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What does it take to become a true leader and create true team culture?
Credit: eBaTT

Sammy Kaye, shares his insights (professional table tennis coach), how it’s possible to make a living from the sport and what to expect…

Do we create systems in our lives or are we stuck inside one? I believe it’s a bit of both but we have a choice to make one greater than the other. The problem many face is direction, and I’m no different, having felt directionless and having no idea in the world what to do.

We’ve all been there to one extent or another, desperately scrolling through the Times Top 100 Employers or through the endless Linked-in/Indeed maze.

Well…that was me a year ago!!!

This time last year I was a 21-year-old graduate and truthfully, I was a little bit lost.
Luckily Table Tennis gave me a strong anchor and guided me to where I am today…

Many don’t believe or think it’s possible but I am on a pathway that makes me happy, healthy and prosperous, via table tennis. Today aged 23 I’m a full-time table tennis coach, based in London England.

What makes a good coach?
Legendary Jiu Jitsu Coach- John Danaher and Legendary TT Coach Liu Guoliang
Credit: LondonReal
Credit: Wiki,  Pierre-Yves Beaudouin/ WikipediaCommons

Table Tennis Journey

If you are reading this, then it means we share the same passion through Table Tennis which gives us all joy, meaning and purpose. The excitement that we all feel before practice and matches keeps us playing for years and for many it’s a life long relationship.

I have been playing for 10 years now and through the sport I’ve had so many amazing experiences; playing in school, university, local and national tournaments and I’ve even been lucky enough to play in international tournaments in several countries. I believe that table tennis is a life long journey for me and I’m very excited to see what adventures lay ahead.

Due to several experiences and good fortune I have made the first few steps in building a career in coaching a sport that I love. Going to work every day gives me genuine excitement, joy, meaning and purpose.

Opportunity Calls!

We are all young once.

Young people have so much energy, passion and want to give and learn…

However, we rarely know where to start.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the immense social pressure to achieve academic success and then feeling lost after our university studies, with a degree in our pocket (not to mention a student loan on our shoulders!)

I was no different. Did all the right things at school, achieved good grades, went to a good university and got a respectable degree. But, at the end, (after passing my test, I didn’t know where to drive to?!) I felt lost, unassured and to be honest, quite down.

We must keep our eyes and minds open

Out of the blue I received a text message from Roger Close, a dad of one of my university friends Anthony.

Do I want to do some coaching at a Table Tennis Club? (he volunteers at).

Hmnn, an empty summer with not much to do, ABSOLUTELY I DO!

I was excited but also very nervous. I had not played for a long time due to covid and studying.

The kids at the club who know me now may not believe me when I say this, but, I was extremely nervous. The session I helped in seemed to go down okay as a week later I was called by the head coach of the club, Zoltan Hosszu. ‘Sammy I heard you did a bit of coaching at the club, do you want to help me out at another club of mine?’.

Sure, why not?…

A couple weeks down the line. I begin training again with my personal coach and mentor Eli Baraty.

We had a little catch up after covid-19 and my university absence. I tell him that I have finished university, am taking a year out and that I have been doing a bit of coaching. Eli lights up, ‘Sammy that’s excellent, you should have told me, I can also give you some coaching opportunities if you are up for that.’ I express my interest and thank him.

Follow your gut

Do you ever have that gut feeling that you are heading in the right direction but you can’t explain why?

For whatever reason, spending 50% of my time doing graduate scheme applications and 50% of it on Table Tennis, made me feel like I was making sense of the crazy world and path ahead of me.

Back to School!

My first consistent regular coaching work, was at a school.

Manic, hyper, sometimes disorganised, random, ever-changing. These are some of the ways I would describe coaching in schools.

However, I would also describe it as; uplifting, inspiring, joyful, interesting, rewarding and a privilege.

The Coaching Balance in the School Environment

Over the past year I have probably worked in about 10 different schools so I have had a flavour of different working environments and cultures, and different kids.

Each school has different expectations of you, they have different kids (which often means varying levels of behaviour).

This means I had to become very astute, aware and ready to adapt.

Some of the kids in the programmes are wanting to play to just blow off some steam, others want to genuinely improve and train, and others train outside school and ‘think they know it all’.

So as a coach you have to be able to service all of these kids (and as a result satisfy the school in the process).

Not easy…
But here’s a few tips!

Listen, understand, and then speak!

1-1 Private Coaching.

These are some key traits that are required for 1-1 private coaching.

