Multi-ball and Women’s Training

Rowden Fullen(2000)

When working with girls/women in a multi-ball situation it is vital that the exercises are relevant to the women’s game. There is little value in feeding primarily heavy topspin when your player will more often than not face a faster, flatter ball in competition. Even when women do face spin there is usually a higher level of speed than rotation. The difference is quite evident when some of the top women play against the men in competition – they have great difficulty in controlling the topspin element.

Women must be able to cope with speed even if they don’t use it themselves, so a fair amount of multi-ball time should be spent on fast play. It is also wise to structure exercises so that they aid development in other areas, especially movement, as girls are often weak in this aspect. For instance if you work in series of five balls, backhand corner, middle, backhand corner, middle or forehand corner, backhand corner, you develop a number of different areas –

  • You improve and develop the handling of balls to the crossover area (one-step short or trunk movement), movement long to the forehand (one-step long, two step or cross-step) and long back to the backhand (again one-step long, two step or cross-step).
  • You help to eliminate future problems in the crossover, the body area.
  • By encouraging your player to use the forehand from the middle, you develop better overall control of the table and a better position for the next stroke (in most styles of play).
  • Whether the player moves with attacking or control footwork and also the type of stroke she plays, will give some indications as to how her style should develop.

Once your player has progressed beyond and mastered the basics some topspin multi-ball can be introduced. At a more advanced level she will have to deal with topspin, and this is a good time to start girls on another important aspect of the women’s game, variation. If they are to reach a high level girls must look at different ways to handle spin :

  • Hitting through topspin at an early timing point, or forcing the ball on the block, the object being to return the ball with more speed than it came and a flatter trajectory.
  • Returning with a later timed topspin or roll, the intention being to pressure the opponent with a long, low, kicking and often slower ball.
  • Using the full range of blocking strokes, sidespin, soft block, chop block, the aim being to return the opponent’s spin or change it, often incorporating also a change of pace and length.

Of course it is also vital that girls learn to be positive and to open up early in their table tennis career — to this end backspin multi-ball should be introduced even in the early stages. One difficulty here is that girls especially at a younger age seem to have more problems than boys in assessing length. Backspin multi-ball will usually work much better initially if you play to one spot, rather than changing length. It is also best to start with relatively light spin to allow your pupil to feel the ball.

As your player’s competence level grows you can vary spin and length much more, introducing more advanced balls, the short drop-shot or the half-long ball with the second bounce on the end line or just off the table. The player will of course be looking to use different options —

  • Dropping the ball back short (using early timing), flicking or pushing long and fast.
  • Looping slow or fast depending on the incoming length or spin.
  • Driving back hard.
  • Rolling back a ‘nothing’ ball, long and low.
  • Pushing back fast and long, early-timed with or without spin.
  • Pushing late with extreme spin.
  • This type of varied response multi-ball will help to develop girls’ tactical play to deal with defence players, hit hard, drop short and loop slow, especially if you make it more difficult by using a racket with different rubbers such as long pimple and a tacky surface so that you can play with much spin and completely without spin.

It is also of value with women players that you work with mixed speed/spin multi-ball — two or three backspin balls, one or two flat or topspin. This becomes very like a game situation where the opponent counters sometimes hard and sometimes with spin.

A logical step forward from the basic multi-ball is to extend the exercise to the next one or two balls played. An obvious example would be for the coach to feed backspin — the girl opens, the coach blocks or counters, the player then drives or spins. This puts the multi-ball into an exact game scenario — the girl opens up, ball driven or blocked back, girl counter-hits. This type of multi-ball has a number of important advantages-

  • It helps the player to understand the differing stance and technique requirements to be used against alternating backspin or drive/block strokes – lower centre of gravity, use legs, drop racket, play up and forward : come in, keep racket up, play through the ball.
  • It helps the player to understand the difference between the drive return, faster but more predictable and not so spinny, and the block, often slower with at times much return spin and unpredictable bounce.

The next stage is to return your pupil’s opening ball to different table areas – she opens with the backhand, you counter to body or forehand or even back to backhand, she opens with the forehand, you counter to body, backhand or even back to the forehand. This sort of exercise has the value of opening up other areas to assess your player. If she opens with the backhand, where is she weakest/strongest against the fast return, backhand, forehand or body? Equally you must look at the same when she opens with the forehand.

When working with opening at a more advanced level, the trainer should be concentrating more on change of spin and length — push with heavy spin, float, drop short in a variety of sequences. In this way your player will learn to watch the racket and the ball and to recognize spin and lack of spin. She will also come to an understanding of when it is best to roll, spin slow or fast and when to flat hit or drive and to develop an appreciation of the importance of a lower centre of gravity in spin play, especially when she opens against chop.

Equally there should be exercises involving quick changes of length and speed/spin at higher levels — short push to forehand, player drops back short or flicks, long push to backhand with heavy spin, player opens, fast drive to forehand, player counters or loops. As you work more individually with your player you should look to devise your own exercises, based on her needs and her personal style.

Another area where it is of value to use many balls is in the serve and receive training and the development of third and fourth ball. For example your player serves short, or half-long backspin, you push fast and long to the corners (early timed), sometimes backspin, sometimes float, she opens. Variations in your return can be short drop back, early timed or late timed heavy spin push short or long. Another example could involve you serving short and the player pushing long — you loop, she kills through the spin on an early timing point (a technique we could work more on in Europe), or soft blocks taking the pace off the ball.

Working one to one in this manner is ideal for teaching and understanding which spin remains on the third and fourth ball, why this is so and how you can take advantage of it. From the start of course you should be aware when your opponent serves which way the ball is spinning, without knowing this it’s hard to be positive! A number of alternatives are open to you, play with the spin or against it, add to it, take away from it, use it (let the ball just kick back from your racket) or play to the axis, the dead spot on the ball and return the spin to the server. The end result and how many strokes the spin remains on the ball can be very different if one or both players use pimples or antiloop rubbers.

If you work in a scientific manner with multi-ball it can be a very potent weapon in the development of your player. It will indeed have an impact in many diverse areas – footwork, easier recognition of spin and float, development of touch and better assessment of which stroke is appropriate to a particular situation.