Coaches

Coaching Development Course 1

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

1. Introduction.
2. Table Tennis Association — structure.
3. The grip.
4. The four basic strokes.
5. Stroke correction techniques — the nine reference points.
6. The demonstration.
7. Basic strokes — chart.
8. Practical.

1. INTRODUCTION.

Table tennis coaching is very like climbing a high mountain. On the lower slopes there are grasses, streams, bushes and trees — the start of sound basic training, you must get things right here or you will encounter problems or even fall off higher up! On the mid-slopes you meet other difficulties and different terrain, rock faces, chimneys, use of ropes, pitons just as with table tennis you must look to better technique, better movement and more physical work and to develop your own personal style of play. At the very top level you meet other challenges, ice, snow, crevasses, avalanches and must utilize other equipment, crampons, ice axes, breathing equipment — with table tennis you must look more into psychology, tactics, advanced techniques, you must indeed know yourself and what you are capable of to reach the highest peaks.

Coaches face different problems at various levels. Success at the top goes back to self-sufficiency development en route but primarily to sound basic training. We see players in many countries in Europe even well on their way to the top who will have difficulty in making the grade, due to weaknesses carried over from early training. You can compensate for a weak stroke or bad movement patterns at a lower level but at the highest levels there is no hiding place. Top players will find a weakness extraordinarily quickly!

Basics are vital — this is the only time you have a clean sheet situation. The responsibility is enormous, how and what you write on this sheet can have very far reaching effects. In fact many national trainers think that only the very best coaches should handle beginners, as only coaches with great experience are able to understand the implications of what they see. Coaches and leaders at even the lowest levels should appreciate the importance of their work. If our sport does not have a stream of good beginners flowing into the base of the mountain, correctly taught and prepared, then coaches at the top will wait in vain! Not only is the introduction of basics vital but many leaders are talent scouts, in the position to be the first to encounter a unique talent, the next Waldner or Deng Yaping. Even if they are not capable of developing that potential, they should be able to recognize it and pass on the player to someone who can.

Compared to other ball sports table tennis is a multi-skills game. It has not only fast speed over a short distance but also the type of spin involvement you don’t find in other ball sports. Bear in mind with the young player that table tennis is not an easy sport to learn and to be highly proficient takes years rather than months. With the young beginner reactions and coordination may still be underdeveloped, but often you get some indication of a rare talent when you see early natural use of advanced strokes or early spatial awareness.

Above all when coaching players you must understand that there is not and never can be a ‘national style’ of play, which we should all aim towards. Each player is an individual and different and should be directed towards his or her own individual style of play. And even when we have stressed the importance of basics, we should perhaps emphasize even more that none of us can ever be dogmatic about technique. It is not how the player plays the stroke that is vital but whether he or she observes the underlying principles and whether it is effective! There is absolutely no use in having a stroke that looks nice, is technically perfect, but has no effect.

Take for example three of the world’s best players, Gatien, Waldner and Saive. They all play their topspin differently. Gatien has fast rotation with the elbow close to the body, Waldner has slow rotation but with a fast wrist and Saive uses his legs much more than the other two. But the underlying principles still apply — they all use the arm, legs and rotate the bodies, even if in a different way and at different speeds.

The concept of individual flair, the idea that players can have different techniques within the underlying principle is one of crucial importance in allowing them to arrive at and to create their own personal style. You cannot force a player into a style of your choosing — if you insist that your player is going to be another Waldner it is unlikely he will develop as well as he could have done. It is important that you allow each player’s own natural idiosyncrasies and abilities to have a proper place in his or her development.

It is vital also that all coaches look to maintain the interest of players at all levels. We are in competition with many other sports and activities in this modern world and we must all develop the skills and coaching techniques both to develop players and to keep their interest. Make sure they are enjoying themselves, use fun games and competition, players love to compete, try to harness the competitive instinct, which is so important if you are going to be a successful player.

2. THE TABLE TENNIS ASSOCIATION — STRUCTURE.

How is the Association managed, who are the officers, who does what and what are their areas of responsibility?

Coaching and selection, who is in charge?

Developing coaches and trainer education, who is in charge? Where, when and how often are courses and follow up seminars or work-shops? How does one progress?

Training camps — National, Regional, District. Who organizes and who is in charge of liaison between the various levels?

National Centre — How does one get in? Are the players compelled to attend perhaps under threat of being left out of the National squad? Once in are the players restricted in activities (which tournaments they can attend etc)? Are players still catered for if they have good coaching and development outside of the centre?

Player training — what is the pyramidal system up to the National centre? Do we have regional training, county training groups? Do we have specialized squads, 11 and 13 years or all girls so we can concentrate on specific areas of development? Do we have bigger clubs which act as a focal point for a large area and run camps for that area?

Tournaments/Leagues — Do we have competition at differing levels? Tournaments and even leagues for non-ranked players, regular events for very young players, 7, 8 and 9 years old?

3. THE GRIP.

Almost all players are biased however slightly in favour of one wing or the other because of the grip and are correspondingly weaker in certain table areas.

Basically there are 4 grips but there can be a number of variations in each category, high or low on the handle for example.

1. Western or ‘shakehands’ grip.
2. Hammer.
3. Chinese pen-hold fingers curled.
4. Japanese pen-hold fingers spread.

The grip should be ideal in terms of efficiency. Is it functional, does it work?

* Do not be dogmatic.
* If possible the same grip B.H. and F.H. (explain thumb and forefinger movement and the action on the tendons in the hand and wrist).
* Relaxed (too tight can cause problems with the stall angle and can inhibit use of the wrist).
* Racket should be an extension of the arm (a slightly raised angle is an aid to control on the forehand).
* Fingers not in the way (grip efficient for the individual).

4. THE FOUR BASIC STROKES.

If coaching a player from beginner level it is most important to lay sound foundations from the first. The basic strokes are best taught in the following order.

1. Forehand drive.
2. Backhand drive.
3. Backhand push.
4. Forehand push.

With this order we follow the psychological principle that whatever the player learns first, he or she will fall back on automatically in times of greatest stress. If you learn to drive first for example when the match is close you are much more liable to be positive and to attack.

In each stroke there should be a progression, from long line, to short line, to consistency, to length variation (long and short), to accuracy and target practice. Remember there is a need to achieve control first, it is hard to be satisfied and to enjoy play without some measure of control. If some of your beginners have played a little go back to basics and start again correctly. It is also wise to eliminate advanced techniques which may be natural to the player but which get in the way of learning the basics (late timed topspin for example). These will not be lost but will be much more easily developed once a sound foundation is laid.

Stroke production –

* Uniformity — identical repetition.
* Accuracy — repeat to defined spot or direction.
* Length — to be able to play consistently long.
* Dexterity — to adapt to varied balls, nets, edges.
* Coordination — use of body, legs, arm, wrist, fingers.
* Pace variation — change speed with the same action.

5. STROKE CORRECTION TECHNIQUES (The nine reference points).

Technique is important. If your player has stepped outside the bounds of good technique then it is most unlikely that he or she will reach the highest levels. It is a cruel fact that weakness is always exposed once you arrive at the top.

When working with a young player it is important that you look at stroke production from a scientific viewpoint — only in this way can you pinpoint exactly where the problem lies. It is also useful to have guidelines which are applicable at all levels of stroke play and to each individual stroke.

Stance — Feet should be shoulder width or a little wider, knees bent, back arched, shoulders slightly forward (all important for balance and efficient movement). Always relate stance to the line of play (where the ball is coming from), not to the table or the opponent. Always face the line of play, with both the body and the feet.

Stance should be the best position of advantage with reference to the opponent — start to build in tactics early in the player’s career. The majority of modern players will use a square stance, (facing where the ball is coming from), it saves time, especially close to the table. Once players drop back from the table side-to-square is used a little more as it aids power production particularly on the forehand side.

Body Action — Here we are talking about use of leg power, rotation of the waist and shoulders (sometimes a little rocking action of the shoulders), fast arm movement, especially forearm and forearm fold. Bear in mind the crouch with the head forward extends the range of the stroke and economizes on movement.

Length — This is the distance the bat travels. With beginners a short stroke is the priority and particularly close to the table. (Less to go wrong if the stroke is short). Try to have a little longer pre-swing and limit movement after contact with the ball. Longer strokes with very young players can also lead to injuries.

Timing — ‘Peak’ or 1/2 centimetres before is the most efficient for control. (‘Peak’ is the highest point after the bounce on your side of the table). Many coaches in Europe see peak as being relatively late, later than it in fact is — Asians see peak as being earlier than we do.

Peak gives the biggest target area and allows the player the best chance of hitting the ball down on the other side of the table. If players let the ball drop when small (a natural tendency with the ball coming at the face) this can easily become a habit leading to running away from the table whenever under pressure. This of course gives the opponent a better chance to use the angles. By adopting peak when young the player’s natural tendencies have the opportunity to emerge and he/she will have more options when older.

Table Position — What we are talking about here is the exact contact of the ball in relationship to the table. Is it over the table, at the end of the table or back from the table? For the beginner we must again look at this in terms of control — usually this is best over the table but with the ball coming through (not too short).

