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What Makes A Top Table Tennis Coach?

As a coach, I often ask myself  “what makes a top table tennis coach”. I want to better myself and raise, British table tennis as a whole. I have been privileged in achieving many great things as a coach but does that classify me as a “Top Coach”?

Firstly what is classified as a top table tennis coach?

For me, a top table tennis coach is someone who is able to bring the best out of their students. A coach that; provides the tools and knowledge to execute correct technical shots with correct decision making. This is a long and complex subject but ultimately a top coach must possess; – good knowledge of technique, good communication skills, – open-minded, – willing to learn, – must not possess a big ego ‘think he/she are the best. I believe there is no such thing as the ‘best coach. I will explain further (below). Furthermore, the coach must be able to adapt his/her coaching style to suit various conditions, facilities and personalities. This list can go on forever but these are the fundamentals needed to be considered as a top table tennis coach.

English Open


No such thing as the best coach:

I have worked with some of the best coaches in the world and learnt a lot’s from each coach and put my own personal touch on some. Furthermore, no matter how good I believe I am or others perceive me to be, I continuously thrive towards bettering myself and my coaching ability.

Table Tennis Scenarios:

Here are a few debates I often face; 1) Many TT players ask me if I would like to be England’s National Coach? or 2) Eli, do you think Lui Guliang is the best coach in the world? My Answers 1) Currently, I do not want to be a National Table Tennis Coach and 2) No, Liu Guiliang is not the best coach in the world! There is no ranking system for coaches. Yes… I hear you saying, but Liu, coaches the best table tennis nation in the world! That’s true but it does not make him the best. For example, if I told you, around 100 million table tennis players play in your country and they see table tennis as an opportunity (to escape poverty). Furthermore out of those people you get to pick and choose the best 30 players to coach, what would you think? 

Personally, given those circumstances, I would think I have the easiest job in the world. You get the best of the best with an amazing coaching team and infrastructure behind you. In fact its the same for every national coaching job you get the best in your country to work with. When Liu, retired as a player he worked with the national team for a few years as a sparring partner and assistant coach. Liu worked his way up towards the head coaching role. Please don’t misunderstand me, I have no doubt Liu is an amazing coach but I also know he would very much struggle if he had to do what someone like myself does. Coach players from beginner level to national/international. Without any help or supporting team alongside coaching 20/30 other kids at the same time. To make matters worse all the players are of a different level. Did I forget to mention behaviour issues which require mentoring (the disobedient kids) and limited space-facilities and time.

The Whole Picture:

I don’t want to be negative but often we don’t know the ins and outs, the background, the full picture because we are only exposed to the front end, (the end result). Therefore we assume and think what we see is the truth and that’s where it all goes wrong. Most top coaches are not the national coaches they are the local, club, personal and regional coaches. They are often hidden and unseen by the prestigious title of the national coaches. In fact, one of my former players represented England and reached the semi-final of a major international event. I had worked with the player around 5 years at the time and approximately 20 hours per week. I stumbled upon a press release mentioning my player’s achievement alongside the national coach receiving credit for his wonderful achievement. I was not mentioned but the England coach got praise for what a wonderful job he was doing with the player (sad but true). 

Systematic coaching

I also see the game being coached the same/similar, methods and styles throughout a nation. No matter where you go in the world you will see drills such as backhand to backhand and forehand to forehand, Falkenberg, middle wide etc. So how can a coach be considered better than another if most coaches work in a similar manner? Simple its an individual’s perception, if I play for a club in Germany I will automatically think I have a better coach than an English coach. Because I’m playing in a far better table tennis nation. When in fact I could be coached by someone far worse and failing to realise that it’s not necessarily the coach but the system that makes Germany’s TT superior to England. Coaches must be categorised by how they deliver their knowledge and the ability to get the best out of an individual. For example Tiger Woods, the William sisters and others were coached by their parents who were not professional coaches, try to figure out why and how.

Three things that make a top coach:

1. You have to be in love with the sport because 9 times out of 10 you will not be given the credit you deserve. Even though you are clearly dedicated, work hard and input love into your coaching.

2. Coach players as individuals, for example, I often see players with a certain forehand technique I automatically know who their coach is. The coach has a certain system they use and they won’t deviate, giving all players similar technique and relievedly the same results. A coach must take into account; one player may be very slow another fast or one short the other tall. This means a fast player can develop his game around his forehand if he/she wish to do so. On the other hand, the slower player would require an equally strong forehand and backhand otherwise they would be pinned to the weaker wing. A short player in most cases should look to stay close to the table covering the angles where a taller player can afford to step back and use his/her wingspan.

3. Always be willing to learn, a lot of coaches have big ego’s including myself but we must be willing to learn. in doing so, we will continue to develop and improve, alongside the games adaption. This gives the coach the best tools for his/her players and the best chance of succeeding.

A top coach will provide the tools, teach you how to use them plus guide you on your path but only you the individual can make your desires a reality.

A good table tennis coach will change your game but a great coach will change your life