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  1. Baal is online now
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    #1

    Table tennis vs road cycling and what we know from science

    I took up road cycling to get stronger and fitter for TT, liked it a lot, and then the pandemic hit, which for me has meant no TT for close to a year now. And during the last five years as I got more into cycling, and it is interesting to compare the two sports. They are very very different things, and it has changed my perspective quite a lot.

    The thing that strikes me most is how much more is actually KNOWN about cycling than TT because it is fundamentally simpler and so many things can be readily measured -- these days even for amateur cyclists at an accessible price. It is ideally suited to high level geekery. By contrast, TT is almost impossible to accurately measure many parameters in real time, and even in some cases where sports scientists can really engage with it, it only occurs in a few countries and is only available to, say, national teams like the CNT.

    In cycling, for $300 in the US or equivalent in Europe, Australia or UK, you can have video capture and power output-based fitting, where the positions of bars, seats, and shoe cleats can be set in optimal positions (in millimeters) to maximize comfort and cycling efficiency. People who race at a level comparable to what some posters here do in TT can do this while monitoring respiratory and blood gasses, can get their positions optimized in a wind tunnel, etc. So a lot of choices that people make can be optimized in a rational way. It wasn't always like that, of course. But it has been that way for several years now.

    Another thing is that in cycling, an amateur rider is not going to be making themselves WORSE by riding a bike that is too fast for them. Now, they may well be wasting a LOT of money for the most marginal of gains but they are not going to be slower by riding a faster bike. If a decent amateur rider takes a $12,000 bike or a $4,000 one on the same course of, say, 50 miles, under identical conditions, chances are that extra $8,000 gains them maybe 10 seconds, which matters a lot in the Tour de France, but not to me. And that is in a race against the clock. If there are other riders are present -- a full peleton and tactics become a big issue -- then things like when to attack, and how to locate oneself within a large group at various times completely dominate and the choice of the $4,000 vs $12,000 bike becomes essentially meaningless.

    TT is different. You can see it on threads here. Our sport is extremely difficult to actually KNOW much of anything. The ball moves too fast and spins even faster, and the player is moving around a lot, so it's really hard to wire and tube them up without interfering with what they are doing. To the extent that it is done, it has maybe been done once or twice on a small number of very high level players and what was learned may not always teach much that is useful to amateur players, even decent ones. It does seem pretty clear that a 1400 player will not get their best results with a Butterfly sZLC blade with T05 on both sides, but is an all-wood blade always the right choice for them, what rubber, what handle shape, what weight, etc. etc. is always trial and error, without much that is quantitative in terms of results of the trial.

    So a lot of what we think we know is based on impressions that might be wrong. In one notorious case, we hit a ball and we think we are feeling something people call "dwell time" and while we certainly feel something, it is certainly not the length of time the balls is spending in contact with the rubber. In our sport, the kinds of cameras and technology needed to capture what is actually going on are super expensive.

    And so there is a lot that is based on opinion, some based on lots of experience, some on less, but resolving the opinion based on actual data is impossible. And threads about "what is a good equivalent to Tenergy 05" or "should I get a Viscaria or an all-wood blade", or "which rubber has more spin", or "how can I learn a Chinese loop" generate tons of discussion based on very few facts. (The last one amuses me a lot, since Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong both have "Chinese loops" and it is hard to imagine two players whose technique is more different").

    Anyway, that is something that has struck me in the last couple of years about our sport, and it has caused me to question at least some ideas I used to believe as a matter of course.

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    Baal would be surprised to know that Nexy Korea President also runs a BIKE BUSINESS in Korea.

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  3. Baal is online now
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    No kidding? Does he sell his own brand?

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    #4
    Wow. Posted for the first time based on your post alone. You really get it and you write it so it is clear and well thought out. Props to you for that.
    I come at this from the opposite position as you. I have been a roadie for over 30 years.... was/am a Cat 3 Masters racer.
    Your entire post rings true. There is virtually zero empirical evidence to substantiate the technical aspect of TT performance or abilities. It makes it very difficult for a beginner (like myself) to purchase equipment and not make many mistakes in the pursuit of getting better at TT. Other sports have much more developed data.