Free Arm — This is particularly valuable as an aid to rotation (especially on the forehand side). Lack of use of the free arm limits movement and often leads to a forehand stroke where only one half of the body is used with the risk of subsequent injury. Also the free arm aids balance and orientation. For the beginner this latter is often useful in helping him or her to have some idea of where the ball is in relation to the body.

Bat Arm — The optimum for control is the 90 degree angle at the elbow, with no wrist at first and only a slightly open or closed blade. The elbows should be about a hand’s width from the sides and both hands equally relaxed. The stroke to be initiated from the elbow as well as the shoulder (but with no wrist in the initial stages). Bear in mind at a more advanced level the arm consists of the three joints, shoulder, elbow and wrist — the last two move much faster than the shoulder and will be used much more at top level (e.g. flick, fast forearm fold). Also the 90 degree angle of the elbow can be extended to 120 degrees or even straight to give a longer lever and more power.

These first seven reference points form the machinery by which the player hits the ball and will give the best control. As early as possible the beginner should learn to control the rally as a whole and not just individual shots. This of course involves movement while retaining good balance which is indeed the cornerstone of our sport.

Be particularly aware of the theory of conservation of angular momentum . The centre of gravity of the arm (elbow area) will cover a certain distance in a given time period. Because the distance is a constant, if the arm is shortened, it must move at a higher speed to cover the same length. This principle is of vital importance in the short arm loop.

Recovery Positions — Play the ball and recover always is one of the most important principles in table tennis. Every time you and your opponent strike the ball, the angles of play will alter. After you have played your stroke there must be a continuing, on-going assessment from you of the total angle available to the opponent — you must then move into the most advantageous position to cover this angle. Do not forget also recovery of the racket after each shot. Recovery fastens the first seven reference points together and gives control of the table.

Anticipation — This gives control of your opponent. After you have played the ball focus on the opponent. Watch him or her moving into position, look at the body, the stance, above all watch the racket at the point in time when the other player is committed, 4/5 centimetres before contact with the ball. This should give you enough edge that you are already moving before the ball even crosses the net. The ability to read what your opponent is going to do will give you a big advantage. If you train your young players from the very start to play their own stroke and then to watch what the opponent is doing they will soon learn to anticipate without thinking.

6. THE DEMONSTRATION.

Demonstration (showing the stroke) is part of the coach’s everyday work and something you should make every effort to get right. Look at yourself sometimes (mirror or video), what do you look like when you show a stroke? Is your technique satisfactory? Also consider the pitfalls of showing a stroke to a group of youngsters.

* Are the players on the correct side of the demonstration — can they see all the action?
* Are they on the correct side in terms of distractions? (There may be other activities going on in the hall).
* Shadow the stroke first. (So the group watches the action and not the ball).
* Be professional yourself (image).
* Be enthusiastic (manner).
* Emphasize at the most three points — too much will only confuse, you can always stop the group and stress other aspects in 5/10 minutes. Not too much at one time.
* Make the exercise clear (line, diagonal etc.) Cater for left-handers, pen-hold players etc.
* Have some progression in the exercise (short, long, target, alternatives).
* Care with language. (Do they understand technical words?)
* Introduce competition regularly.
* Give the same time to each player in the group, sort out problems of incompatibility (between players, or between self and players).
* Consider different types of guidance a) verbal b) visual c) mechanical (hold and do it).

7. BASIC STROKES CHART

FH Drive BH Drive BH Push FH Push FHTopspin FHBlock BHBlock BHTopspin
Stance Side toSquare Square Square Side toSquare Side toSquare Square Square Side toSquare
BodyAction Rotation None None Rotation Slight Rotation Lift Rotation Slight None Rotation Lift
Length Short Short Short Short Medium

Long

Short Short Medium

Long

Timing Peak Peak Peak Peak Peak or bit after Early Early Peak or bit after
TablePosition Over Over Over Over End Over Over End
FreeArm Rotation Balance Balance Rotation Rotation Rotation Slight Balance Rotation Balance
BatArm Closed

Up 90°

Closed

Up 90°

Open

Down90°

Open

Down90°

Closed Up90/120° Closed
90°
Closed
90°
Closed Up90/120°

LINE OF PLAY = Where the ball is coming from

8. PRACTICAL.

1. Demonstrate the ‘shakehands’ grip. Start

with off the table exercises.

2. Bouncing the ball on the racket — F.H.,

B.H., and alternating.

3) Same as 2) but walking around the table.

4) Hitting a ball against a wall (about one

metre high) and allowing one bounce

before the next hit. Use F.H., B.H. and

then alternating.

5) Introduce a stroke. (No serving, drop the ball on the table to start).

* Start long line diagonal (more time).
* introduce consistency (how many).
* introduce accuracy (hit a target).
* introduce variation with control ( differing length).
* introduce competition (round the table, cricket).
* introduce multi-ball.
* introduce simple serving.
* introduce match play and scoring. (winning table).

OBJECTIVES 2/3 Familiarisation with the bat and ball. Acquiring feel.
OBJECTIVE 4 Positioning, sense of movement, ball sense.
OBJECTIVE 5 Correct stroke, control, consistency, accuracy, concept of mobility, competition.

BEGINNERS

Basic Strokes Chart

— Look back to the chart. Certain factors are common to all strokes. Feet shoulder-width or a little wider, knees slightly bent, shoulders down and level and head a little forward and the whole body facing the line of play. Strokes should be played with a 90 degree elbow angle and partially initiated from the elbow, both elbows a hand’s span from the sides, with the bat-arm wrist and elbow around the same height or the elbow a little lower, (not higher). There should be no wrist action initially and the ball should be played with little speed and spin.

The objective

— should be optimum ball control, while maintaining good balance and a readiness to move.

Topspin and Block

— Note the bent knees in blocking and use of the legs, the rotation with topspin and the way the legs are used to bring up the centre of gravity as you contact the ball. A 90 degree angle at the elbow for blocking control (and a little movement, if you block with a completely ‘dead’ racket the ball tends to kick up for the opponent to hit). This angle will increase for topspinning as the player drops the racket lower to play the stroke. Work in initial stages on technique and control, not spin or speed. As players get better emphasize good ball control while retaining balance and the ability to move quickly in any direction. Good movement is the key to the future.

Coaching Development Course 2

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

  1. Warm-ups: stretching.
  2. Movement: introduction.
  3. Training requirements.
  4. Training of players.
  5. Development: beginners, intermediates, advanced.
  6. Power and levers.
  7. Communication.
  8. Be professional.
  9. Topspin and backspin.
  10. Bats and rubbers.

1. WARM—UPS: STRETCHING.

  • Prevention of injury.
  • Preparation — physically and mentally.
  • To increase flexibility.

Players should have the attitude that warm-ups and stretching are a natural part of their sport and should feel absolutely no embarrassment over doing these. Warm-ups are an important part of preparing to play and stretching equally important in winding down after play.

Coaches should beware of excessive physical work, weight training etc., especially with young players. The bones and joints are still growing and most of the major epiphyses do not close before around 17 – 20 years (1 – 3 years earlier in the female). Before closure the strength of the fibrous capsule and the ligaments surrounding a joint are two to five times greater than the strength of the metaphyseal – epiphyseal junction (the fresh growing area at the end of the long bone).

Any exercise programme must be structured to cater for different fitness areas.

  • Cardio-vascular — the heart and lungs.
  • Flexibility — twisting and stretching.
  • Strength — legs and (bat) arms.
  • Specific areas for table tennis — back and stomach, especially in the case of female players.
  • Loosening up and relaxation.

In any exercise programme also remember the differences between girls and boys — strength, speed, lung capacity, inclination of the arm, bone growth, age of bone closure, joint stress limits. Also bear in mind the social aspects — it does nothing to help girls’ confidence if they have to compete with boys in physical areas, especially if they are in a big minority, only one or two in the group.

2. MOVEMENT — INTRODUCTION.

First you achieve a level of control from a static position, then in a moving situation. (Recovery should be built into all movement patterns, both in the case of recovery of body and racket and the players should above all aim to move with good balance at all times). In the early stages aim at about 75% width (side to side) and only 25% depth (in and out).

A) Movement

  • Can be footwork of one type or another.
  • Postural, body action, pivoting or twisting of the trunk.
  • Manipulative, bat arm, the three joints, shoulder, elbow, wrist or even fingers.

B) Types of footwork

  • Close to the table (nearest foot to the ball?) Stepping or jumping.
  • Away from the table (crossing legs at times). Running or jumping.

C) More than one reason for not reaching a ball.

  • Physical fitness.
  • Poor footwork patterns.
  • Recovery.
  • Anticipation.

Always bear in mind that the more you retreat from the table, the bigger the angle you have to cover and the more you will have to move.

Footwork exercises.

  • Regular, set pattern, conditioned response.
  • Irregular (no pattern), ball not expected.

3. Training Requirements

Technical.

Basic skills

  • control
  • consistency
  • accuracy
  • touch

Advanced skills

  • kill through loop
  • loop to loop
  • stop block
  • short play
  • early ball play

Tactical.

