Today’s post is a collection of thoughts I had whilst watching Sam play at a local club this week. I realised that if you want to get good at table tennis… YOU NEED TO BECOME YOUR OWN COACH!
The problem is that a lot of the current table tennis “coaches” aren’t actually very good. It’s like there’s a “Can’t Coach, Won’t Coach” thing going on. Some coaches just don’t know what they are doing. Others could coach you but for whatever reason they never actually get round to it. I see and hear this all over the place; from clubs that I visit that are round the corner, to ETT Academy members from India who are frustrated by their coach’s lack of interest in them.
Perhaps they are busy focusing on a group of kids at the club instead. Perhaps they are more interested in just turning up and getting paid than actually providing any value. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is it’s unlikely you are going to get the coaching input you need to improve (unless you can afford to pay for it one-on-one) and therefore you need to take responsibility for your own coaching and start coaching yourself.
This is the first step to taking control of your own development as a table tennis player. Understanding that if you really want to improve you’re going to need to take a more active role.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Becoming your own coach is exciting too! It gives you the opportunity to study the game and learn what’s important in separating the winners from the losers. But how do you go about becoming your own coach? Should you go on a coaching course and get qualified? Well, you could do that but I don’t think it’s necessary.
The internet is such a brilliant resource for learning how to master a skill. Just 10 years ago it would be very difficult to learn about table tennis without going out and finding an expert coach. Today you can read and watch some of the best players and coaches in the world as they share their tips with you from the comfort of your own home! We need to make good use of this.
There is so much great stuff on the internet for learning table tennis that you should be able to become a great coach entirely through videos on YouTube, websites (like this one, and others) and forums (I really like TableTennisDaily).
The key to coaching yourself table tennis is a mindset shift. You need to become somewhat of a table tennis scientist or experimenter, always learning and testing things out. You read a blog post and watch some videos, all about how to play a particular stroke, then go down to your club and try it out. If it works, brilliant. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board and watch a few more videos until you understand the technique in more detail.
This trial-and-error method of learning is brilliant and just the fact that you are taking a much more active role in your table tennis should result in an improvement in your matches. But if you want to become a great player you really need to become a great coach first. So…
What makes a great table tennis coach?
I think the key to great table tennis coaching is plenty of watching. Studies into elite sports coaches have shown this too. The best coaches spend most of their time watching their players. They aren’t saying or doing anything. They are watching. The watching leads to understanding, which can then be used to inform what they say and do.
I’ve been doing this a lot recently as I go to local table tennis clubs with Sam and watch him play against other people. I might spend two hours watching him play and only go and give him some feedback a handful of times. The time spent watching him perform has been invaluable though.
You see, I need to fully understand how he performs in his matches so that I can come up with useful drills to do in training to help him improve. This method of watching, understanding, and then implementing, makes our training sessions highly individualised, which in turn leads to the best results in improvement.
But very few people have the luxury of a coach who is prepared to sit and watch them play for two hours in order to improve the specificity of the next practice session. So what should you do?
The answer is video.
I’ve gone on about how important it is to video yourself playing before but I don’t think you can hear it enough times. You need to be filming your practice sessions and your matches. Whatever your level. It’s not just for the elite players!
Buy a video camera and a tripod and take them to your next competitive match. Film yourself playing and then watch it back at home. Look for areas that are losing you points and could do with some work. Ask a coach or better player to watch the video with you as well if you like. The important thing is that you identify a few weaknesses that if improved would increase your chance of beating that opponent next time.
Then repeat this process with every match you play and you are on your way to becoming a great table tennis coach yourself. Why? Because you are taking the time to watch and understand your own game so that you can improve it.
If you haven’t done so already, please go and buy yourself a video camera and tripod. No excuses! It’s worth it. I promise.