June 11, 2012

Tip of the Week

Dealing with Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship.

Bad coaches

Since this week's Tip of the Week is on Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship, let's continue the trend and look at the dark side of coaching. There are lots of great coaches out there. And I've often blogged about good coaching habits. However, let's talk about the other side of the coin: bad coaches. Here is a list of seven types of bad coaches. (I'm sure I missed some.) There is a lot of overlap between these categories, and the differences between some of them are subtle. There are probably bad coaches who combine the worst of multiple categories!

  1. Self-taught coaches who either don't really understand high-level table tennis that well. Often they were mid-level players who really think they know the game, but don't have the experience to realize they don't. The stereotypical example is the player who has had little or no experience in watching top players develop, but believe they know how it is done by watching the end product, i.e. top players (usually on video) after they have already become top players. Highly perceptive people can sometimes learn to be good tacticians this way, but to learn what a top coach does in the practice hall you have to be in the practice hall to learn.
  2. Highly-opinionated coaches who can only teach one way, and often are mistaken in what they do teach. They usually were not top players, and teach techniques that they themselves have little experience at and which they don't really understand. These types of coaches are legendary, but players usually see through them once they start observing what top players actually do, and see that there are sometimes multiple ways of doing something, depending on the player's style and technique.
  3. Those who can only coach their own playing style. Often they are former top players. I've seen coaches take well-developed and successful styles and practically destroy them by trying to make them play the way they did. A good coach understands the game in general, not just from his own game's point of view. Some top players are masters of knowledge regarding their own game and how it relates to playing other styles, but only know little beyond their own game.
  4. Those who live in the past, who essentially say, "This is how I did it, this is how my coach did it, and this is how my coach's coach did it, so that's how you will do it." I call these types of coaches "Parrot Coaches." These types of coaches are unable to change with the times as new techniques are developed.
  5. Those who do not personalize, and instead teach everyone the same. This comes out of pure laziness.
  6. Those only out for money, and are impatient or unenthusiastic. They often teach sound fundamentals, but getting them to take the extra effort to really develop someone as a player is like pulling teeth.
  7. Bad attitudes. Some of the "best" coaches are not very good coaches because of bad attitudes. One of my best students ever early in my coaching career reached #1 in both Under 14 and Under 16. He idealized a particular world-class player whose style he had copied, watching huge numbers of tapes of this player. Then, one day, lo and behold, the player came to the U.S., and was going to play in a major local tournament! Better still, he advertised that he would be coaching the night before at the tournament site, at a very high rate. My excited student signed up for a 30-minute lesson. They were speaking Chinese during the session, so I didn't know what they were saying as I watched, but gradually my student seemed more and more unhappy, and he left the session crying. According to him and to several onlookers who understood Chinese, the "coach" had spent the entire session berating him, insulting his game, and ended the session by telling the kid he had no potential as a top player. If I'd known what was going on, I'd have pulled him from the session immediately. Instead, completely disheartened at this treatment from his "hero," the kid barely tried that weekend, losing to nearly everyone as I watched helplessly from the sidelines, and never really overcame it. After years of training six days a week, he stopped trying in training sessions, stopped trying in school, and six months later, his parents pulled him from table tennis. (I later found out that this top player was notorious for this type of thing.)

Interview with Stellan Bengtsson on Sports Psychology

Table tennis sports psychologist Dora Kurimay interviews Coach Stellan Bengtsson (1971 World Men's Singles Champion) on the most important aspects of sports psychology.

Spin City Sports Table Tennis

Here's an article from the Tampa Bay Times on the Spin City Sports full-time table tennis club in Largo, Florida.

Great Point, Great Shot

Here's a video of a great 34-shot rally in the final of the Japan Open this past weekend, with Japan's Jun Mizutani (the lefty on the far side) fishing or lobbing back 13 shots in a row against Korea's Oh Sang Eun, ending with one of the best point-winning lobs you'll ever see. (Mizutani wins the final, 9,9,.-11,-4,12,5.)

Ping-Pong Death Match

Since we have an interview with Bengtsson on sports psychology, it's only appropriate that we end with a video of a Ping-Pong Death Match (5:28). Ever play ping-pong with a guy who takes the game way too seriously?

Non-Table Tennis - New SF Story Published

My science fiction story "The Oysters of Pinctada" went up today in the new issue of Flagship Magazine. My name's on the cover! Alas, you'll have to buy the issue to read the story. (Here's my Science Fiction & Fantasy page.)


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Re: June 11, 2012

That Mizutani vs Oh match looked like a classic squirrel vs tree battle.

Re: June 11, 2012

Speaking of good coaches, do you recommend any that are in the Bay area?

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: June 11, 2012

Hi Jrolfes, there are a lot of good coaches in the Bay area, but alas, I can't really recommend which one to choose since I only work with them irregularly, since I'm 3000 miles away. Anyone from ICC and World Champions Club should be good. 

Re: June 11, 2012

Thanks, I'll check them out.

Re: June 11, 2012

The busiest coach at my club is a #2, #3, #4, and a bit of #5. He taught me for 6 months at 2 hrs/week and it was a good start. He's all about two-winged looping in the classic Chinese style similar to Xu Xin. Few--very few--beginners are ever going to have the athleticism or footwork of Xu Xin! I started from scratch at the age of 57 and even though I was a decent athlete in my youth, this style was just not for someone my age. (I did lose 60 pounds in 6 months though!) I'm a good self-learner and after watching many, many other players both on video and live at the club I changed to a new coach. My new coach has international playing and coaching experience (most recently he was coach of the Nicaraguan team at the 2011 Teams in Rotterdam). He is very flexible concerning playing style and will work with what he thinks is best for each student even if it's different from his own style.


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: June 11, 2012

Hi Willis,

Unfortunately, your experience is a common one. One thing I've noticed is that this often happens in the first year after a top player becomes a coach. As he gains experience he begins to realize that there was table tennis outside the bubble he grew up in as he developed into a top player. If he's a thinking player, he has the technical knowledge to teach properly, but many either don't think, are too lazy, or are too stubborn to do so. 

Here's a fascinating case. Brian Masters, who plays with the Seemiller grip, was on the U.S. National team for a number of years, and was the huge upset winner of the Pan Am Gold Medal in 1983. He went to an advanced camp (at around age 20) with a very opinionated and narrow-minded coach. The coach made Brian play shakehands all week! Brian shrugged his shoulders, did what the coach asked, and of course went back to his regular grip after the camp. There was no way he was ever going to be nearly as successful switching to shakehands at that age.