This is Episode 053 of the Ask a Table Tennis Coach podcast. Today’s question comes from Jano and is about how to start coaching beginners.
“Let’s say you’re a halfway decent player yourself and you’re getting your feet wet at coaching or giving advice to beginner players. What tips would you give for an aspiring coach? Where should I start and how should I structure training sessions?”
I really love helping players get started in the world of coaching. I think it’s a really great way to learn more about the sport of table tennis. It’s also a great way to give back to the next generation of players or others players in the club that you can help bring up.
I’d love to share some of the knowledge I’ve picked up over the years of getting into coaching. You don’t need to be an elite player to be a good coach. As long as you’ve got some understanding of the basics you can definitely go and coach some beginners.
It’s more about being able to communicate well and troubleshoot errors that come up more-so than being able to play really well yourself.
It can be quite difficult coaching beginners especially if you’ve been playing for a long time. Lets say you’ve been playing for ten years. You could’ve forgotten what it’s been like when you first started playing table tennis. The kind of things that you did, the drills and what helped.
I started coaching when I was about twenty-two and I found it really difficult to coach beginners. It was much easier to coach a regional session with lots of county or regional level players. Just because that was the environment that I’d been in for the last five years so it was easy for me to take the training sessions that I’d done myself and tweak it then apply it.
Coaching beginners was a completely different skill set. Here are some general tips – Stopping yourself from getting carried away. When I first started coaching beginners I wanted to teach them one shot, then next week teach them another. Keep speeding them through.
If they haven’t actually properly learned all of the original stuff then adding more to that isn’t quite the way to go. I learned quite early on that you really need to focus on the fundamentals of beginners. They need loads of repetition. It’s more of finding ways to make it fun.
They need to play a million forehand drives and they’re going to get bored. So your job as a coach is to find ways to keep them playing it while making those small tweaks to their technique.
Finally just encouraging people is a really good thing to do. Beginner players generally have a lot less confidence than if you’re playing constant players who know they are good and what to work on. So you need to take that into account and motivate them as much as you can.
What do you actually need to do?
Firstly you need to make sure you know all of the fundamental table tennis techniques inside out. You really can’t go around trying to blag it. I mean you can, and some coaches do, but it’ll show quite quickly. You need to have a good understanding of all of the fundamental stuff.
Maybe you want to have a look at ‘How to Play Table Tennis in Ten Days’. That’s my comprehensive article that goes through all the fundamental basics. You might even find out that you’ve got some fundamental errors in your game. I know I certainly did when I started looking into it as a coach.
That’s a good place to start. You’ve got make sure you fully understand the grip, stance, footwork and movement. Then you need to learn the four basic strokes and how to teach them well. So it’s not just understanding what they look like so you can see people doing it, it’s how to help people to learn them.
There are loads of different stories you can tell or examples or picking things up from different sports. You’ll start to develop your own stuff. Maybe a little bit of basic serve and return as well. This is the stuff you need to be doing over and over again well not moving onto anything else until they’re really competent.
There are lots of different guides online to do this. When it comes to breaking down a session what I’d like to do myself is focus on one stroke or area per session. You can do other bits as well and mix things up but I like to let people know what we are going to work on to set a goal to think on for the whole session.
When it comes to the structure of a session. Let’s say you’re doing one for beginners. They’ll be in there for ninety minutes or so, they won’t be doing it for two hours. But for a ninety-minute session, I might break it down something like this.
- A five-minute warm-up. Jogging or a bit of exercise and stretching.
- Then five to ten minutes of knocking up on the table.
- Next, you can start with your basic drills. If you’re doing it with complete beginners a drill can be just playing forehands or backhands. If they’re a little bit advanced you can combine one forehand and one backhand. Basically simple drills where they are focusing on the technique.
- Then a break as this can be quite exhausting.
- Something fun for about fifteen minutes. Recently with my beginners, I’ve been having them all lineup and they have to come on and hit two shots with me, run to the back of the line, and we try and keep the rally going. They’ve got three lives and every time they make a mistake they lose a life. Something like that where they are still doing the same practice but you’re making it feel a little different and fun.
- End with some matches and a cool down as well.
Always stress the matches. Because people want to play matches and it’s difficult to ban all matches. Try and get across to them that it’s not about winning but playing well and correctly while making right decisions. Maybe they won’t listen if they are young but try and get people not too worried about losing.
Another thing I would like to say is if you could find yourself a mentor. Someone who is a really good coach. This can be really helpful and I’ve learned a lot from other coaches I’ve been around.
What you could do is say that you’ll be an unpaid assistant coach. Just do a session with them once a week. You’ll learn so much about the technical side and how they teach the technique. Also generally how they engage they players. Try and pick all of that up.
That’s something that is very worth doing.
Keep checking players grips as they’re going to be changing grips and they need to get that right. Check their stance and make sure they’re crouched down and standing properly and that their feet are in the right position. Do a lot of walking around the hall, speaking to other players, and giving tips here and there.
Make sure you are able to see everyone and that they are staying on track and focused. Beginners can tend to lose concentration more than advanced players. That’s all that you really need to be doing.
If you have players that are decent at playing table tennis in the group that can be quite nice. You can set them up as being the controllers. Have them always on the table and get others to play with them. It can be difficult for two beginners to get a lot out of playing with each other.
The final tip would be to have a go at playing with your wrong hand. If you’re right handed have a go at trying to learn how to play properly, with proper technique, with your left hand. This will help you to relate to what your students are going through because you’ll understand how frustrating it is when you think you’re doing something, but you’re not doing it.
Or you’re not able to put it together and feel awkward because it doesn’t feel natural. We get very used to always feeling good when we play because we’ve done so much practice. Going back to your other hand will get you to relate a little bit more. I learnt a lot from playing with my left hand and it helped me to be a better coach.
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