I asked a very open question recently to a few table tennis friends: Do you think it is possible to become a better TT player without coaching? If so, how?
Subconsciously, I guess this was a desperate lunge for ideas in the middle of what has turned out to be a difficult season. In stark terms, I have gone from being a 63% player in Division Three to a 5% player in Division Two; from great scalps including Matthew Brown, James Young, Richard Whittleworth and Jeff Saunders to humbling experiences against Matthew Kennedy, Brian Greenhalgh and Max Brooks.
The real problem was time. No time to practise, therefore no time for coaching (be it casually or officially). I had become – as many players are – the bloke that turns up for the weekly match only. There was no working on weaknesses, technique or strategy in between. And I’ve always been aware that my unorthodox style – a stuttering amalgam stolen from different sources – needs ironing out or at least pairing up with a better understanding of the game’s central tenets.
The many voices that came back were mixed:
John Barker – “Yes, but without feedback it’d be easy to pick up bad habits and incorrect technique.”
Paul Cicchelli – “Well, Desmond Douglas apparently taught himself to play. My personal answer is ‘No’ [however]. The book Bounce by Matthew Syed…touches on the subject. There is only so far you can get with talent without somebody driving you technically, emotionally and motivationally.”
Joe Ashton – “Practice, getting a bat that suits you and competitive games [are fundamental].”
John Rothwell – “No. I’m living proof!” (2014/15 Div Three 51%, 2015/16 Div Two 11%)
Kirit Chauhan – “Yes, practising with better players will improve your game.”
Brett Haslam – “Yes, play people better than yourself, play above your standard in the league and accept that for at least a season you will lose…a lot!”
Ray Isherwood (Div One) – “More table time at least. Don’t forget before my lessons I was Division Four and then I started to go to the Hilton Centre 3-4 times a week. Lessons will improve you 100%.”
Barker regularly studies the website, ttedge.com. He also points to the atypical performances of John Nuttall (Div Two 83%) – a tennis player who has successfully adapted his racquet skills to the ‘small screen’ with no help whatsoever.
The general consensus seems to be “play at a higher level”, but aren’t the altruistic souls on the other side of this equation risking getting worse?