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Advice for Table Tennis Advisors and Coaches

By

Advice for Table Tennis Advisors and Coaches

Piers Carter knows it's all about the player (William Henzell), not him.

© 2007 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
In this article I'm going to touch on the subject of giving advice to players between games and during time-outs. It's an aspect of table tennis that doesn't get much attention, so I'll attempt to shine some light on the topic and throw out some suggestions to help you when you are called on to act as an coach for a player during a match.

You Don't Have All Day

First of all, it's important to understand that you only get 1 minute to give advice between games, or during time-outs. And if the time-out was called by the opponent, then you might have even less than a minute, depending on when the opponent is ready to go again. You don't have time to shoot the breeze with your player - get to the point fast. And if the opponent was the one to call the time-out, it's probably best to make sure that you start with the most important advice first, just in case your time is cut short.

Don't Rush

On the other hand, don't start talking at 90 miles an hour either - you'll make it harder for your player to understand. Keep your speech normal, but with extra attention to speaking clearly, so you don't have to waste time repeating yourself. I usually stick to around 3 items of advice, which gives me around 20 seconds for each item, which is plenty of time.

Prepare Your Player

Before you can starting laying out your pearls of wisdom, you need to make sure that your player is ready to listen. If your player has just come off the table after an exciting win or a bad loss, you might need to spend a few seconds helping him to get his mental equilibrium back, so that he can refocus and be able to absorb what you have to say. Otherwise, the first half of your advice is likely to go right over his head while he is still reliving the last few points prior to the break.

Every player is different, which makes the job even tougher. Some players will need revving up, while others have to be calmed down first, before you can get to the actual advice you want to impart. Yet other players need to spend the first few seconds of the break talking to you, allowing them to purge the past few points from their mind and leaving them ready to listen. You need to know your player and act accordingly.

Stick to Small Chunks

Experts claim that the human mind works best at handling up to 4 to 7 chunks of information at a time - much more than that and our ability to process and remember information falls. You've only got a minute to work with, and an important table tennis match can be stressful, so I'd recommend erring on the low side of that figure, and sticking to no more than 3-4 pieces of important advice.

What types of advice should you give? It depends on the match situation, but keep in mind that your job as an advisor is to return the player to the table so that he is best prepared to win. Focus on the three or four most important things that you believe will make a difference to the match, such as:

  • If you have spotted a point winning strategy, explain it.
  • If your player has a weakness that is costing him points, give him a way to cover it up.
  • If your player is losing his focus, remind him of his game plan.
  • If something is working really well for your player, encourage him to do it more often.
  • If something is not working properly, give him an better course of action (this is generally much more effective than just saying not to do something).
  • If your player needs his mental state changed, work on calming or exciting him as needed.
  • If your player's technique is getting sloppy, remind him to stay sharp when playing the stroke. Telling a player where he is making a mistake with his technique is OK, but telling him what to do to fix the problem is more important. Be careful to stick to giving advice on how the player can perform his best stroke - the middle of a match is not the time to try and teach or modify his existing technique!
  • Keep your advice brief and to the point. It's also a good idea to match the level of your advice to the ability of your player. You might tell a beginner to serve shorter by reducing the spin on his serve, while a more advanced player should be reminded to get a better skim of the ball at contact. There's no point giving advice to a player that is beyond his ability to carry out.
  • If a player disagrees with any of your advice, don't argue the point - all this will do is waste precious time and upset both of you, distracting you from the job at hand. Listen to why your player disagrees, then think hard for a few seconds about whether this information suggests another course of action to take. If something comes to mind, share it with your player. If inspiration does not strike, spend a little time during the next game thinking about the problem and what to do about it.

Conclusion

Coaching a player is tough job - you have to be watching the match and constantly analyzing what is going on, so that you can focus on the most important issues to give to your player in the brief one minute intervals between games or during time-outs. You have to be able to present this vital information clearly, calmly and concisely, and you have to be able to monitor the mental state of your player as well, keeping him in his optimal zone as much as possible. Finally, you need to be able to leave your ego at the door, remembering that you are there to support your player and to allow him to shine in the spotlight - it's all about him, not you. It's about helping him to win, not proving yourself right.

No, it's not an easy job at all, but it is still very satisfying when someone you advise performs well, and you know that a small part of his success was due to you. And remember, coaching is a skill like any other, the more you do it, the better you will get!

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