Alex Karpovsky

June 11, 2014

Tricks of the Trade for Coaches

Most top players are at least competent coaches, in that they mostly know the basics. They can show you what you need to do, and even guide you through it. However, the difference between an experienced coach and a top player is often experience. The top player knows how a shot should be done properly; the top coach knows how to get a player to do it properly. Here are five common examples that might be considered "tricks of the trade" for experienced coaches. 

  • Grip and Stance: Probably the most common mistake top players and less experienced coaches make when coaching is fixing the symptoms instead of the root cause. More problems come from grip and stance problems than everything else combined; if you fix these two, everything in between tends to fall into place. If there is a grip or stance problem, it twists everything in between. Inexperienced coaches try to directly fix the problems they see (i.e. untwist the twisted areas between the grip and stance) rather than fix the root of the problem, the grip and stance themselves. (Here's a Tip on Grip and Stance.) 
  • Exaggeration to Fix Shots: If a player has an ingrained bad habit, and tries to fix it by imitating the way it should be done, he'll almost always end up with something in between. That's an improvement, but why settle for halfway? Instead, an experienced coach might have the player exaggerate the correction. Result? The player will likely end up with something in between what he was doing and the exaggeration - which will be the way it should be done! For example, early in my career when I stepped around my backhand corner to attack with my forehand I wouldn't rotate around enough or bring my back foot back far enough. Because of this I could only effectively attack down the line; if I went crosscourt I had little power. To fix the problem I spent two weeks at a camp doing drills where I'd forehand hit or loop from the backhand side crosscourt with my back foot way back, and my body rotated around to the right way too much. This put me in a perfect position to attack my own side of the table (!), but not to hit to the other side. I had to practically peek over my shoulder to hit these shots. But after doing this every day for two weeks, I began to rotate about properly when I stepped around to use my forehand from the backhand side, and the problem was cured. (Here is a Tip on Saturation Training to fix bad habits, and here's one on Changing Bad Technique.)
  • Eye Level When Looping with Should Down: Many beginners have trouble learning to loop because they aren't used to lowering themselves into a looping position – they stand up too straight. Inexperienced coaches might spend a huge amount of time trying to get them to get lower, with a wider stance, bending the knees, leaning forward at the waist, dropping the playing shoulder, etc. Can a player remember all this and still stroke the ball? But if you just tell them to get to eye level with the ball when looping, with the shoulder down, it'll do wonders as they naturally do all the things necessary to get that low. (You don't need to literally be at eye level when looping, as you should explain to your student, but if a student who gets close to it will tend to develop a far better stroke. It's similar to the exaggeration technique above.) 
  • Tell a Player What to Do: Inexperienced coaches often tell players what not to do. You rarely should do this. Telling someone what not to do is a quick way to re-enforce the bad habit with the subconscious, which is what actually controls the shot. Experienced coaches know that the key is to tell the player what to do. For example, if a player follows through off to the side when hitting backhands, don't tell him to stop following through to the side; tell him to follow through forward. (But check the backswing, as a good backswing usually leads to a good contact and follow through.)
  • Assuming Grandiose Ambitions: The first thing a coach should do with a new student is find out what exactly he wants. (The exception is kids, who should mostly be taught the fundamentals.) Older players especially might have established games, and there's no reason to destroy their game just so they can learn to play the game "properly," not unless that's what they want to do. Instead, it's often best to take what they have and build on it. There will be some techniques that you'll want to fix, but there will likely be some unorthodox techniques the player does well, and will probably better off sticking with. If so, that's when the coach needs to be creative and think outside the box - something that comes with coaching experience. Inexperienced coaches are often at a loss what to do when faced with techniques that are outside their experience. A classic example would be a player with the Seemiller grip. Many top players and coaches have no experience with the grip, and yet two players have reached the top 20 in the world using it. It's unlikely a top player with this grip, or just about anyone else who's played this way for many years, is ever going to be better by switching to shakehands or penhold. One top "coach" once forced a 2600+ member of the U.S. National Team who used the Seemiller grip to switch to shakehands during a training camp for the National Team. It didn't go over well. The player, Brian Masters, went on to win the gold medal for Men's Singles at the Pan Am Games.

These are just a few examples. Every player is different, and when a coach first sees a player, he has to make an assessment of what bad habits need to be fixed, what good habits need to be developed, find the root cause of any problems, and then reach into his bag of coaching tricks and go to work. 

Table Tennis Tips on the Internet

Here's a listing of online sites with Tips from Table Tennista. (I'm listed. But the links to my blog and tips both go to my blog.)

All About Table Tennis

Here's a site that's all about table tennis, called . . . All About Table Tennis. A lot of coaching and other information there.

Interview with Adam Bobrow

Here's the interview with the Voice of Table Tennis and Stand-up Comedian.

Top Ten Shots From the China Open

Here's the video (5:59).

Ping-Pong Redux

Here's a table tennis math puzzle from the New York Times. Warning – only for math nerds (like me)! Make sure to check out the comments. One of them ran a simulation and pointed out that in the scenario described, it would take an average of 1.3 million points to win a game! Table Tennis Nation also did a commentary on this.

Unique Racket at World Hopes Week

Here it is. I've always wondered why we use such simple rackets, and adjust our grip to the racket, rather than the reverse.

Alex Karpovsky Plays Table Tennis

Here's a picture of the star of the TV show "Girls" playing table tennis. Do you like his paddle?

Funny Table Tennis Pictures and Cartoons

Here are seven from the New Hampshire Table Tennis Club.

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