Experience

  • league play
  • camps
  • tournaments
  • positive play

Strategy

  • variation
  • angles
  • timing

Movement

Style development

PHYSICAL

  • speed
  • stamina
  • strength
  • flexibility
  • feeling
  • relaxation

PSYCHOLOGICAL

  • work-rate
  • will/motivation
  • self control
  • confidence
  • concentration
  • mental toughness
  • clarity of mind
  • competitiveness
  • innovation

Glue — When to use and why.

How it affects technique and tactics.

OPTIMAL MENTAL STIMULUS

The basic principle of table tennis training.

TRAINING IS ONLY

  • REPETITION IN THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT!
  • WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE!

4. TRAINING OF PLAYERS.

A) Basic phase One 8 - 11 years.

  1. All strokes even up to topspin and backspin (but without excessive spin or power). Good basic control, consistency and accuracy. Work as much as possible from drive to spin.
  2. Footwork — Not too wide at first and no forehand from the backhand corner. Work at establishing a base from which you can move forward with the player and on to more advanced footwork at a later date. Try to evaluate the end style so that you can judge which type of movement the player needs to develop.
  3. Some tactical (but keep low profile).
  4. Always bear in mind the vital importance of good technique with balance. Technique can be very difficult to change later on in a player’s career.

Depending on how early the player starts, the critical stages for development are usually around the following ages — Girls 8 - 12 Boys 8 - 14

FACTORS TO CONSIDER

The coordination of the player, the development of the body, the reactions, the speed of the hands and feet, the level and duration of concentration, the ability to comprehend and understand, the natural strengths and gifts (speed, movement, talent).

The facilities available, organization of time, parents’ involvement, the player’s own time, commitment and mental approach.

At this age try to keep competition at a low level and geared to the training situation. There is always the danger of ‘burning out’ players at a young age. (This happened with a number of young girls at the top in tennis some years ago).

B) Basic phase Two 11 - 17 years.

  1. Consider in detail the individual style of players. Where are they strong, what is their best playing position relative to the table, how much of the table should they cover with forehand, backhand, should they spin or drive, block or chop, is their movement right for their way of playing and above all are they mentally in tune with the direction they are going towards? Look also at which materials may help your players.
  2. Refine the movement patterns so they will suit the players’ end style and tactics.
  3. Keep the technical base moving forward, gradually introducing more advanced techniques.
  4. Develop tactical awareness and the ability to play against all different styles and materials.
  5. Upgrade physical levels.
  6. Strengthen mental areas.
  7. Above all teach players that development means change and if they don’t keep changing they stop moving forward and remain as they were!
  8. Look to the individual needs of the player.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Bear in mind that the growth of the player will affect technique (if they suddenly shoot up 12 - 15 centimetres perhaps they are no longer getting down enough.) Make sure there are no inhibiting factors in technique or movement or tactics, which will have a limiting effect on the player’s ultimate level of play. Keep the player moving forward, teach him or her to handle the stress of competition, to think positively at all times and above all to be flexible in the mind. Try not to take short cuts — aim to release the full potential of the player at senior level.

Consider too that many players may come to you partially developed or with major faults. The longer a player has played, the harder it is to make big changes and often you will only be able to make small adjustments here and there to make him or her more effective. However often players have never really been taught how to use their own strengths and even what works best for them. Here you can help them.

5. DEVELOPMENT.

Beginners

Control and Accuracy

  • correct techniques.
  • understanding of grip and stance.
  • most economical body movement.
  • appreciate what each part of the body does.
  • arm movement alone not enough.
  • no excessive movement of feet (economy of movement).
  • speed and spin negligible.
  • diagonal first, then straight, diagonal from the middle,lastly forehand from the backhand corner.
  • same timing point ( 1 - 2 centimetres before peak),except block — early.
  • learn one stroke, do not combine in same rally with others.
  • slightly better, alternate same stroke, forehand and backhand but regular.
  • slightly better, use earlier/later timing, shorter or longer stroke.
  • slightly better, use more change of pace, slower/faster speed.

N.B. The ability to play the basic strokes (drive, block, push) with good control from a static position, characterizes the well-taught beginner.

Intermediates

Consistency at Varied Speeds

Style Development

  • train regular movement, side to side, in and out, on the diagonal.
  • train serve and receive.
  • differing timing points.
  • vary speed, slow medium, fast.
  • vary spin, light, medium, heavy and also float.
  • train spin/stroke alteration within the rally, push/drive, block/chop.
  • train in and out movement with variation in speed and timing.
  • slightly better more irregular movement.
  • slightly better, more work on power/spin.
  • technical advancement, looping and chopping and
    different techniques.
  • introduction to serve and 3rd ball techniques and to
    set pieces.
  • introduction to 2nd/4th ball techniques.
  • introduction to mental development.

N.B. A good intermediate has the ability to play all the strokes normal to his or her style within a game situation (moving) and with absolute consistency.

Advanced

mental strength development.

Irregular Movement

Refining of Style

  • irregularity the theme in all exercises.
  • vary stroke, timing, direction, length, speed, spin and tactics.
  • concentration on serve and receive.
  • 2nd, 3rd, 4th ball training to be positive and attack.
  • set pieces, sequence play to suit the style of the player,
  • build up strengths and minimize weaknesses.
  • power and pressure play.
  • use of professional tools, multi-ball, robots, professional physical or mental instructors.
  • physical, stamina development in accordance with the style of the player.
  • teach player to assess own game and to be able to think tactics as he or she plays.
  • involve player in periodization.
  • train against all types of opponents.
  • innovation, above all make sure the player is flexible in the mind and understands the necessity of keeping his or her game fresh and alive.
  • never forget that top players are above all unpredictable in the way they play, this is one of the keys to success at top level.

N.B. The advanced player can vary his own play to cope with the demands of the game situation. He or she reads the situation and adapts.

Thinking points

  • Consider the importance of the basics, accuracy, consistency and control. Top players use immense spin and speed but within a framework of control. Many young players want to play too hard and too fast.
  • Think of variation within the basics, speed, spin, timing and contact points, length, angles and table areas.
  • Always look at balance — with the modern game the weight is going forward all the time, there must be more emphasis on good balance and good recovery, good footwork patterns and the use of the body and the various levers.
  • Control the ball, the table, the opponent but most of all yourself.

6. POWER AND LEVERS.

Power

  • Travel faster.
  • Spin more.
  • Any combination.

Power is generated by three components –

  • Acceleration such as bat speed, use of shoulder, elbow, wrist. (Rather like a motor-cycle).
  • The use of elastic energy (explain how to play the strokes to make maximum use of this).
  • Body weight travelling along the line of play (rather like a large truck) or uncoiling (like a spring).

Racket Swing.

  • Pre-contact longer (but not too long, too long gives no room for manoeuvre, you are committed from the outset).
  • Follow through short and along the line of play.
  • 120 degree elbow for spin, 90 degrees for drive.
  • Elbow not tucked in or too far forward (inhibits spin development).
  • Peak of bounce timing (or 1 - 2 centimetres before/after). Below the table, more spin but less speed.

Mass.

  • From a little back use side to square stance, with the weight coming from back to front and a little up using the legs.
  • Rotation of hips and shoulders
  • Rocking of the shoulders
    • These last two depend on the incoming ball and the type of loop.
  • Leading foot pivots pointing to where the ball is going.

Levers.

Examine the principles of rotation.

Angular velocity

  • The centre of gravity of the arm (the elbow area) covers a certain distance in a given time period, this distance is constant, the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum. If the arm is shortened it must therefore move faster to cover the same distance. This is a valuable principle to remember when coaching girls or younger, weaker players, especially when considering the value of shorter arm strokes (looping for example).
  • Lever length — If a player has the strength the longer the lever, the more power it is possible to achieve (Jonyer, Hungary 1975) (also example of wheel nuts on a car and the length of the lever, much more pressure). Assess the player, age and physique and beware of too much loading on the shoulder.
  • Body use in play – It is quite normal in Asia to use tensioning and relaxing of the stomach in stroke play to increase striking power. (Explain).

7. COMMUNICATION

Clarity

  • get the message across, you say something, but just what do people actually see and hear?
  • the pupil learns aurally, visually and physically (by feeling and doing.)

Communicate

  • ask relevant questions.
  • listen to answers.
  • treat pupils as people.
  • get tuned in (on the same wavelength).
  • speak the same language.

Priorities

  • nice to know.
  • should know.
  • must know.

Enthusiasm sells.

  • it is contagious.
  • gets others going (you energize others).
  • is a reflection of your inner self, if you are not inspired how can you ‘sell’ to others?

Speak Show Keep it simple

You cannot motivate, you can only affect the motivation of others!

8. BE A PROFESSIONAL.

Table tennis is a multi-skilled game, different from other ball sports. It is important to cultivate the right attitudes and as soon as the player is past the beginner stage and secure in basic strokes, to handle him or her as professionally as possible.

Do not train by competition (many young players compete too much and train too little, the training hall is very important). Development sessions should be without pressure and the player should have confidence that his or her development is based on a sound training programme.