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  5. UpSideDownCarl is online now
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    #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Baal
    Anyway, that is something that has struck me in the last couple of years about our sport, and it has caused me to question at least some ideas I used to believe as a matter of course.
    See that. I give BrokenBall the credit for busting the myths despite all the grief he has gotten for trying to be a myth buster.

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    #6
    I believe it is more in the beginning of a coach or players tabletennis career that you believe more hard in things. Feel like the more you learn the more you see that there are many things to do things and not one solution for everyone.

    I am a bit interested in how you think the cycling affected your tabletennis? I think tabletennis players need to have more respect towards the sport and be more physical fit.

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  7. Baal is online now
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    #7
    Quote Originally Posted by wheelbuilder
    Wow. Posted for the first time based on your post alone. You really get it and you write it so it is clear and well thought out. Props to you for that.
    I come at this from the opposite position as you. I have been a roadie for over 30 years.... was/am a Cat 3 Masters racer.
    Your entire post rings true. There is virtually zero empirical evidence to substantiate the technical aspect of TT performance or abilities. It makes it very difficult for a beginner (like myself) to purchase equipment and not make many mistakes in the pursuit of getting better at TT. Other sports have much more developed data.


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    Fortunately there are many many equipment choices in TT that are appropriate for someone just starting to take it seriously, but the main advice I would give is simply choose ONE, and not worry about it thereafter for quite a long time. Don't be forcing your brain to constantly be having to adjust to some new blade and/or rubber (except to change the rubber when it is worn, just like you do your chain and cassette). There are also ways to reach your TT potential a bit faster. I've played TT since I was a kid (so quite a few decades) and had the luck to have good coaching when I first started in Europe, and to have had access here to really good training partners in the US, including on occasion former US national ream members. I've also tried lots of different equipment. Maybe three times in my life it made a difference in my level. The rest was just spending money on my hobby.

    At a point I sold all my accumulated superfluous TT blades and literally used the money to nuy a complete Ultegra Di2 groupset for my Tarmac. So a lot.

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    Last edited by Baal; 02-02-2021 at 06:45 AM.

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    Fully agree Baal. and I feel because of how messy this all is, it makes table tennis more unfriendly for newcomers. It's very hard to find good info and if you're new it's even harder to discern what's good or bad. Even with coaches, they don't seem to agree on many things.
    I've had all kinds of advice from people through the years which I just followed and it made me a worse player. Like the stay on your toes one, or grip the bat loosely. The problem is I take this advice literally so I'd hold the bat and it would almost fall out of my hand and I'd literally be on my toes which put me off balance. Maybe this is my own fault that I couldn't interpret the advice the way it was meant to be taken.. or maybe the advice could be communicated better?

    It's the same with equipment really, though I would say that many people on this forum give outstanding advice when it comes to equipment (Carl saved me 6ish years ago when I bought an acoustic instead of an ALC blade, it didn't teach me good technique of course, but it maybe gave me better feedback and helped me win more points).
    Drawing from my experience in real life though, I've seen some people being recommended far too fast equipment for what their technique/level is. Often that advice is coming from a better player, so they trust them.

    Ideally there should be one source for consolidating all the good info, wouldn't that be a dream?

    Like you say Baal, it's difficult to know much of anything, but maybe we don't need to know everything? Maybe we just need to know a few of the most important things that sets us on the right path to improvement.
    The problem is, table tennis is played with the body, maybe we could call it a body language. There are certain things you need to do with your body to achieve high bat speed, or to touch the ball in certain ways etc. How can we communicate that so the body understands? It has to become an intuitive feeling. It's often not enough to just say what is happening with the body. Many top players don't even know what is happening or what they're doing with their body, because they learnt as kids where they just copied better players and their technique became intuitive.

