Lessons learnt from 1000 hours of coaching

Over the past two years, I’ve given over 1,000 hours of 1-to-1 table tennis coaching lessons. That’s a lot of coaching. Even though every session is focused entirely on the needs of the player I’m coaching, I’m also constantly learning. Learning how to be a better coach. Learning how to improve my instruction and drills. Learning more about table tennis.

Since I’ve reached a 1,000 hour coaching milestone, I thought it would be useful to share some of the lessons I have learnt over the past couple of years.

In no particular order…

Ability to learn is not age related

It seems to be common wisdom that children are super-fast learners and adults are slower to pick up new skills. From my experience so far, this doesn’t seem to be entirely true.

Admittedly most children I coach learn quickly (although I have a handful who do not). But adults seem to learn just as quick as well. As long as there is a desire to learn, and a willingness to practise, adults learn just as fast as children. Even 80-year-olds! I have an 80-year-old who I coach and he has made tremendous improvement over the past year. He still has an great zest for life and is desperate to beat the other players at his table tennis club.

And this is one of the best things about table tennis. You can play at any age. And you can improve at any age. Even if you only start playing at 60-years-old, you can still learn the game and play to a decent standard.

Related blog: The sport where young and old battle for glory

Players need to practise their pushes more

Pushing is boring, right? No one seems to bother practising pushes. Players would much rather practice topspin and smashes. As a result, a lot of players have a poor pushing game, which causes them to lose too many points – either the ball goes into the net or pops up too high, giving their opponent an easy attack.

Players can very easily add a couple of points to every game, with just a little bit of pushing practice. A push can be so much more than just an containing, defensive shot. A good push can put your opponent under a lot of pressure and completely mess them up.

Related blog: Put your opponents under serious pressure with short, long and wide pushes

No one likes long pimples

Learning table tennis is hard. There’s lots of different strokes to learn. Lots of different spin variation to get used to. Lots of playing styles to work out. And then you play your first long pimples player. The usual reaction is, “What the heck is going on? Why did I play so bad? Why did I keep missing all my shots?”.

Long pimples can take quite a bit of getting used to, as the spin from the pimples is very different to an inverted table tennis rubber. Some players get upset and complain that pimples should be banned. But actually long pimples are fairly predictable when you understand what effect they have on the ball. Don’t get upset. Get even. Work out how to play against long pimples and then go and destroy them!

Related blog: Tactics for beating a long pimples player

Returning sidespin serves is the most common problem

Beginners, intermediate and even some advanced players struggle to return long sidespin serves. In particular, they struggle with a long sidespin serve to their wide backhand. The players who struggle with this serve have one thing in common. They all tend to passively prod at the serve. The result? The sidespin kicks off their rubber and flies off the side of the table.

The easiest way to return this type of sidespin serve is to do short topspin stroke. You don’t need to blast the ball, just spin it. Your topspin will control the server’s sidespin and the ball will start landing on the table. When I show players how to do this, they’re usually amazed by how simple it is.

Here’s a PingSkills video which recommends the same approach. In this video Jeff really rips the ball. You don’t have to play such an aggressive shot at first. Keep your stroke shorter to begin with and you’ll make less mistakes.

Players improve the most when they practise with a purpose

I encourage players I coach to really make the most of their practice sessions. Too often players practise with no real purpose in mind. They’ll hit a few forehands, hit a few backhands and play a few games. They don’t spend time practising anything specific, so they are slow to improve.

The players who really improve quickly are much more focused. They do drills to improve their weaknesses or make the strengths stronger. They fine tune their technique. They practise serve and receive. They do footwork exercises. They practise with a purpose.

Related blog: A simple way to improve your practice sessions

Winning matches is very difficult when you first start, but it does get easier

One of the toughest things for improving table tennis players, is making the jump from social play to competitive play (in leagues or tournaments). Typically these players have a torrid time to begin with. They lose a lot of matches and it can be quite dispiriting.

But if they stick at it, if they practise with a purpose, these losses do start to turn to victories. The first year of competitive play is always the hardest. During the second year, there’s usually a few more wins, but still plenty of losses. In year three, things really begin to change and they start winning more than they lose.

Moral of this story? Don’t give up too early. Table tennis is a difficult sport to master. It takes time to get good. Keep persevering and you’ll get there.

Related blog:  The dreaded first league season

There’s a lot of table tennis addicts

When I first started coaching, I wasn’t sure how much demand there would be. I thought I would get a little bit of interest from some local players and that would be it. Boy, was I wrong. Table tennis is becoming more and more popular. Everyone wants to play!

I coach juniors. I coach university students. I coach young adults. I coach older adults who have returned to the sport after 30 years. I coach adults who want to keep fit. I coach adults who just want to learn a new skill. And the biggest surprise? All of the 60+ adults who want to play and improve. There’s loads of them. It’s brilliant to see.

It’s an addictive game. There is always something new to learn and someone better to try and beat. And when it all goes to plan, when you play a great game or beat the player you’ve never beaten before, you just want to play some more.

Related blog: Oh no, I think I have table tennis fever

So there’s a few lessons I have learnt. I could have picked out another 50 from the past couple of years, but this blog post is already too long! I’ll share more lessons learnt when I’ve clocked up another 1,000 hours of coaching.

My next coaching session is in 12 hours time.

Can’t wait!

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