March 23, 2018

Coaching "Future Stars" vs. Coaching "Older Players" and Fixing Bad Habits
There's a huge difference between coaching, say, a young, up-and-coming player, who started out with a good coach and has good basic technique; and coaching either an older player, or one who has technique problems.

Many top players, without extensive coaching experience, can be somewhat effective in working with young, up-and-coming players, since they are basically coaching younger versions of themselves, and are simply molding the player as they hone those good techniques as they player develops. In fact, much of the coaching may be inspirational, where you help the player strive to be the best. There's more to it than this, but there's less creative thinking involved in trying to solve problems, as opposed to continued pushing of the player to higher and higher levels, where the biggest need is often exactly what the top player brings - high-level play as a practice partner. (Alas, there are aspects where a top player with less coaching experience might miss, which may hurt the player eventually, but they are often subtle, and mostly effect the player when he's striving for the highest levels. It might eventually mean the difference between a 2600 and a 2700 player - but both levels are rather high.)

Now compare this to coaching older players and players with technique problems. Older players are not striving to play like younger top players, since they are less physical, and so the coaching is different. But inexperienced coaches often have trouble with this, since their experience is often from their own past as a younger, highly physical player. Even I have to remind myself sometimes that there's little point in having older or out-of-shape players do, say, the 2-1 drill, except as a fitness exercise.

The focus on coaching players with poor technique is either fixing the technique or compensating for it. At first glance, this can seem easy for a top player - he knows what good technique is, and simply shows the player with bad technique what he should be doing. Sounds easy, right? But it's far from that as fixing bad technique is more about identifying the root problem or problems. Changing Bad Technique is tricky, and it takes coaching experience to identify problems and how to fix them. Worse, Technical Problems Often Come in Pairs, and inexperienced coaches often see one problem and try to fix that, without noticing that second one - and so they are doomed to fail since you can't fix one without also fixing the other. Meanwhile, a coach is always walking a fine line, balancing the idea of fixing a player's technique with whether it's worth doing so. If a player has reached a high level of play with techniques that aren't considered sound, that doesn't mean they need to change. The shots might be too ingrained to significantly change for the better, and it might be better to focus on other aspects of the player's game, which might lead to better long-term improvement.

I had this experience in tennis. Because of my table tennis, I had a very strong forehand in tennis, better than some of the tennis coaches at my tennis center. But the rest of my tennis game wasn't nearly as strong. The irony is that because of my "ping-pong technique," I didn't have perfect forehand technique, but I had very good technique on other shots where I wasn't very good, such as my backhand. The good coaches understood that all my years of table tennis meant that my forehand technique was ingrained, and while I lost a small percentage of power because of this, I still hit the ball very hard, with great consistency and accuracy, and so the focus should be on the rest of my game. I had one very bad coach who almost ruined my game by doing the reverse - trying to "fix" my forehand technique, which led to a year where I could barely play as he turned my forehand into a beginner's shot while the rest of my name languished. I finally made a rule - work on every aspect of my tennis game except my forehand, and let me worry about that part. That coach didn't like that, so I finally switched coaches. Soon all aspects of my game improved, and my forehand continued to get better, without "perfect" tennis technique. (I compensated for that small loss of power by often taking shots aggressively on the rise, something that came natural with my "ping-pong technique.")

Some might argue, "But Larry, if you'd listened to the coach, you might have had an even better forehand!" Sorry, but that only would have worked if the coach had gotten me many years earlier, and if I had many hours to work on it. In theory, if I were to devote myself 100% to tennis, 40 hours/week, then perhaps I should have worked on the forehand technique, and after a long period of work, it might have gotten subtlety better. But that's not the real world, in tennis or table tennis, and so it was far more important to work on all the other aspects of my game. There was some frustration that I was winning all my matches by pounding consistent forehands, while losing on my backhand, overheads, volleys, and serves, and all that one coach wanted to work on was my forehand!

So it takes some experience to work with older players or those with technique problems. It also takes judgment, where you work with the player in choosing priorities. Trying to turn a 60-year-old, who has been blocking and hitting for forty years, into an all-out looper is silly, yet I've seen coaches try to do that. Of course, it might be the 60-year-old's choice to do so, in which case it isn't silly - and it's never too late to learn new tricks!

Seamaster German Open
Here's the ITTF home page for the event, which starts today in Bremen, GER, March 23-25, 2018.

How to Make Coaching a True Profession
Here's the article.

Improve Your Table Tennis Fast, Beginner to Advanced
Here's the article from Eli Baraty.

Best Table Tennis Serves Tutorial. (Pt 1: backspin, hook)
Here's the video (20:54) from Pongnews/Tomorrow Table Tennis.

ITTF Foundation Manager Position Announced
Here's the ITTF article.

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue that came out on Wednesday.

Ten Tips for Sports Parents
Here's the video (60 sec).

Sung Sisters Play in Main Draw for Junior Girls Singles
Here's the article by Bruce Liu.

Indiana University South Bend Hosts National Tournament
Here's the article and video (1:53) featuring the St. Joseph Valley Open this past weekend.

2018 Butterfly Canada Cup Finals

  • Men’s Singles Finals - Jeremy Hazin vs. Antoine Bernadet (35:31)
  • Women’s Singles Finals - Siqian Wu vs. Joyce Xu (24:30)

Book Pong
Here's the picture!

Ghostly White Creatures Play Pong
Here's the video (19 sec)!

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