    I've said in many posts that I like Brett Clarke's approach. Strangely enough I've come across very few coaches like him. Though I have seen some good Korean coaches and players on youtube talk about how to use the body correctly. This approach has really helped me more than any other. Different problems require different solutions though I suppose.

    If we want to at least know a few things, maybe we can look at what the top players have in common and what they do against certain balls, there are no absolute answers but at least we can get some idea what to look for and estimate what we should be doing ourselves. We don't need hard science to do that. For the "Chinese loop" myth, as an example: Yes, their backswings are different.. but what do they have in common? The way they use the body, just look at the hip twist when they loop against block, it's pretty much identical. Same goes for any other top player, unless they have almost no time then there might be little to no hip twist.

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  9. Baal is online now
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    #9
    As Lula said, amateur players will improve if their fitness improves. Table Tennis is played with the feet as much as the hands. With road cycling i quickly lost some excess weight and of course some muscles in my legs got stronger. Aerobic fitness got a lot stronger. That meant in TT drills that were physically demanding I could do them longer and more intensely and somewhat reducing injury. That's the main benefit.

    There is a downside. Time spent cycling is time not spent playing TT, and if you ride especially hard you need a recovery day ( at least I do). People have only so much leisure time.

    Another downside as far as TT goes is that I LIKE cycling a lot, so before the pandemic faced withe the choice, TT or a ride, I was increasingly choosing to ride. Cycling for me is pretty injury free BUT crashing is no fun. I've had a couple. It definitely affects ALL your physical activities (and sometimes how you sleep). But TT tends to produce ever more small nagging chronic injuries -- back, knee maybe etc. I've had lower back and Achilles tendon issues.

    About Brett Clarke, I think he is one of the best and most innovative coaches I've ever seen. I've been fortunate enough to learn some stuff from very good coaches who some good ways of explaining certain things so that you can get how it's supposed to feel, but Brett Clarke is at another level.

    One thing I'm convinced of, ive seen coaches who can get a young kid to 2300 in a couple of years are TERRIBLE for adult learners and may actually be dangerous. You can't coach adults exactly the same way, and sometimes you have to teach people how to make better use of what they have.

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    Last edited by Baal; 02-02-2021 at 02:46 PM.

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    #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Baal
    No kidding? Does he sell his own brand?
    I saw his folding bikes years ago.

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    #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Baal
    As Lula said, amateur players will improve if their fitness improves. Table Tennis is played with the feet as much as the hands. With road cycling i quickly lost some excess weight and of course some muscles in my legs got stronger. Aerobic fitness got a lot stronger. That meant in TT drills that were physically demanding I could do them longer and more intensely and somewhat reducing injury. That's the main benefit.
    I ran not intensively but regularly during UK lockdown 1.0 and thought that would keep me not losing energy too much when I would be back to the table. To my surprise, my legs had become completely different! Not just that they’re a lot more flexible and sustainable, my awareness about them had also changed. Also my breathe and staying long in training improved drastically.

    I guess you could get even better faster with multiballs but if you don’t do a lot of that, cardio is a must. But you won’t see the improvement day by day.

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  12. UpSideDownCarl is online now
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    #12
    With biking, the tools to measure force applied to the cranks, cadence (speed/rhythm at which you move the pedals), speed of travel, while measuring things like heart rate and blood oxygen levels, well, it is pretty cool how much you can tell about what is going on.

    The idea of tools being developed to measure how much force is being applied to the ball, how much speed or spin that is added to the ball by that force, how fast the racket moves, acceleration/top speed, depth of impact, there are just so many things in TT that cannot be measured.

    Adjusting and fitting the bike to the person, taking into account leg length, torso and arm length, are pretty big also. And then that idea that, it won't mess you up to have a bike that is higher end or lower end, that a better bike is a better bike, there are real values to this.