Every training session should have a purpose, working on strengths, weaknesses, movement, consistency, change of speed, angles, opening, topspin etc. Of course within every session you can have a progression, a development, introducing serve and receive, 2nd and 3rd ball or some competition. Players should have both group and individual coaching as these serve different purposes in their development. It is hard to work on mental aspects, style development, serve techniques etc. in a large group, but the player does need the variety and the inter-action of training against other players (the variation in serve for example even when every player is trying to serve the same, the small differences develop your player’s receive talents much more than receiving from even the same good player all the time).

 Pro Approach

Plan also the player’s week, year, competitions and match play levels and always remember that the player needs rest and relaxation.

Example of a week.

Mon. Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
Rest 2.5 Phys. 2.5 Rest 3 Comp

9. TOPSPIN AND BACKSPIN.

With the many varying rubbers on the market it is not always possible to rely on the stroke action. (e.g. a push against backspin may be backspin, float or topspin!).

Try to read the spin by the sound (as the ball strikes the opponent’s racket), by the flight through the air (watch for the trademark on the ball 3 — 8 centimetres before it hits the table on your side) and by the bounce (what the ball does after hitting the table).

Topspin

— Explain with diagrams, the turbulence and high pressure -on the top side of the ball, the low pressure on the bottom side. Air pressure forces the ball downwards. The topspin ball is faster through the air and dips and shoots forward after bouncing. The incoming angle is greater than the outgoing angle.

Backspin

–The backspin ball has low pressure on the top side, turbulence and high pressure below. Air pressure forces the ball upwards. The backspin ball is slower through the air, carries a little longer in flight and kicks up after bouncing. The incoming angle is less than the outgoing.

Points to consider

— Your opponent’s topspin spins towards you, his backspin away from you. When your opponent plays with your topspin the ball is returned with backspin, when he plays against your topspin he returns the ball with his topspin, (the opponent reverses the spin). However this may not apply if he or she is using long pimple or antiloop where he or she cannot or can only partially reverse the spin.

Let us look a little at spin, what it is and how it affects the ball, because we need to know a little about the basics before we can cope with playing against different rubber combinations. Most players and coaches will be aware of what is known in physics as the Magnus effect. In many countries in Europe it is taught in the first coaching stage on trainers’ courses. The important point is that both backspin and topspin cause the ball to deviate in flight. Test this for yourself. In your own training hall loop the ball hard and long with much topspin — it will dip quickly to the floor during flight then after bouncing will spin forward and run on to the end of the hall. The backspin ball will veer upwards before dropping down, will run forward only a little, then will spin back towards you and can end up spinning back past you. Not only does the type of spin affect the ball in the air but it also affects the way the ball behaves after the bounce.

  1. No spin — same angle in and out. (physics, angle of incidence = angle of reflection.) This rarely happens in table tennis, test for yourself by throwing a no-spin ball forward, the ball acquires topspin after bouncing because the bottom of the ball is held momentarily by the floor and the top moves forward. (If a topspin ball hits the net, the bottom of the ball is held and even more topspin is created.)
  2. Topspin has a smaller angle after the bounce and the ball shoots forward low and fast. However if you have a high, very slow loop with much spin, because the main impetus is down the ball will often kick up a little, then drop down very quickly. This is why this type of loop is very useful against defence players.
  3. Backspin has the bigger angle after the bounce, the ball slows and kicks up sometimes quite sharply. Why many players have problems against backspin is that they don’t understand this slowing-down effect, that the ball doesn’t come to them. They must move forward, lower the centre of gravity and get under the ball.

Topspin is of vital importance in modern table tennis. Without topspin it would be quite impossible to hit the ball as hard as we would like to. When we for example hit a ball which is below net height, gravity is not enough to bring the ball down on the other side of the table, especially if it is travelling fast. Another force is required and this is provided by topspin which causes the ball to dip sharply downwards. Thus the harder we hit, the more topspin we need to bring the ball down on the other side of the table. Our modern reverse rubbers give us great help in hitting the ball very hard from below net height, because they are capable of imparting very much topspin. This has an additional advantage in that the ball shoots off the table very fast after the bounce.

But why does spin cause the ball to deviate in flight and why do we sometimes have unusual, unpredictable effects after the bounce? This is in fact to do with the interaction of the spinning ball as it moves through the air against the flow of air molecules. (We have all felt air, when we stick our hand out of a car window moving at speed we can feel that air is rather more solid than we thought). As the ball moves through the air different areas of the surface are subject to lesser or greater resistance, the Magnus effect. Topspin forces the ball down, backspin conversely forces it up. If we take a topspin ball for example, the fast moving area at the top of the ball opposes the air flow and we get resistance or high pressure. However at the bottom, the fast moving area of the surface moves with the air flow, the air molecules speed up and you get low pressure. As a result the ball is forced downwards. At the bounce the bottom of the heavily spinning ball is held, topspin increases and the ball shoots forwards very quickly.

Sometimes the ball behaves in a different way and not as the laws tell us it should. In fact at times it can behave exactly the opposite to what we are led to believe — a topspin can jump up and a chop can skid low under certain circumstances. This is because of what occurs in the last 20 - 25 centimetres of flight, just before the ball actually strikes the table, (this is also a time when few if any players watch the ball.) A skidding chop occurs when a ball comes through low with very much backspin, (often for example when a defender takes the ball early when it is still rising) — the spin tries to make the ball rise during the last few centimetres of its travel and hit the table with a shallower angle than usual, but also the faster speed gives a lower trajectory. What ends up happening is that the ball skids through quite fast and low after bouncing. Equally a slow loop with a great deal of topspin and a high arc, will dip sharply at the end of its flight and hit the table at a steeper angle than normal. Its downward velocity is increased and it has a higher impact speed so often the ball will kick steeply upwards after bouncing before dropping sharply.

10. BATS AND RUBBERS.

Much of the advertising material which is written in the various brochures on materials is of very little use to the ordinary player and often misleading. The hardness of the wood and the make-up of the ply, how it is bonded and whether you have carbon fibre or titanium mesh layers will all affect the speed and control. Generally one ply will be more rigid and the ball will kick off the blade quicker, multi-ply will be more flexible with more control and stability. The choosing of a blade is a rather more personal matter than the rest of the equipment and it should feel right to the player. Tests in one or two countries appear to indicate that there is an ideal racket weight for the player at differing stages in his or her development and variation by even a few grams can cause a drastic loss of form.

Most rubber manufacturers use speed, spin and control ratings which are at best misleading — many of the tests they use are very simplistic and bear little or no relation to how a rubber is used in a match. Players also use the same rubber in different ways and with different feeling.

Let us examine the characteristics of the rubber as it is this which contacts the ball.

Dwell time

— This is how long the ball stays on the racket during the contact phase of a stroke, (bear in mind this is a mere fraction of a second, if you have ever chalked a ball and thrown it to a player who slow loops and tries to maintain a long contact you find that the mark on the ball is never more than one centimetre). Rubbers have different dwell times for different strokes. The ball will be held longer for a slow loop as opposed to a kill. Some players also ‘carry the ball’ longer than others even for the same stroke. A long dwell time will often benefit spinners and blockers while a short dwell time will suit defenders and hitters. The dwell time is also affected by the blade you use and how the ball comes off the racket depends much on the rubber and sponge and how quickly it penetrates through these to reach the wood layer underneath.

Resilience

— The energy stored in the rubber during the contact phase of the stroke. Some rubber and sponge combinations are much more elastic than others and will hold the ball longer on the surface at a closed racket angle. This stored energy is converted to produce spin. While elasticity levels will certainly increase we must bear in mind that the sponge cannot create energy, but only minimize energy loss. Compared to a hard bat a ‘sponge’ bat can be swung in a much flatter plane so giving the ball more forward speed and spin. The sponge helps to lift the ball over the net.

Impact behaviour

— A rubber and sponge can have differing performances at different impact speeds. At a slow speed there may be very little elasticity but you may get very good spin and speed when the ball comes into the racket with more pace. When you achieve maximum impact speed you can swing the racket harder but you will get little or no more effect. Some rubbers are said to have good gearing for spin and speed, which means they produce and maintain good effect over a wide range of impact speeds.

Throw-angle

— The angle of the flight of the ball as it comes off the racket surface in the direction the bat is travelling. Differing blades and rubbers affect the throw-angle considerably as will different strokes (the angles would be very different if you were looping for example with very tacky rubber or with antiloop). The throw-angle will also vary depending on whether the contact is on the outside of the racket or in the middle, or whether low, in the middle or high on the ball (or whether the racket is more closed or open). High throw-angle rubber generally has a higher ratio of spin than speed, compared to low throw-angle rubber. (Flexible, slower blades typically increase the angle).

Stall-angle

— The contact angle at which speed/spin of a rubber is dramatically reduced — at certain angles all rubbers will stall and not store energy (the ball will just drop off the racket, as it sometimes does when it contacts the outside edge). The stall-angle can be used effectively for dummy loops or short serves. A rubber with a wide range of stall-angles (or used with a badly matching blade) will have little or no control. A stall can also occur when the racket contact speed is too fast at a particular contact angle.

