Coaching a Will to Win

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong …..Ecclesiastes 9:11

Far be it from me to disagree with ancient Hebrew scriptures or question biblical truths. But I’ve seen a lot of races, and the swiftest runner frequently wins. Most of the table tennis tournaments I’ve been to feature the top seed playing in the finals. The race isn’t usually won by the tortoise, and the novice player never beats the Olympian.  Occasionally 1400 players do beat 1600 level players. It’s unexpected and rare. That’s why the 1400 player is awarded fifty rating points, and the loser is left wondering how things went so wrong. If you really study the constant shuffling of USATT ratings, you might reconsider the wisdom of religious texts. The “best” player doesn’t always win. 

Actually, the entire rating system is set up to reward the tortoises. It’s the big upsets that allow for some upward mobility on the ratings list. I was recently in the corner of a player I coach at the AGTTA league. He picked up thirty points in his first match, only to lose most of them in his next two matches. It was educational for me. I rarely get the chance to coach someone through their matches. It wasn’t my finest moment either. I did give some decent advice, but really wasn’t prepared for the fall off after the first match had gone so well. The experience did teach both of us some valuable lessons.

Lessons for coaching – You really need to know the abilities of the person that you are coaching. The strategy that would work for you might not be the best for the person you are trying to help. Keep it simple. Players can’t absorb too much information between games. Advice about serves is probably the most helpful. Be positive and encourage players to stick to their style of play. You will need to convey to them that you want them to win as much as they want to. 

Lessons for playing – Consider this some tough love. If you play table tennis or compete in any sport, know that I’m talking to you. But I’m talking to myself as well. If you aren’t playing to win, why are you playing? Why did you drive twenty miles on a Tuesday night if you aren’t going to fight to win every match? Don’t ever start feeling sorry for your opponent. Forget about their age or the fact that they bought you a Christmas present. Today you actually have to consider them your mortal enemy. This doesn’t mean that you should cheat or be a bad sport. You do have to maintain your intensity and mental focus until all your matches are complete. Never be intimidated by your opponent’s intensity. Playing well is not just a physical and mental battle. It’s a emotional battle as well. It’s possible to play table tennis and play passively because there’s no chance of being physically hurt. But your mentality needs to be that of a boxer. 

It doesn’t matter if the player on the other side of the table is rated higher, lower, or exactly the same as you. It doesn’t matter if they are ten years old, male or female, a senior citizen, or the world champion. If you went to the trouble to show up to compete, play all your matches to win. You’ll be a better player for it, and a better person as well.

5 Replies to “Coaching a Will to Win”

  1. Can you do a blog on reflexes/reaction time? I think a summary of how one can improve his/her reflexes would be a good subject. Also, keep sprinkling in some bible verses if you have to, I’m sure Samson Dubina will soon become a fan of yours.

    1. I like the idea of the reflexes blog post. You can expect something soon. I don’t think Samson reads my blog, but I could be wrong. I only put in Bible verses if they really fit with my topic. I thought this one worked perfectly.

      1. I loved the Bible verse. Now that I play pickleball other players are amazed at how fast my reflexes are, I read that a ping pong players reflexes are twice as fast as a tennis players reflexes. I don’t play ping pong at all anymore, so I am worried that I will lose my quick reflexes. So, I was wondering if there is a way for an athlete to improve their reflexes speed. I’m sure it would help older athletes as well, being that reflexes tend to get slower as one gets up in age.

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