Role of the Coach after Technique
Rowden Fullen (2003)
GROWTH AND DIRECTION
THE BIG PICTURE
Just what is the function of the coach after fulfilling his basic duty of establishing a sound technical base for his player? The responsibility of the coach is to fully unlock the capabilities of his player, so that he or she plays as nearly as possible to the absolute limits of full potential.
1. STYLE DEVELOPMENT
What the coach must bear in mind from the start is that each player is a unique individual, with differing strengths, reactions and skills - at no time can you force him or her into a style of your choosing. Rather you must help players to develop and flower in their own way. In the areas of technique, tactics and physical exercises the coach can lead, in mental areas and in the choosing of a style, with which they feel comfortable, the players should have a large say. It is only the players who know what risks they are prepared to take, whether they are more at ease playing close or back, fast or slow, spin or drive.
With young players it is important to isolate their strengths in the early years and to put in a fair amount of training time to make these as formidable as possible. Strengths should be used and used to win games. The player even at a relatively young age should know how to get his or her strengths in during the match. This is why too it is very important to work on serve and receive with young players. Unless they develop an understanding of these areas of the game they are often restricted with what they can do with the next one, two or three balls and they never get the chance to play their winning strokes.
A player’s style should always be based on and directed towards his or her greatest strengths but always he or she should bear in mind that style is a living, growing organism, developing all the time however slowly. When it stops progressing you stop moving too and stagnation sets in!
Table tennis is a very technical sport and the basic law is adaptation and counter-adaptation. Your player must have the capability to read what is happening and to adapt quickly in an ever-changing situation. Each player tries to adapt to the technique, tactics and playing style of the opponent and to avoid being ‘controlled’ by the way the opponent plays.
However table tennis is largely a sport of conditioned reflex patterns where players train to react automatically. Therefore their ability to react and adapt to new aspects is limited by their training! This is why new techniques, tactics and unusual styles of play are difficult to cope with. The ‘automatic pilot’ doesn’t work as well any more and players’ reactions are unstable, inaccurate, lacking smoothness and coordination. In fact the player who can keep one step ahead of the competitors in the innovation of technique, tactics or playing style, will have a big advantage (especially now we are playing to eleven up) because the opponent is unable to adapt in time. Remember the prime skill of table tennis is to read the game and to adapt in an ever-changing situation.
As a result it is vital for coaches to ensure that their players, right from the formative years, have the opportunity to train and play against all styles of play and combinations of material. In this way the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that the player has to work so hard to build up, cover a much larger series of actions and it is rather easier for him or her to adapt to new situations. In other words the content and method of training assume rather more importance than we may have initially thought, especially in the formative years.
The coach should be continually researching new training methods and be on the look out for innovations in technique and style and individual fortés which may benefit his player. What the coach should be looking at is how unique characteristics can be turned to advantage. Does the player have a ‘specialty’, something a little different which causes problems for opponents — or are there aspects of his or her game which can be accentuated to fashion such a specialty?
4. GROWTH AND DIRECTION
The coach must never neglect the importance of growth. Often coaches take players up to a certain ‘plateau’ then the development stops and levels out. Growth must continue throughout the player’s career, at no time should it be allowed to come to a stop. There must always be progression, without this there can only be stagnation.
Many players and coaches too do not seem to appreciate that development must be in the right direction for the particular player and that the right training must be devised to enable that player to evolve and mature. Indeed it is the prime function of the coach to unlock the potential of his player. Direction is vital, if the player follows the wrong course for him or her then much of that potential can remain untapped.
If a player is to reach near-maximum potential, it is vital that he or she is aware of how to achieve this. It is the responsibility of the coach to show his player where he or she is going and how to get there! Your player must be aware of his or her strengths and how to use these to win. Each competitor should in essence play his or her own game.
5. THE BIG PICTURE
The mental aspects of our sport are just as important if not more so than the technical and physical areas. How many players have the right attitude and the optimal level of nervous excitement in the training hall to get the best out of the session? So often training operates at a lower and less intense level than it should because players bring the wrong attitude to the training hall. It is one of the functions of the coach to set the atmosphere.
The player’s consciousness is more important than his or her technical proficiency. Skills can be learned but attitudes and the quality of consciousness are difficult to improve. Each player should be aware, should be able to ‘feel’ how he or she is contacting the ball, how he or she is moving, how his or her own body is performing during play. Many players are in fact quite insensitive and indeed ignorant as to just what is happening with the various parts of their own bodies when they play!
In many cases the ability to be totally aware of exactly how the player is performing, only evolves after some research or exploration into the mental side of the game. In fact many athletes in many differing sports are now becoming much more conscious of the value of the ‘mental side’ of performance.
If the player is to be more aware for example of how he or she functions and how the body operates in a playing situation, it is important that he or she studies relaxation techniques and is first able to relax. It is quite important also to understand that the ability to concentrate and the ability to handle stress are very closely connected. The ability to focus on the task in hand and not to let oneself be sidetracked is one of the most essential qualities in competition. Table tennis is one of the sports that will only tolerate a relatively low level of tension. Too much and it is extremely difficult to perform. Also different phases of an individual match will have differing levels of stress and pressures and players should understand this if they are to be effective.
If your players are to aim for the top levels it is critical that they start to analyse their performance and what is happening when they train and compete. This should become a regular part of their development and become a habit. What often distinguishes the elite from the ordinary athlete is the ability to make mental assessments more or less automatically. Any mental programme will only become fully automated if it is systematic and goal-oriented and indeed continuous and progressive.