The private 1-1 session is like the ultimate litmus test for whether you want to become a table tennis coach in the UK as it will be about 50% of your income.

It tests your technical, observational, emotional and social skills as a coach.

It is an intimate, highly focussed and bespoke service as you are trying to cater for each individual’s unique table tennis requirements.

The key word here is INDIVIDUAL.

I shall elaborate

Your goal generally speaking, is to find ways of elevating your student/client’s game. On face value this may seem simple, but it is actually a much more difficult job than you may think.

Getting better at Table Tennis is not just about stronger forehands and backhands, it’s also about developing all parts of yourself, your mind, your body, your resilience, your character. To make someone a better table tennis player you must develop each part of that.

However, not everyone who wants private coaching is prepared to work on those types of things, so you have to understand the person that you are coaching and what they want to achieve in their game before you start working hard to develop their game.

Some people might be working on their fitness rather than technical ability, some people might just want a sparring session with a quality player/coach who gives them one or two tips along the way. Others may want to achieve high, high goals and you as a coach have to assess what is required for them to achieve it and then advise, manage expectations and provide yourself to them accordingly.

Furthermore, as a coach you must understand that the world is a vast tapestry and people are so different. Not everyone can think like you, look like you, talk like you and play like you.

For real coaching magic to happen, there needs to be a meeting of minds so that you understand and believe in your player and they understand and believe in you. (This also takes time and nurturing).

Learning on the job

Eli Analysing a new service receive that I am struggling to execute.

Eli started coaching me when I was 17. We have both come a long way since then. He understands me and I understand him. This allows us to grow together.
Credit: eBaTT

I have already had the immense privilege to have coached people all of all races, genders, ages and orientations. I have developed my skills by coaching all of them and I have also learnt a hell of a lot about life and people. I have coached some truly incredible human beings who have come from all walks of life. Lawyers, accountants, business people, businessmen/woman, millionaires, parents, ordinary average joes, and some truly fantastic kids.

I am indebted to them, as I have learnt so much from them all.

Credit: Peregrine Global Services

Administrate or Drown!

As a coach, you must possess many skills that are unique to you and your profession.

However, when it comes to organisation and business administration, table tennis coaching is very much alike to every other field. It is an essential.

In fact, it might even be more important to coaching than in a more conventional career because as a coach you are often representing yourself and if you mess up there is no one to cover you and you will bear the consequences of your poor organisation.

You must regularly, call, email and contact clients, you must organise your finances, keep notes on your students, you must dot your I’s and cross your T’s when going into new ventures such as managing health and safety, equipment etc.

I have been awake at 2/3am many times trying to keep everything organised and in order.

Mentoring and Growth

What do you want from life and do you want success?…

Then you must be prepared to eat humble pie, learn from people who know more than you…

The last year has possibly been the most significant growth period in my life.

I have the privilege of being mentored by a world class professional in their industry who also happens be a great person who cares about me and my growth.

Lessons learnt, are endless…

Initially my coaching began with small pockets of work for eBaTT. This includes; some schools, group coaching , 121’s alongside work for other clubs too. Eli must have seen something in me and offered me a 6 month part-time contract with a view to potentially renew.

This was exciting but of course, naturally I felt nervous.

Therefore I took my time in reflection of the opportunity and to think about what I wanted before accepting a new pathway.

I did not want to commit to something that I was unprepared to see through. I think it is respectful to take your time on job offers, but don’t take too long!

I took a few days and wrote some of my thoughts and questions down…

Eventually I decided that I wanted to take it, naturally I had questions and queries which Eli answered.

Experience over money

Before I accepted the contract, I had been doing coaching work for a few clubs across London and was getting paid a little more per hour than what I was initially being offered on the contract by eBaTT.

So naturally I asked for more than what I was offered on the contract.

Eli, then explained to me that looking simply at money is an extremely narrow view on our 6-month Contract. He explained to me that what the contract is really about is about growing, learning and experience, plus much more. He said that what I will learn with him on this programme will be much more valuable to me than being paid a little more money. I may be getting less on paper but embedded in the whole package has far greater value to me as an individual than a slightly higher wage.

He explained his reasoning from his perspective and his business’ perspective. The business has costs to bear (administration, liability risk etc). But also made it clear to me that a key piece of value that Eli would be giving me is his time. In Eli’s words, he would will be on call at any time (often at early morning hours if need be) to mentor and grow me as a coach, employee and human being.

