Coach Samson Dubina US National Team Coach 4x USATT Coach of the Year

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Coach Vs. Practice Partner

Find the Distinction

Choosing the right coach will be one of the main steps in the journey to greatness.  Especially, if you live on the east coast or west coast of the US, you might have many coaches to choose from.  Making the right choice can sometimes be overwhelming.  Before you decide, let me make an important distinction between a coach and a practice partner.  A coach is someone who is able to identify your strengths and weaknesses, is able to properly give you the appropriate information, and is able to structure drills to fix problems and develop strengths.  Unfortunately, many so-called coaches identify problems but are not able to properly structure drills to fix very specific problems.  If they are not able to help you fix problems, then they are truly not a coach, they are merely practice partners.  So how should your coach be fixing problems?  Each player has unique problems, so this is a very difficult question to generalize.  However, I’ll do my best to give a couple brief illustrations.  These are merely illustrations.  There are literally thousands of possible ways to correct problems.
If you always back up when a player blocks to your forehand, then your coach needs to teach you first with shadow strokes then slowly with a ball how to properly shorten your backswing and move laterally, while not backing away from the table.  If you aren’t able to do it, then your coach needs to put an object in the way (such as a chair) to ensure that you stay close.  By putting the chair in your way, he is forcing you into perfection.
If your thumb always rises up too high when backhand looping, then your coach needs to teach you first the reason to keep your thumb lower then show you videos of a top player demonstrating the backhand with the thumb lower, after that you must do slow strokes with your thumb lower.  If you still aren’t able to change the bad habit, then your coach must force you to do it by duct-taping your thumb in the proper position.  After several weeks of practicing backhand loop with the correct grip, you should be able to remove the tape during the drill and still remember how to properly do it.
If you are not properly move to your wide backhand when looping a wide angle ball, then your coach needs to teach you first the reason that the movement is needed, then properly demonstrate it for you, then have you do shadow strokes, then do the drill with a Newgy robot.  If you still aren’t able to picture it.  Then your coach should put small pieces of tape on the floor to give you a visual of your ready position then a visual of where your feet should be when moving to the wide backhand angle for a backhand loop.  By forcing you to step on the tape, your coach is forcing your feet to move to the correct position.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of your main steps in your journey is choosing the right coach.  The right coach is more than just a person who mentions your weak points at the end of a 2-hour lesson.  The right coach is someone who can clearly identify your strengths and weaknesses and create the proper drills for you to fix your problems and maximize your strengths.  In addition to having a great coach, it is very beneficial to have great practice partners as well.