    And, again, in TT, you cannot have a racket fit (blade and rubbers), all of this happens through trial and error. And in TT, often, if you go with those tendencies that make sense in so many other endeavors, that the higher end equipment is better for everyone, and so, skip the low end equipment and go right to the best stuff, well, in TT, often most expensive does not mean best. And usually the higher end rackets, are good for high level players and will make it harder for lower level players to develop certain skills that are needed to improve in the sport.

    Soooooo.....TT is complicated in what we can know and measure and what people think is happening when their racket meets the ball and how that is usually different from what is actually happening. This goes deeper than ideas that get presented like, one blade has more dwell time, or that you would want to accelerate on contact to get more spin.....ideas like these have been presented for decades with little fact behind them.

    But, on a different level, it is quite a frequent occurrence that someone thinks they are looping and thinks they are making spin contact and generating good spin, and yet, when you look at what they are doing, they are making direct contact and generating some spin, but very little spin in comparison to what would happen if the contact was tangential and the speed of the racket and the force applied to the ball was actually being applied to generate spin.

    So, with those tools available to measure performance in biking, you can't really fool yourself into thinking you are doing something you are not. Whereas, in TT, people not understanding what they are actually doing is quite common.

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    Last edited by UpSideDownCarl; 02-02-2021 at 03:30 PM.
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  13. Baal is online now
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    #13
    I did see somewhere that wrist devices that measure racket speed ha e been invented. I imagine those will be helpful. For now, a cell phone video and a tripod are one of the best tech things you can do to improve. To see what you are doing and correlate it with what it feels li,e you are doing (which often is not reality).

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  14. UpSideDownCarl is online now
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    #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Baal
    I did see somewhere that wrist devices that measure racket speed ha e been invented. I imagine those will be helpful. For now, a cell phone video and a tripod are one of the best tech things you can do to improve. To see what you are doing and correlate it with what it feels li,e you are doing (which often is not reality).
    And, it is interesting still, I have had so many people show me footage and I said they were making direct contact and they said they thought I was incorrect and had all sorts of rationalizations. And then when I freeze the frame of where they were contacting and how they were not making tangential contact, and then asked them to listen to the sound of the contact, not everyone realizes that they are simply banging into the back of the ball while the racket is going up even after being shown what a cell phone is able to capture.

    I guess, we could call it cognitive dissonance. It is easier for cognitive dissonance to take hold when the proof needs someone who actually is able to understand the evidence. With biking, if your cadence is a certain speed, if you are adding a certain amount of force to the cranks, if you are going a certain speed, those things cannot really be missed provided you have the tools to record the stats (a bike computer). So having a counterfactual understanding of what you are doing is harder when the proof of the stats are there at your fingertips.

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    Last edited by UpSideDownCarl; 02-02-2021 at 04:50 PM.
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  15. UpSideDownCarl is online now
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    #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Baal
    You can't coach adults exactly the same way, and sometimes you have to teach people how to make better use of what they have.
    With what I teach, which is not TT, I am often asked what style of yoga I teach. My first answer is that I teach people. It is a smart aleck answer. But some people get it without further explanation. And, I nevertheless explain, if I was teaching anatomy, and I had four students, a medical dr, a construction worker, a computer programmer and a secretary, I would definitely not teach them all the same material or use the same methods.

    My understanding of teaching is that you have a person and subject matter; when the person understands the subject matter being covered, they have learned. The teaching is the problem solving it takes to get the student to understand the subject matter. The student does the learning. The teacher needs to keep open to the process of problem solving whatever it is that will get the student to start figuring out and understanding the subject matter. When the lightbulb switches on and the student gets it, then at least a certain amount of the learning has occurred.

    I think, with yoga teachers, they often rely on a system that will work for some and not for others. I think the same thing happens for TT coaches. They find something worked for one student and apply it to others without testing the effectiveness or checking if other methods would be more useful. Of course you also have the coaches who are adept at working with kids because they were trained as kids and know how to work with kids. But don't understand why those same methods won't work with adults. And of course what would get a child to learn easily could also cause injury to an adult learner. So, the system is there; the skill in TT is there. But the problem solving and the ability to read the student and see what they are getting and what they are not getting, it is not there. This is a huge issue (bigger than in TT) in fields like dance and gymnastics where you are playing with movement at end range of motion where, for children, they can really do a lot of things that would cause an adult to end up in the hospital. A lot of yoga injuries fall into that category as well. It was good for someone. But not for most of the fitness minded adults in group classes for whom those extreme range of motion techniques are being taught.