Friction

— The grip of the rubber. Under certain conditions and with certain techniques some super high friction rubbers can give less spin/speed than ones with much lower friction characteristics. Sometimes super-grippy rubbers have less spin at high speed — there is a critical level above which little or nothing is gained. Some very tacky rubbers have the characteristic of slowing the ball dramatically at low impact speeds, a function which is very useful in certain strokes. A low friction rubber has difficulty generating speed at closed racket angles. Remember always the friction of many rubbers is impact-dependent, they are more effective when the ball is coming at speed.

Sponge

— Sponge can vary from soft to hard and from about 0.4 mm to 2.5 mm and the density of the sponge contributes to the weight of the racket. The amount of spin generated by a rubber is closely related to the elasticity of the sponge (irrespective of the top sheet of rubber), below a certain critical level for a given sponge, the spin of the rubber will be considerably reduced. This can be improved through the correct use of speed glues or optimisers which will increase the resilience by up to 30%. Players who glue usually prefer soft or medium sponges.

Glue

— Adhesives and glue sheets are used to put the rubbers on the blade. Speed-glues or optimisers are used to increase the performance of the rubber in respect of spin, speed, control, throw and stall-angles. It is always recommended that you allow each coat of glue/optimiser to thoroughly dry before applying the next coat — otherwise you can get a ‘mushy’ effect which seriously affects performance when the glue is a little wet.

Properly applied speed-glues/optimisers can increase the spin and speed capabilities of the rubber by up to 30% (remember however that some additives do not work well with certain sponges, especially most hard and more dense sponges). Also the glue must be regularly ‘removed’ from the rubber sheet and the build-up must not be allowed to become too thick. All rubbers (where speed-glue is used) should be taken off the blade as soon as possible after play so that the tension is released.

One interesting characteristic of speed-glued/optimised rubber is that it has a very predictable effect over a wide range of strokes. Its ability to store energy is nearly constant over a large range of impact speeds, (in normal rubber the storage of energy bottoms out at higher speeds).

Coaching Development Course 3

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

  1. Modern ready position.
  2. Movement patterns.
  3. Service.
  4. Receive.
  5. Women’s play.
  6. Innovation and style.

1. MODERN READY POSITION.

One of the most important aspects of modern table tennis is balance, to retain good balance at all times. The game has changed much from the hard bat days of the 1950’s when the main path of the stroke was upwards — now we play forward with more rotation and it’s harder to retain balance after the stroke. The table tennis player is very like the boxer, he must be ready to move in any direction at any time. Also now the game is much faster, the modern player has much less time and as much as possible he must face the play at all times.

The majority of players will adopt a ready position facing the line of play with the left foot a little forward. (Explain with diagrams, videos, discuss and demonstrate). This enables the forehand to be played over most of the table with a minimum of movement. There will be exceptions — many defence players will stand with the right foot a little forward as they often wish to play the backhand from the middle. Some players also stand further back and jump in to take the serve, which can sometimes place them at a disadvantage!

Consider the following aspects –

  • Width — A little wider stance gives economy of movement and stability. (No problem with the wider stance in moving sideways only backwards).
  • Right foot position — Closeness gives better table coverage.
  • Bat position — Should be ready to play backhand or forehand, not too high and not too low.
  • Legs bent — It is not possible to have an effective ‘springboard’ to move quickly from the ready position unless the legs are bent. (Girls please note).
  • Free arm — Is an aid to angular velocity.
  • Proficiency — Try to adopt a position which does not require 2/3 movements to take the serve. Think economy of movement with absolute readiness.

2. MOVEMENT PATTERNS.

The ultimate style of the player will dictate which type of movement patterns he or she should use. Close to the table blockers will use many one-step movements or small jump steps. Strong loop players will inevitably use the cross-step to reach the wide ball and defenders should train on moving in and out. However with the modern game both close and deep, movements which retain squareness are preferable. Movement is one of the most critical parts of any young player’s development and yet very few countries in Europe work constructively with footwork patterns at an early age. It is particularly important that you establish a pattern with a young player that can grow with the player, (can a sidestep pattern be easily developed into a cross-step?). It is also a priority in the ‘modern’ game, where we have limited time that footwork is economical, one big step is preferable to many small ones.

  • One-step in or out — The one-step in or out is important for depth play close to the table, especially to the short balls and to make room to use the forehand from the middle. For the right-hander note that the prime mobility function is on the right foot (the left may be sometimes be pulled in after). This gives better coverage of the table with the forehand for the next stroke and is why you see many top players using forehand push from the backhand court. Care not to put the foot too far under the table, you must retain upper body mobility. If you watch young players especially girls, many often change feet, sometimes right, sometimes left under the table.
  • One-step sideways — This can be either short or long and is important for balls on the forehand wing. It’s also important that you think body turn as you move, so that you are in a position to feed power into the forehand stroke. If you just reach you have very limited capacity for power or spin. In the case of wider movement to the forehand side, the left foot will be dragged after — the pattern can therefore be easily developed into a cross-step.
  • Two (three) step sideways — Especially in the girls’ game you will often have a two or three step pattern to the forehand side, either left/right or a small movement of the right then left/right. Again it is important that you turn the body as you move. Girls often play closer to the table and like to face the play. Also consider two additional aspects. Extra steps are not to be encouraged in modern table tennis (economy first). When establishing patterns with a young player try to avoid sometimes commencing sequences with the left foot and sometimes with the right. This pattern is not suitable for girls who play a strong loop game.
  • Jump step (short or long) — The small jump step, where you adjust position with a little hop and where both feet are in the air at the same time, is one of the most frequently used steps in table tennis. A long jump step is used mostly by Asian men players. They turn the right foot and bring it back at the same time pulling the left over and jumping to the forehand side. The body will turn prior to contact with the ball, which can occur with both feet still in the air.
  • Cross-step — Many trainers in Europe still don’t seem to be aware of the necessity of crossing the legs to reach the wide ball. Coaches from as diverse cultures as France, Poland, England and Sweden all tell me the same – ‘Face the play, never cross the legs.’ The Chinese coaches however say — ‘ If you know a way to reach the wide ball quickly, without crossing the legs, please share the secret, we would like to know.’ It should be quite obvious in the case of the really wide ball that players have very little choice — if you have just played a forehand from the backhand corner and the opponent blocks you wide out to the forehand how else can you move? The mechanics of the cross-step are that the right foot will turn first, so that the left can be brought quickly over and across. Quite often in match play a one-step short or long is converted to a cross-step as necessary. If you study film of players at world level as diverse as Gatien and Deng Yaping you will see that they all use cross-step.
  • Pivot step — This occurs when you wish to play a forehand stroke from the backhand corner. There are two different ways to accomplish this. Some players bring the right round behind the left and then adjust the left. Others move the left first a little out and then bring the right round after.
  • Postural — Movement of the trunk, the upper body. Although not strictly a movement pattern we must also consider such movements, where the player with limited time and sometimes not much other alternative, bends the body sideways or backwards to play a forehand stroke (sometimes combined with a one-step short).
  • Manipulative — Movement of the arm, hand or fingers. Particularly useful when changing direction and disguising where you intend to play.

3. SERVICE

Serve and the strategy of service have changed very much over the years. In the days of the old hard bat there was very little spin, now there is spin, speed and deception. Short serves are usually short or half long (with the second bounce on the white line) to tempt the opponent to push or to open with a less strong shot, whereupon the server can counter hard or open strongly. Long serves are usually very fast to the corners or the crossover point.

Examine and discuss the main serves and grips and which part of the ball to contact, where on the racket and where the ball should bounce on the table (where on the player’s own side first).

  • Forehand serve from the backhand corner, backspin, sidespin, topspin, reverse, float and a mixture.
  • Reverse spin, backspin, sidespin, topspin, mixed. (Discuss the different arcs used by western grip and pen-hold players.)
  • Backhand serve, backspin, sidespin, topspin, float, mixed. (Reverse).
  • Axe — back and side or top and sidespin or float. (Reverse).
  • Others or other possibilities.
  • Look also into the value and strategy of the high throw service.

Discuss 3rd ball strategy and return spin and how to use this. If you serve short, be ready for the short return, if long, expect a hard return.

Remember the serve is the one time you control what is happening, you are in the driving seat. Consider 6 aspects.

  • A sound recovery position (after your serve).
  • A quick recovery serve.
  • A ‘short’ contact to bounce serve.
  • A fast, short service action which gives less time to ‘read’ spin.
  • Try to play third ball attack or gain an advantage.
  • Try to play to the opponent’s weakness.

The first four are under your control, the last two partially under your opponent’s control.

A point to consider.

The acrobat can attain pinpoint accuracy through hard training, why not the table tennis player? The answer lies in the fact that table tennis is an antagonistic competition, acrobatic performance isn’t. Every stroke you make is based on correct and split-second judgement of the incoming ball, which varies in a thousand and one ways. Service however is the one exception. Much remains to be exploited in the service area in terms of spin, speed and placement of the ball.

4. RECEIVE.

This is probably one of the most under-practised of all aspects of our sport. If a serve is long for example we should always be prepared to be positive, loop drive and think placement at the same time. Also however we should think tactics too, some players especially in the women’s game want speed back so that they can smash the next ball. Sometimes you must be ready to change the speed, stop-block, slow roll. Equally if a player serves long chop you should always (girls too!) be looking to open. There is little point in pushing only to see the next ball looped past you. Quite often to return power with lack of power, or spin with lack of spin, or even just to return the server’s own spin to him or her, can be a very good tactic.