Moreover, Eli noted his resume which as his student I am well aware of and thought, this guy is definitely the best in the business, if I am going to do proper table tennis work experience why would I do it with anyone else?

I thought about it, I wanted to work as a coach and it was only for 6 months, if I didn’t like it or wanted to change, I didn’t have to do it forever. Not much to lose and everything to enjoy and gain from…

I accepted.

Eli, asked me to do some experience with him during his 1-1 sessions before starting official in January.

I shadowed him in some sessions and took over a few… I WAS BLOWN AWAY!

I learnt and insane amount in such a short space of time. I was being taught so many secrets of coaching as well as general life and business lessons such as communication, people skills, body language and so much more.

I immediately understood Eli’s perspective when we discussed our contract.

Fast forward to the present…I can honestly say that Eli has kept to his word. He has put so much time into mentoring me, secondly, I have grown a tremendous amount as a result and thirdly, I truly see the embedded value that was promised in our original agreement. I have learnt that there are some (many) things when it comes to work which are much more valuable than money.

A quote from Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. ‘The poor work for money, whilst the rich work for experience.’ I can honestly say that I have had a very rich experience so far.

To this day I receive constant mentoring and advice on coaching, communication, business and table tennis knowledge.

Time and experience, from before I properly started coaching to where I am now, I genuinely believe that I’m positively unrecognisable- as a coach and as a person.

The love of coaching hooked me, so much so that I turned down a graduate scheme offer in order to pursue a new-found passion and now career.

Out the door in a heartbeat!

Loving something is unfortunately not enough, if you want it to thrive and grow!

You must be prepared to put the work in to get it to grow.

As a table tennis coach, I believe it is my duty to be ready to grow myself and the sport.

That means when opportunities come, I grasp them with a firm hand. This year I have been called up many times at the last minute by Eli…‘Sammy, do you want to do this?’, ‘Sammy I need someone to help me with this…’ ‘Sammy I have a wonderful opportunity for you’. 80-90% of the time I have said yes and learnt so much from each experience.

A particularly memorable experience. I got a call at 9am on my day off (a very early time for me on my day off AHAHA!).

Eli: ‘Sammy, what are you doing today…?’

Half asleep… I say: ‘errrrr…I’m seeing my girlfriend’

Eli: ‘I have a really exciting corporate event that I just got told about this morning at 7:30am, are you up for it?’ ‘

Me: ‘Yeah, but I need to ask ‘the girlfriend’’, (luckily she was relaxed about it. I treated her to a nice dinner afterwards) I called Eli back ‘Alright, I’m down let’s do it’.

Later in the day, we hauled a table into a van, drove into central London, parked outside the offices and wheeled the table into the premises and up into the lift and set it up in the middle of the company offices.

We put on a wonderful table tennis clinic involving an exhibition, coaching and match play. The Employees began to swarm in wanting to be a part of the tremendous vibe that we had created. It was fantastic.

It was such a mind-blowing experience for me. It reinforced the fact that we can literally take table tennis anywhere and everywhere. Our sport can really do great things and we can really elevate it.

With imagination, determination and partnership we can achieve great things…

eBaTT Entertainment Event
Credit eBaTT

Closing thoughts and Thanks

Firstly, it is my humble opinion that the world would be a better place with more table tennis coaches in it. However, it is a very difficult pursuit and in a way is analogous to starting a business…

Many coaches are on their own and are developing their skills, finding their USP, selling themselves, trying to manage all their administration, costs, personal issues all with knowledge that their will be no guarantee of success.

However, when are there ever any guarantees in life?

It is difficult, but, it is possible, there are several full-time coaches in England and of course it would be great to have more. I aim to become a worthy addition to the small network of coaches in the country and will continue to grow myself as a coach alongside the whole community.

I love competition, and see so many positives from it, therefore my aim is to work as hard and smart as possible to become the best.

I have been extremely fortunate in my coaching journey so far. You could say that I have been at the right place at the right time.

Moreover, I work for eBaTT who provide me constant support and mentoring and give me so many opportunities. I am now giving my full-time energy and focus to growing eBaTT and enacting our vision across the UK.

The eBaTT Centre is now open and we are working non-stop to make it a success and to transform table tennis across the UK.

I want to say thanks to eBaTT for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity. I also want to say thanks to Roger Close and Zoltan Hosszu who reached out to me out of the blue and helped kick start my coaching journey.

I have many more thoughts about the sport and coaching that I wish to convey in the coming months and years.

Stay tuned….