    If you are really trying to teach someone, you have to be open to trying many different approaches. This is actually one of the things that makes Brett Clarke amazing. He really has come up with a multitude of ways to help get people to understand what they are trying to do. It is too bad that kind of skill is so rare in many kinds of teaching.

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    Last edited by UpSideDownCarl; 02-02-2021 at 05:02 PM.
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    #16
    On a slightly different note!! Dog training lessons !! Especially when it’s your first dog. People go to the sessions thinking ‘I’m going to train my dog’!! The instructor knows that they are training the dog owner in the first instance!!!
    usually the dogs learner way quicker!!
    As Carl says ‘I teach people’ and for me this is the sign of a truly great coach, many coaches have technical knowledge but the best adapt this knowledge to suit the person they are coaching.

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  17. UpSideDownCarl is online now
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    #17
    Quote Originally Posted by IB66
    As Carl says ‘I teach people’ and for me this is the sign of a truly great coach, many coaches have technical knowledge but the best adapt this knowledge to suit the person they are coaching.
    I think, one of the trickiest things about this for TT is: I am at a certain level. I can see certain things. But there are many things that are invisible to me because I cannot do them and therefore I cannot see them in TT, whereas, a player who is 2500-2600-2700 level (USATT) will be able to see so many things I cannot.

    However, usually, someone who is at that high a level, also learned TT as a kid and had fairly rigorous training as a kid. Which means, they can see stuff people lower level than them cannot. However, they might not be able to understand why training that worked for them as a kid would not work for a 40 or a 55 year old. So, it is a complicated thing. There are a lot of guys who are good coaches for adult learners who figure out unique ways to get the adult learners to improve. But they can't see as clearly a certain amount of what is missing for that person to work on. And then, the people who can see that kind of thing, often just don't have the tool kit to know how to adapt the training and the methods of teaching, or the desired end goal, to suit the adult learner.

    Again, part of what makes Brett Clarke special is the ability to see both sides of the coin.

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  18. UpSideDownCarl is online now
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    #18
    BTW: even though it is convenient to say I teach yoga, I am not really sure that is what I do. I just am not sure there is a term for what I do. Some of it is movement analysis and neuromuscular repatterining. Some of it is a creative approach to helping people make certain movement patterns more efficient. Some of it is simply getting people to do some moving and breathing that causes them to feel good and relaxed. From my perspective, what I do seems very simple.

    USDC - "Do you feel that tension in your neck?"
    Client - "No, my neck feels good."
    USDC - holding out hand, "look at my hand."
    Cl - "Oh wow. That feels better."



    Often habitual patterns of holding tension are not conscious because the person doing it is so used to the feeling that they don't even register it. Most of what I am actually doing is getting people to remove habitual patterns of holding tension and when the unwanted tension is removed, the movement pattern often just improves.

    But the movements and actions I use to work with people are so much more simple than a TT stroke; there are so many fewer moving parts and it is easy to isolate different parts of the movement. But it is interesting that, if you remove neck stress, you often remove shoulder, upper back and lower back stress too, often the chain continues into the hips. When you remove shoulder stress you can also cause neck stress to go away, when you remove hip stress you can sometimes get the neck to relax. The kinetic chains can be adjusted from more than one direction.

    The specific movements and exercises don't matter as much as if they can be done with as little unwanted tension as possible. And the appearance of unwanted tension is usually a first line indication of something bigger building under the surface. So, in how I am using the term, I would distinguish between the work necessary to create a movement or action and the unwanted tension that indicates ineffective or inefficient work.