Short serves can always be dropped back very short to take the advantage away from the server. Most top players however are good in short play and in gaining advantage in this area. Try to take the ball at as early a timing point as possible, just after the bounce to give the other player little time to react. This is also a good tactic if you have to push back long, again early timing, fast return, sometimes with spin, sometimes without, (try to use the wrist as little as possible).

At top level, especially in the men’s game it is necessary to flick some balls — bear in mind you can do this at differing timing points, as the ball bounces up (very early) or drops down (quite late). This late-timed flick can often be effective as many players think you are going to push.

Above all work at the strategy of receive, training against good servers, training at returning with and against the spin and playing the opponents’ spin back to them, varying placement and length and angles. Work at doing different things with the 2nd ball so that the server cannot have an easy 3rd ball situation. Train to do enough with the 2nd ball so that you can perhaps create an advantage on the 4th ball.

5. WOMEN’S PLAY.

Let us take a close look into the training of the female player and which areas of technique, tactics and development are of vital importance in producing players who can make a real impact. Particularly let us always bear in mind the value of early programming which is so significant in a fast reaction sport such as ours.

MOVEMENT

The establishing of sound movement patterns is one of the single most important factors in determining just how far a young girl can go in her career. Generally the top women move in four different ways (depending on how you categorize these), the men often have additional patterns. What you must appreciate however is that in a match situation there is often a combination of one or more patterns at the same time. That is why it is so important to train movement in a multi-choice manner and at advanced level in a random fashion. But what is most vital of all is that you the coach are aware that you are laying the right ground patterns — that you establish the patterns that are appropriate to the player’s end style and which can grow with the player.

Diagonal play for instance wide to the backhand followed by switches to middle or forehand result in one-step short or one-step long in the case of a block/drive player or one-step and cross step in the case of a looper (or a very small player). Variation between the short and long Falkenberg will involve the pivot step followed by one-step long or the cross step (preceded perhaps by the jump-step small, the most common of all movements). Strong attacking play especially if combined with spin is usually characterized by the cross step, jump-step and the pivot step, while control/block players more commonly use the one-step short, long or back.

One other aspect well worth looking at for young girls is the knee angle of top women in play — ready position 110 degrees, one-step long to forehand 104 degrees, left leg braking after long cross step 91 degrees. Playing with straight legs and being a top player are just not compatible!

CONTROL OF SPEED

— Many women play fast and flat — it is not essential that girls play fast, what is essential is that they are able to control speed, without this it’s hard to progress in a women’s table tennis world. Each girl must find her own method and work in areas most suited to her own individual style — drive play, blocking of one sort or another, topspin, defence, rolling ‘nothing’ balls, using different rubbers , variation in placement, speed or angles.

But above all it’s important to look at the psychology of speed and power. Women who play ultra fast like to have speed back right from their own long serve. Often their effectiveness is greatly reduced if they are faced with a return of little pace. Also often they are less comfortable against short play or slow spin.

OPENING

— It is of particular importance that girls learn to open from a pushing situation as early as possible in their development. It is all too easy to win at a young age by being negative but the long-term development is slowed down. Focusing on winning in the 9 – 11 age groups should not really be an over-riding priority. The earlier the young player becomes confident in opening the quicker the next stages in development can proceed.

Coaches will be aware that there are a varying number of ways to open — drive, punch, sidespin, fast topspin or slow loop or even the roll ball. However they and their players should be alert to the fact that with women power is rarely the answer. Female opponents usually respond more easily to the fast ball, it is the slower one that more often than not causes problems. It is vital that girls learn to open with a slower ball, slow loop or roll, the main thing being that this first opening ball be to a good length, either very short or very long (and of course girls should be able to open on both wings).

CONVERTING

— Just as important as opening is the ability to do something with the next ball. After the first opening spin it is vital that girls can be positive and if at all possible put the next ball away and win the point. Not spin and spin again till the rally degenerates into a control situation, but spin and drive or kill. Regard spin as a means to create openings, not as an end in itself. In this way the opponent receives two very different balls in quick succession and is unable to find a rhythm.

SHORT PLAY

— At a higher level girls must be able to cope with short play, both the serve and the next ball. It is therefore important that they become comfortable in this area at an early age, and explore methods of being positive and creating advantage from this situation. We are not only talking about flicking or top-spinning over the table, but pushing also in a positive manner so as to make openings to create attacking opportunities, using very early timing and playing back a short, dead ball, or even long and fast to the corners or body with heavy backspin or no spin. This early-timed, deep ball especially with spin gives the opponent very little time to act positively. (To open with spin or power the centre of gravity starts from a lower position, so this entails moving, turning and lowering the body all at the same time, before playing the return ball.)

However it is not enough just to be able to deal with short play, the next stage is to cope with the opponent’s first opening ball. Again at high level it is not sufficient only to control the first drive or topspin — against the top players just being safe is inadequate. Girls should train to force the return with either power or spin or even to kill through the topspin from a close position, a technique not worked on enough in Europe. Other alternatives would be to return a different ball, stop block or slow roll.

SERVICE

— Girls with good serves invariably go far and the time to work on the different grips and actions is at a young age. Usually they have a little more difficulty than boys in achieving spin, especially good back and sidespin so it is important that they persevere. Girls also often need more help and individual training time before they fully understand the techniques involved, the stance, body action, grips, where they hit the ball on the racket, where the racket starts and stops, the contact angle, which part of the ball they hit and at what height they should make contact. It is important that they achieve a variety of different spins and speeds with the same or very similar actions. Also the young player should fully understand the differing ways in which her service may be returned and should always look to be positive on the third ball.

RECEIVE

— Return of the short serve has largely been covered under ‘short play’ but of course variation in all aspects is vital, in spin, speed, placement and angles. The long serve often causes problems in the girls’ game usually because they return with too much power. It is well worthwhile looking at a variety of receives — drives, blocks, (soft, forcing, sidespin, stop and chop), spin, punch, slow roll and even chop and float. A different method of return may well prove effective against differing players.

VARIATION

— Too many girls are predictable in the way they play. To be effective at top level requires much more thought to variation — change of spin and speed, length and placement, not just to hit harder and harder. Girls should be encouraged to be unpredictable in the way they play, often straight or to the body instead of diagonal, with regular change of pace and use of the slower ball.

USE OF THE TABLE

— There are a number of things we can combine under this heading — better length, (too many girls play mid-table balls instead of up to the white line), more short and long play, more angled balls off the side of the table, more straight shots and balls directed at the body or between 15 – 20 centimetres either side of the racket. Force the opponent to move to play the return.

USE OF EQUIPMENT

— Girls should seek advice on and explore the possibilities of the many differing rubbers on the market. It is not a coincidence that around 60% or more of top women players use something different on one side of the racket or the other. They are successful because they are different and unusual — nothing wrong in that!

STRONGER/ DIFFERENT BACKHAND

— With many girls the backhand is used in a supporting role to the forehand and as a control stroke rather than a point-winner. At top level it must be remembered that any weakness will be very quickly exploited. It is important that even from an early age girls work at strengthening this wing, so they have the capability to accelerate from mere blocking into drive play or spin. The other path is to use a different rubber to achieve a different effect, making it difficult for the opponent to win points here.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE

— Girls are always much more negative than their male counterparts. Throughout early development strong support should be given by parents and coaches and every effort made to strengthen positive aspects. Indeed girl players should be urged to attack at the earliest opportunity, to be alert for that first opening, to try to develop a sense of aggression, to cultivate the attitude that to let an attacking opportunity go by is failure.

A WINNING WEAPON

— Every player must have a strength, a way to win points. It is up to the coach and player to find this strength and to build on it. Sometimes it may be a combination, loop and kill, serve and third ball. Whatever it may be the player should be aware of her strength and how to use it to best effect.

BE DIFFERENT

— Above all girls should look to be different in style. Throughout Europe there are thousands who play the fast, flat, ‘typical women’s game’ – only the very best one or two will get anywhere. Even these are unlikely to succeed against the Asian players who play this type of game even better and put much more practice time in at it!

Not only should girls be encouraged to develop their own personal strengths and characteristics so that a unique individual style emerges, but also they should be prepared to be flexible in thinking. The effects of mass media and the many cultural and sporting interactions in Europe tend if anything to standardize training methods and style and to inhibit forward thinking.

HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARDS CHANGE

— Progress and development entails change. If your game remains the same or your mind refuses to accept change then you don’t go forward, you remain as you are. This is the one great lesson that every player must absorb at as early an age as possible. Be receptive to new ideas, prepared to test new theories and methods, alert to new techniques and tactics, ready to keep your game fresh and alive and moving forward.

6. INNOVATION AND STYLE.

The table tennis player who refuses to change or who is happy or satisfied with his or her way of play, will remain at the same level and will stop developing. How many players train in the same way, with the same exercises, the same serves and tactics and do not even understand the significance of the fact that nothing new is happening in their game? How many more are sadly frozen in the mind and not even prepared to consider new or different ideas?

