hours after they are removed from the anxiety of the competitive moment. Having a language is what will allow you to analyze and adjust your approach in real-time. This will have an immediate impact on your performance, because the players that perform the best are able to make the adjustments the fastest.
Prevent Training Pitfalls
The player I fear the most as a coach is the one that has solely built their game around what they have seen on the internet or observed in their club environment. The problem with that is they haven’t looked at if they should be playing that exact way or not. Having a player build their game around shots that don’t represent their natural ability will create some serious pitfalls in training and tournaments. If a player that is 6’1 has decided that they want to play like a world class close to the table Chinese player that is 5’6 will create a collapse as some point. The collapse will happen because the player won’t be successful at executing shots under those circumstances. Having a coach will help you develop according your natural talent as well as your trained skillsets. This is the best way to ground your game in the reality of your ability, instead of dreaming up a style that the player can’t pull off. The best way that any player can put themselves on the steepest incline to improve, is having a coach identify their natural skillsets that were given to them by their parents.
Faster Improvement Arc
Where most of the players have had the most frustration is being out in the middle of the ocean with regards to the status of their progress. This is when a player will start to contemplate quitting, changing their game, or switching equipment. Having a coach will all but ensure that these thoughts will never run through your head. Structured Training, Creating a Language, and Preventing Training Pitfalls opens the door for one of the most effortless experiences in sports, and that is creating a Faster Improvement Arc. The coach’s hidden agenda has always been to put the student on the path to fast improvement. Having a coach means you don’t have to ever wing it. Having a coach means you never need to try to figure it out on your own. Having a coach means you never make a bad decision then double down on it. Having a coach is like having your own personal “Table Tennis Yoda” that won’t let your table tennis experience go to the dark side. Improving faster is something that all players ponder over, and having a coach is your best chance to ensure that it happens, as well as having fun while you are doing it.
Tactical & Strategic Benefit
You will go through stages of improving, and one aspect that can’t be overlooked is the unique relationship of developing tactics and strategy. Those two skills run parallel to everything that you have developed so far, and it has it’s own improvement arc as well. If you survey your thoughts, one of the number one complaints you will have is why can’t you compete on the level that you train. And it is because one aspect is executing the technical shot, and the other aspect is how you elevate the shot in a competitive environment. You can only elevate the shot by creating a tactical and strategic approach. Strategy is like having a GPS that is explaining which way to go. Tactics is like which street you must turn down to get to the destination. For example, the coach strategy would be to exploit the fact that your opponent doesn’t have good defense. The tactical approach does have several layers, because the shot match-ups are complex. The first tactical assault against the opponent that doesn’t have good defense is, your serve against their serve return. The second tactical assault is your opening attack against their block. This is the first shot that exploits that style mismatch. If they can get pass the individual block, then the tactical assaults advances to your attack against their actual ability to play defense. That is an advanced approach to how strategy and tactics are used in tournament play. What a coach can do is give your plays objectives that help identify your style, as well as how that shot is supposed to fit in your game. Just because a player can attack, doesn’t mean they are an attacker. Just because a player can block once, doesn’t mean they have good defense. Creating this approach is the best way to ensure that you are competing up to the level that you execute your shots in training.
Reaching Your Full Potential
The number one question that I haven’t gotten from every person I have worked with at some point is, “How good can I be?” My answer has always been, how good is your best shot? Identifying the level of your best shot is the barometer for how good you can be. Your coach’s job will be to identify which shots can work in tandem with your best shot that will enhance your game. If you are a good looper, then having a good serve that can set up your loop is ideal. Having good footwork is the best way to expand the range of your loop so that you are doing it more often. Being able to make short over the table returns off a serve that can’t be attacked is also a great way to ensure that you can get to your loop more often. Being able to identify a medium or deep serve to loop is another way you can increase your loop attempts. Outside of all those skills it is imperative that you can identify the skills that are at or below your current level, and exactly how they play a role in your style. If you backhand is below your level, then your job is to play it in a way that doesn’t disrupt you from getting to your forehand, nor should it become a shot that your opponent can exploit. The same goes for your defensive or topspin exchanges. If this is your design, you won’t have opposing shots fighting for position in tournament play. The luxury of your style design is, you can change or modify it along the way as you develop a better command over certain skillsets. Having this honest relationship with your shots and how they play a role in your game is the best path to reach the potential that not only your coach can see, but you can see as well.
I hope I have made a case that there is a legitimate place in your table tennis development to have the assistance of a coach. If you are buying expensive equipment that has a purpose for training, as well as spending money to travel and play tournaments, then you are more than fully committed to your table tennis advancement. The biggest investment you can make that will have the most impact is taking the time to work with a coach. It will improve every aspect of your involvement in table tennis, including the relationship you have with this complex sport.
My name is Brian, and I’ll see you on the table.