The Table Tennis Coaching Ambush

Ambush – a surprise attack by people lying in wait in a concealed position

Does every table tennis club have one of these guys? On the surface they seem to be the friendliest player in the building. They are more than willing to help the newcomer, the novice, the beginner, the innocent victim. Maybe it’s because I spend so many hours a week coaching that I find the self appointed coach so irritating. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great for table tennis players to help each other. Most players have had someone take them under their wing, show them the ropes, and point them in the right direction. There is however, a definite difference between showing someone the ropes, and roping them into a coaching session.

This usually plays out the same way every time. A new player shows up at a club and eagerly agrees to warm up with a more experienced player. After an unusually long warmup, the new player begins receiving some “helpful” tips. Other players don’t challenge this table because they know this player/coach really doesn’t want to play. He has a deep need to teach, whether you want to be taught or not. New players are inevitably too polite to extricate themselves from the situation. Before you know it three hours have passed, and one table has been monopolized by two players, one of which really didn’t even want to be there.

Was this time truly wasted? Did the new player end up getting three hours of free quality coaching? Perhaps some progress was made, but that is not the point. Players that show up for open play are not necessarily looking for a coaching session. My own policy is to respect new players enough to play them during open play if we end up on the same table. If I have any advice, I save it for after the match, make it brief, and move on. This does make for some lopsided scores, but I think most players would rather lose an honest match, than spend hours having a stranger tell them everything they are doing wrong. There are plenty of ways to make new players feel welcome. Simply talking with them between matches is a good way to actually get to know them, rather than trying to impart all your table tennis knowledge on them at once.

Eventually, new players will likely realize they do need coaching. Some of these ambushed players already have a coach, and really need some match experience. Some players really do have a calling to coach, and should definitely pursue getting credentials, and begin teaching in a more structured way. There are players that are looking for coaching, and are still a little insecure about their skills. They don’t need to be ambushed.

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