Each player is a unique individual, with differing strengths, reactions and skills — you cannot force him or her into a style of your own choosing. Rather you must help him or her to develop and flower in his or her own way. In the areas of technique, tactics and physical exercises the coach can lead, in the mental areas and in the choosing of a style, with which he or she feels comfortable, the player should have a large say. Only the player knows what risks he wants to take, whether he is more at ease playing close or back, fast or slow, spin or drive. A player’s style should always be based on and directed towards his or her greatest strengths and always he or she should bear in mind that style is a living, growing organism, developing all the time however slowly. When it stops progressing you stop also and stagnate!

At whatever level you play each and every one of you will only progress, if you are prepared to accept in your own mind that change is necessary to develop. Each of you must monitor your own progress and question what is happening with your game. Ask yourself — ‘How has my game changed over the last 6 months or one year? Are my strokes changing, different timing, sidespin, slower balls, change of speed? Am I considering the possibility of different equipment, faster, slower blades or rubbers or pimples? Am I happy with the way I play, my own style? Have I problems with certain types of players? What am I doing about these?’

In the final analysis, although others may point the way, you should bear the responsibility for your own fate. Always have an open mind, ready to listen and to question. Perhaps it is true to say — the greatest danger is in absolute certainty. Certainty is the enemy of progress, we stop thinking and further progress is not possible because our mind is closed to other possibilities.

INNOVATION IN TABLE TENNIS EMBRACES THE FOLLOWING SEVEN ASPECTS

  1. TECHNIQUE
  2. TACTICS
  3. STYLE
  4. TRAINING
  5. EQUIPMENT
  6. THEORY
  7. ADMINISTRATION

Because table tennis is a very technical sport the basic law is adaptation and counter-adaptation. Each player tries to adapt to the technique, tactics and playing style of the opponent and to avoid being 'controlled' by the way the opponent plays. Table tennis is largely a sport of conditioned reflex patterns where players train to react automatically. This is why new techniques, tactics and unusual styles of play are difficult to cope with. The 'automatic' pilot doesn't work so well any more and the player's reactions are unstable, inaccurate, lacking smoothness and coordination. In fact the player who can keep ahead of the competitors in the innovation of technique, tactics or playing style, will have a big advantage (especially now we are playing to eleven up) because the opponent is unable to adapt in time. Remember the prime skill of table tennis is to read the game and to adapt in an ever changing situation.

Coaching Development Course 4

Rowden Fullen (2004)

  1. Elastic energy in stroke-play.
  2. Stroke analysis.
  3. Analyse technique.
  4. Critical features of the forehand topspin.
  5. The 4 elements.
  6. Multi-ball and women.
  7. Ready position, serve and receive tactics are these changing?
  8. Diversity in technique and tactics – men’s and women’s game.
  9. Women – the simple facts.
  10. Win over Asian women.
  11. Long pimples simplified.

1. ELASTIC ENERGY IN STROKE PLAY

Many sporting activities involve a stretch-shorten cycle where the muscles involved in the exercise are first stretched then shortened. This is generally observed in racket sports as a counter-movement during the back-swing or preparation stage of the activity (the stretching phase) that precedes the actual forward or upward movement (the shortening phase). One of the reasons for the use of the stretch-shorten cycle is that it enhances the quality and efficiency of the movement through the utilization of elastic energy.

The mechanical principle underlying the use of elastic energy in stretch-shorten cycle activities is a relatively simple process. During the stretching phase the muscles and tendons are actually stretched and store elastic energy in the same way as an elastic band stores energy when stretched. On movement reversal, during the shortening phase, the stretched muscles and tendons recoil back to their original shape and in so doing a portion of the stored energy is recovered and assists in the movement.

Biomechanical research has shown that, in running for example, the use of elastic energy has been estimated to account for approximately 50% of the total energy requirement. In other similar stretch-shorten cycle activities such as racket sports, (movement and stroke play for example), the use of elastic energy also contributes a significant proportion to the total energy requirement.

Elastic energy is stored in tendons and in muscle itself. The storage of elastic energy within muscle is dependent upon the level of muscular activity present during the stretching phase. The greater the tension in the muscle being stretched, the more elastic energy will be stored. Therefore, to maximize the storage of elastic energy, the stretching phase should be resisted by muscular effort. In a stretching movement of very short duration, such as the foot contact phase in sprinting, the energy can be stored during the entire stretching motion. However, in a movement of longer duration, such as in a forehand topspin, the energy is best stored just prior to the shortening phase. This is achieved by producing a high level of force, (large muscular resistance), towards the end of the stretching phase.

Research indicates also that increasing the speed of the stretching phase from a slow speed to a relatively high speed enhances the storage of elastic energy. This occurs as an increased speed or force of stretch extends the muscles and tendons to a greater extent thus storing even more energy. Therefore the final portion of the back-swing should be performed quickly as the faster the back-swing, the greater the elastic energy recoil will be during the forward swing. In the case of our attacking (or defensive) strokes in table tennis it is important that these stretch-shorten cycle movements be performed with a minimal delay between the stretch and shorten phases.

It has been demonstrated that 93% of stored elastic energy can be recovered. This recovery is largely dependent on the time period between the stretching and shortening movement phases. Elastic energy is reduced if a delay period occurs during the stretch-shorten cycle because during the delay period the stored energy is released as heat. The longer the delay the greater the loss of elastic energy. Research indicates that after a delay period of around one second, 55% of the stored energy is lost — after 2 seconds, 80% and after 4 seconds there is total loss.

Some training practices encourage players to prepare very early for stroke production and this often inadvertently produces a delay period between the back-swing and forward swing of the stroke. As a result stored energy is lost and an inefficient movement strategy results. For maximum efficiency players must practise allowing the back-swing and forward swing to flow naturally from one phase of the movement to the other. This is particularly important when playing defensive players, where there can be some seconds time-lag in returning the ball. Try more to move into a good position, but only to pull back the arm in the stretch phase of the topspin or drive movement at the time the ball bounces on your side of the table or even after. In this way you save a higher ratio of elastic energy and utilize it in the stroke.

The recovery of stored elastic energy tends to occur relatively quickly during the shortening phase of the movement. Tests show that all stored energy is released 0.25 seconds into the shortening phase. Thus in drive and topspin strokes the stored energy is used primarily to assist in the early forward swing stage of the movement.

The implications from this research are that the stretching or counter-movement phase should be performed quickly with large muscular resistance exerted over the final 0.2 seconds and that all stretch-shorten cycle movements should be performed with a minimal delay between the stretch and shorten phases.

Other research indicates that plyometric training (depth jumping, bounding etc.) may also enhance an athlete’s ability to utilize elastic energy and may even alter the elasticity of the tendons and muscles enabling them to store greater quantities of energy. Also in such training, the delay time between the stretch-shorten cycle is minimized ensuring maximal recovery of all stored energy. It would appear that plyometric training, as compared to conventional weight training, involves the implementation of those movement strategies which maximize the contribution of elastic energy to stretch-shorten cycle movements.

However although plyometric exercises may represent a more specific form of overload for many athletes, the performance of high impact stretching movements often results in muscle soreness in the days following training. It may therefore be necessary that the implementation of plyometrics in a training routine allows for recovery days between exercise sessions.

2. STROKE ANALYSIS

In trying to learn a new skill we must endeavour to be as systematic as possible. Try to break down and isolate the different areas of the stroke — in this way it’s much easier to single out which aspects are causing problems.

  1. Preparation — the stance, the position of the feet and the body, the back-swing. Look at the preparation particularly in terms of results and economy. Are we achieving the required effect, but are there extra, unnecessary movements in the build-up? Is there enough movement so that we utilize elastic energy to the full? Modern table tennis is such a fast sport both in terms of reaction time and movements that there is just no time for superfluous components and balance at all times is a priority. The content and method of training of players assume rather more importance than we may have initially thought, especially in the formative years. It is vital that the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that the player has to work so hard to build up, cover as large a series of actions as possible. In this way it is easier for the player to establish a valid pattern and to have the capability to adapt to new situations as they arise.
  2. The instant of contact – the use of the body and legs, length and position of the bat arm, the timing and the angle of the racket. Are we achieving maximum effect from the contact and are we combining the movements of the legs, body and arms and in the right way? Are we applying the force in the right way and in the right direction?
  3. Follow-through – the length, trajectory, the use of body, transfer of weight. Do we retain balance at all times, is there enough follow-through to achieve good effect with the stroke or does the manner of follow-through limit stroke efficiency and development or even recovery to the next ball?
  4. Recovery – to the ready position, position of playing arm, balance, coordination. Does the player react to the next angle of play? Is he or she always ready to play the next shot? Are the feet and racket well placed for the next ball? Recovery is what links one stroke to the next and gives control of the table.

