Does Coaching Improve a Coach’s Playing Skills?

That’s an excellent question, and one that does not have a simple answer. Last week I put in over forty hours of coaching. I was actually surprised to discover this. I knew it was a lot, but it is looking like forty hours might be my new normal. Some of that time was spent with new players, and some with advanced players. Some of the training was pretty intense and physically draining, while some was fairly casual and low key. Time was spent doing multi-ball drills, blocking, chopping, serving, lobbing, and teaching. It was still over forty hours of time that I had my racket in my hand. If improvement came solely by time spent at the table, I should be headed for the Olympics.

I haven’t noticed that kind of improvement in my game, but I am seeing very real improvements with my students. I’m quite certain that this amount of time spent coaching has improved my coaching skills. However, coaching skills are not exactly the same thing as playing skills. Teaching for several hours every day does tend to improve your own understanding of table tennis. I suspect my hand skills are improved as a result of all the time doing drills with all types of players. I feel like I am a far better coach than I was a few years ago, but what about my playing skills?

As long as I’m continuing to coach, it’s doubtful that my ability to play matches will fall off too far from it’s current level. However, coaching long hours is not really a recipe for personal improvement in tournaments. Coaches find themselves standing in one place, blocking loops, and feeding multi-ball. There is a chance that coaches will have all the skills needed to compete, but will rarely have the opportunity to put them together in a match situation. I’ve found that it’s also hard to play your best after several hours of training students. I seem to have developed some ways to get easy points when I do have a chance to play, but you can’t expect to play very well when you are tired.

The answer for me is that working as a fulltime coach has not necessarily made me a better player. On the other hand, it has likely made me a smarter player, and has not really hurt my game. Some coaches can continue to play at a very high level, but not as high as if they were training and not coaching. I still like to compete, but there is a special joy that comes from helping other players reach their goals. There may have to be some sacrifices made by the player that takes up coaching, but the rewards are more than worth it.

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