Coaching for Gold in Table Tennis.

A player’s biomechanical inefficiencies are quite often hidden from the human eye. But, even if a coach has a good idea of where technique could be improved, the root cause may be off the radar. Quite often, it may simply be that mental interference is creating muscular tension which is then affecting the technique. Effective questioning and giving choice can be a way to tap into a player’s natural learning system – information is coming from the source rather than guesswork from the outside.

Recently, I worked with Martin, a table tennis player who is fifteen years old and has a physical disability – he has a very limited range of movement in one leg and one arm. Martin said he would like to develop his forehand loop, but his main concern was his recovery for the next shot as he said it was quite hard to push off from his weaker leg. We explored his loop for a bit and he said that when he followed through it was a better shot, but he was still struggling to recover.

Keeping with his agenda, I asked him if he would like to focus on his follow through or his recovery. Martin chose his follow-through. This choice increased the opportunity for greater focus. Martin was more likely to be engaged because he was following his interest. Greater focus on any variable can improve technique all by itself, so I was watching out for this too.

Going with Martin’s intuition was also allowing for the possibility that this journey into the unknown would get to the root cause of the problem he wanted to work through, simply because the decision came from Martin’s mind/body system itself and not from my guesswork. So, we set up a simple drill where he monitored his follow-through by calling out after each shot whether it was a ‘full’ follow-through, a ‘half’ follow-through or a ‘short’ follow-through.

During the exercise, Martin appeared to be finishing with a short follow through around chest height and missing the table too. We had a brief chat about his arm and finish position, but the key came from his natural learning system this time with an open question. By simply asking Martin what he had noticed, we hit gold. He said that he had noticed some tension in his upper arm, possibly due to stopping the bat so soon. I asked him where exactly the tension was, and he told me all along the arm. I then asked him if he would like to explore this with a similar simple observation drill to the first one and monitor the tension in his arm after each shot on a scale of 1-5. He was keen to see what would happen. We began and then after about ten shots a big smile appeared on his face as he started to play with a free arm, recover more quickly, and get more balls on the table. Accessing Martin’s natural learning system had resulted in system-wide benefits. Between us, we had got to the root cause of both of the things he had wanted to improve.

Even with a wealth of technical knowledge, it can be very difficult for a coach to know exactly what a player is experiencing from the outside. Simply asking a player where their attention is and then helping them to increase their awareness can lead to more natural and effortless change. It’s like interfacing with the system rather than bolting things on from the outside. In a way, it’s a journey into the unknown, but it can often produce amazing results.

At Coaching Kids 4 Self Belief, we run face to face workshops and online training for coaches wanting to find out more about how to use a child/player-centred coaching approach.

3 hour face to face workshops from £150. Online Child-centred Coaching course @ £35.00.

If you would like further information or to run a workshop at your club, please get in touch, 01727 838738 or 07715327312.


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