    If you watch a great dancer or gymnast, the powerful movements they do often SEEM to have an effortless quality. But that would not contradict the fact that, the dancer or gymnast is doing an awful lot of work to generate those graceful movements.

    If a camera followed me to all my clients, many people would wonder if what I was doing from one client to the next had anything to do with each other.

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    Last edited by UpSideDownCarl; 02-02-2021 at 06:40 PM.
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  19. IB66 is offline
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    #19
    Quote Originally Posted by UpSideDownCarl
    I think, one of the trickiest things about this for TT is: I am at a certain level. I can see certain things. But there are many things that are invisible to me because I cannot do them and therefore I cannot see them in TT, whereas, a player who is 2500-2600-2700 level (USATT) will be able to see so many things I cannot.

    However, usually, someone who is at that high a level, also learned TT as a kid and had fairly rigorous training as a kid. Which means, they can see stuff people lower level than them cannot. However, they might not be able to understand why training that worked for them as a kid would not work for a 40 or a 55 year old. So, it is a complicated thing. There are a lot of guys who are good coaches for adult learners who figure out unique ways to get the adult learners to improve. But they can't see as clearly a certain amount of what is missing for that person to work on. And then, the people who can see that kind of thing, often just don't have the tool kit to know how to adapt the training and the methods of teaching, or the desired end goal, to suit the adult learner.

    Again, part of what makes Brett Clarke special is the ability to see both sides of the coin.
    it’s also Interesting that there are certain types of ‘learners’ some retain information better when they listen, some better when they watch, some when they touch and feel or actually ‘do’ some when they read etc

    it’s definitely the case about being at a certain level can mean you can’t see some things!!
    For example before COVID my kids used to play badminton, the coach played County level, and his son was in the running for National matches but didn’t quite make it. I think the coach was also coaching Nat std juniors at some point.
    We were talking about the BH grip, there is a change of grip from FH to BH, thumb position changes, now I was taught this as a junior, but he showed me a second thumb position that increases accuracy for hitting the shuttle into the court when pushed deep into the backhand corner. So simple, but generally not known by many players or coaches. He was shown it by a Chinese coach!!!

    On another tangent, the coaches first name is Dick, when he was playing at county level, back in the day. They used to announce the players as they came onto court, surname first, Christian name second, I would have loved to have been there. His surname is Large !!!

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  20. Baal is online now
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    #20
    I've seen coaches, almost always very young (early 20s), straight from China, often at provincial team level or maybe just below that. Often they arrive at 2600+ level. They make a living coaching and winning tournaments (well, winning tournaments for awhile until the constant coaching and lack of real practice takes a toll on their level and the next people arrive whose skills are a little fresher start winning the tournaments ---- and so the Great Cycle of Live continues forever).

    These players were coached hard by incredibly tough Chinese multiball methods (and all the other stuff they do from a young age to create great players). That's how they got really good. Not good enough to make it beyond where they got to, but really good by North American standards. Their English language skills usually have to develop after arrival. It's hard for them to explain subtle concepts. At first it may be hard to explain anything at all except to young kids who speak Chinese at home.

    And nowhere in any place they ever trained while getting to that 2600+ level (or 2450+ level for women) were there any middle-aged guys with pot bellies, atherosclerosis, and sore knees, who just want to make it some day to 1800, or beat their buddy Fred more regularly.

    So what do these coaches do with these old guys? Same thing coaches did to them. Only these old guys are not kids, their joints hurt, they will never ever look smooth when they play, and there is no guarantee that the coach instinctively has those innate teaching gifts noted on the previous couple of comments. And, being in their 20s, they have no clue what the physical limitations of their adult students are.

    Coaches like this can hurt you physically. They may not improve your level.

    By the way, some young Chinese coaches who arrive at 2600 do have instincts to be great teachers, and in time they will develop language skills to impart some useful stuff to their students. But it is not guaranteed.

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    Last edited by Baal; 02-02-2021 at 07:34 PM.

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