Experienced players are often excellent diagnosticians. You may not need to have played very long to recognize weaknesses in other players. Watching other players gives some insights, but playing a match against them reveals far more about their abilities. Every player comes with their own idiosyncrasies. Some of these traits provide special strengths for them, but some may stall their progress for years.
It’s the job of the coach to not only recognize the bad habits, but to figure out what can be done to fix them. Much like a medical doctor, coaches may occasionally be confronted with a problem that there is no cure for. But, most issues can be treated in some manner that will improve the player’s prognosis. Sometimes the obstacle is psychological, sometimes physical, but usually it’s an issue with poor fundamentals in some part of their game.
The first step to a cure is making sure that the diagnosis is correct. It might seem like an obvious problem, but it’s best to get the player to describe how they see it, and what they are experiencing. These conversations frequently reveal the best approach for dealing with their difficulties. Players may completely agree with a course of action, but that doesn’t mean they will always comply. A healthy dose of service practice is a prescription that is often ignored. Some players balk at the idea of focusing on spin over speed. But, if a player and coach can work together, even the most hopeless situations can sometimes be greatly improved.
An excellent example is the situation where a player is struggling with backhand shots. This can be an issue even when players appear to have sound backhand strokes that they easily repeat in warmups and practice. A good approach to improvement is practicing a large variety of backhand shots, and mixing them up. If they can make fifty topspin drives without missing, then it’s time to try them at different speeds with different placement. Plenty of time needs to be spent on backhand loops off of underspin, at differing depths, including over the table. If several sessions can be completely devoted to backhands, players will start to gain confidence. The complications with backhands might not be related to the actual stroke at all. Forehand dominant players may have to give themselves permission to use their backhands, and learn when they should do a backhand block. Some players have discovered that when they used their backhand more, their forehands became more effective, and they were less likely to get too far out of position.
Figuring out how to correct bad habits is not always easy. It can get less problematic for coaches as they see similar situations appear over time. There are times when players can fix problems without a coach’s help. But, coaches are used to troubleshooting table tennis setbacks and stumbling blocks. They should be able to develop a treatment plan for your improvement, and if they can’t, you should probably get a second opinion.