3. ANALYSE TECHNIQUE

If you are to be a successful coach then it is vital that you have some system of studying what is happening. Even more important is that you know what you are looking for and are able to identify it when you see it. Unfortunately in this modern computerized world we more often than not have too many fitters and too few engineers. The specialists are disappearing and we replace the whole rather than finding out what part was defective. After a while we lose the understanding of how the whole was constructed. This applies too to our great sport. The professional coaches are disappearing – the guys who know how things work are being lost. More often than not they are replaced by players, who at the close of their career or after injury, take up the occupation of trainer. The expertise is in most cases not the same and they look at coaching from a different standpoint.

The first step even before we start to analyse technique, whether it be a stroke, a movement or a serve, is to know what we are looking for. Do we know the critical features of the skill – the back-swing or recovery phases, the force producing movements, the critical impact instant, the follow-through? The movements performed during the approach and ball contact stages are examples of critical features. They must be performed correctly in order to achieve the best results. Coaches must determine too whether or not the skill was performed to best advantage.

Do we have a picture in our mind of what perfect execution looks like? Because without this we have no model, no standard against which to measure! We must also consider any other relevant factors, especially those which may affect our observation of the ability. Bear in mind too that although critical features are inflexible parts of a movement they are often modified by individual differences. These unique and individual adaptations are what make up style. Do we know the difference?

We must visually and mentally break down the skill before actually attempting to observe it. Many advanced coaches already have in their mind a sound concept of the basic components of a particular skill, built up over years of experience of coaching players, lecturing to coaches or preparing and writing coaching material. However the ability to analyse and provide effective feedback is dependent upon the accuracy and relevance of the coaches’ observations. Coaches cannot possibly examine technique if for example they are unaware of exactly which components determine effective performance and unaware of how best to observe these.

Finally we are in a position to plan how we are going to observe our skill, what aids we are going to use and even from which position we are going to carry out our observation. The critical features are the components of the movement which are essential to the performance of a skill and when we talk about optimal technique we refer to the most efficient performance of a movement pattern within the constraints and requirements of the skill or activity. The identification of the critical features is a far from simple task. It requires a broad knowledge of basic mechanical and motor concepts and an ability to apply this information to different types of movement. The first step in the development of a model is to clearly identify the performance criterion — the exact purpose or goal of the skill and exactly what constitutes successful execution.

The second stage is to simplify analysis by breaking the movement down into parts or phases. Frequently technique may be divided into 4 phases and this break-down process allows the coach to examine the mechanics which affect specific components or parts of the skill.

  • Back-swing or recovery.
  • Force producing movements.
  • The critical impact instant.
  • The follow-through.

It is only after the purpose of the skill has been identified and the skill sequence simplified into parts that the coach is ready to determine the mechanical factors affecting each component or phase of the skill. Technique is largely determined by mechanical factors. This stage of the process is the most difficult as it requires an overview of all the fundamental mechanical principles. This movement analysis stage should be considered as the homework phase of the whole analysis process — take time over it. Systematically determine the mechanical factors for each part of the skill. These mechanics do not change, so once you have them figured out, your work on this step is complete. Many experienced coaches have for instance a mental check-list of exactly what to look for at this stage in the analysis.

Once the mechanical factors have been examined and determined, then the critical features can be identified and compared with our model of perfection.

Observers who try to see everything, often end up perceiving nothing. Movement observation must be systematic in order to be effective. The development of an observation plan answers how, when and where to observe. Coaches who approach observation haphazardly will be unable to selectively attend to and record performance of the critical features. They must be able to methodically search for the relevant features of a performance. Each observation plan is designed to relate to a specific task such as a coaching session, which may focus specifically on actions involved during the force production phase or the follow-through phase of a stroke. What is most important is not how you plan but that you do plan.

There are 4 steps involved in the design of an observation plan.

  1. Identify the observation task and select the relevant critical features.
  2. Determine the appropriate observation strategies.
  3. Determine the number of observations required.
  4. Select the positioning strategies to gather the identified information.

Coaches need first to identify the goal of the observation session. It may be to improve the movements in a particular part of the skill, or it may be to refine the skill as a whole. Critical features previously identified in the movement analysis phase are re-examined and those features relevant to the observation session are selected.

Consider for example the critical features which we may identify in the case of the forehand topspin. If the focus of the particular coaching session is to improve the actions which occur solely with the racket arm, then we only need to select for observation the critical features which are relevant. These are the amount of back-swing, the speed of back-swing, the length and plane of the arm, the speeds and application of the various parts of the arm, the force producing movement, the contact point in terms of time and place, the angle of the racket at contact, the optimum area of contact on the racket and the follow-through of the arm. We need not concern ourselves with the critical features relevant to leg movement or rotation of the body. The selection in this way of a sub-routine of relevant critical features will greatly simplify the observation process.

Observation strategies are formulated after consideration of the following questions.

  • What is the best way to observe the critical features — focusing or scanning?
  • On which parts of the body or the environment should the coach focus or scan?
  • Are there some critical features which need to be observed simultaneously?

The number of observations needed to obtain all the necessary information is dependent on the skill. Each repeated observation should be used to view some particular aspect of the movement, so that by the final observation there is a clear record of exactly what has happened. Throughout coaches must look for consistent characteristics of the player’s performance. The absence/presence of one critical feature in one repetition is fine, but what’s important is if this characteristic is consistent.

If the vantage point is not considered, other observation techniques may be useless. The optimum position to view varies from skill to skill and from feature to feature. The position of both the performer and the observer determines what can and what cannot be seen. Many inexperienced coaches have no recollection of their positions or remain in one spot all the time. Determining how to observe from the right place and at the right time to be sure to collate all the relevant information, requires serious thought and practice.

The purpose of the diagnostic stage is to identify primary errors, as this is a pre-requisite to making corrections and improving performance. A primary error is one which is the main problem and must be corrected before improvement in performance can take place. Secondary errors are important too, as they may provide important information concerning the primary errors.

For example to spend time trying to speed up the racket arm when there is inadequate back-swing, is a waste of time. Too short or too slow a back-swing inhibits the quality and efficiency of movement and inhibits the full utilization of elastic energy — either is a primary error. An accurate identification of the primary errors must occur before making corrections to improve performance.

The starting point to identifying primary errors is to note the differences between the observed and desired performance of a critical feature. Next the coach needs to make informed decisions as to the causes of these differences. These decisions are based on a knowledge and understanding of the basic mechanical principles.

The actions which cause the differences between the observed and the desired performances are the primary errors and are what the coach needs to address. Once the primary error or errors have been identified a prescription for remedial action is decided upon — a method of correction. It may be necessary to design appropriate exercises, at appropriate speeds to improve the technique.

The diagnosis of primary errors.

  • Aspects involving movement, jumping or balance – examine the take-off phase for primary errors, most discrepancies afterwards are secondary errors. Similarly most problems observed at the instant of landing or ‘arriving’ in a position to play a stroke find their roots in the initial take-off.
  • Problems in the direction of movements — examine the direction of force applied for the primary error. If a stroke results in the ball going to the wrong place perhaps the contact was at the wrong timing and as a result the force was incorrectly applied.
  • Problems in developing power – examine the preparation for the particular stroke, insufficient flexion and extension of the leg joints are primary errors. Often the sequence of joint rotations or of flexion and extension are not in the right order. With rotational power be aware of the principles of Angular Momentum and of the value of ‘whole body’ movement (use of free arm etc) both from the view of increased efficiency and preventing injury. The effective use of elastic energy is also important as are the use of the hips and stomach in influencing power.

4. CRITICAL FEATURES OF THE FH TOPSPIN

MOVEMENT OF THE ARM -- SKILL BREAKDOWN

The amount of backswing 1
The speed of the backswing 1
The length and plane of the arm 1
The power and impetus from the shoulder 2
The speed of the forearm fold 2
The angle and use of the wrist 2
The contact point in terms of time and place 3
The angle of the racket at contact 3
The optimum area of contact on the racket 3
The follow through of the arm 4

MOVEMENT OF THE LEGS -- SKILL BREAKDOWN

Flexion of both legs but especially left knee (for a right-hander) 1
Strong extension of the right knee 2

ROTATION OF THE BODY -- SKILL BREAKDOWN

Rotate right side of body backwards (for right-hander) in preparation 1
Start rotation with left elbow (for right-hander) 2
Strong rotation of the body, both hips and shoulders (Use hip area more, centre of gravity) 2
Stomach muscles, tensed at the start of the movement, relax 5 - 10 centimetres before ball contact 2

SYNTHESIS OF THE WHOLE MOVEMENT

Begin and end with balance.
Begin and end with recovery.

PARTS OF THE SKILL Breakdown

Backswing or recovery 1
Force producing movements 2
Critical impact instant 3
Follow through 4

5. THE 4 ELEMENTS

  • Speed
  • Placement
  • Spin
  • Power

To reach the highest levels players must master these four aspects, be able to utilize them in play and have the capability to switch from one to the other. They must have the ability to combine these elements in their game when competing. If players are weak in one or more of these areas, they are unlikely to achieve real success in our sport. Often in the case of older established stars it is when one or more of the 4 elements weaken or when they are no longer able to combine them effectively, that their playing level starts to decline.

Of the four elements, power and spin assume more importance in the men’s game and speed and placement more in the women’s. Men use topspin more than women and it is necessary in order to create strong spin on a fast shot to hit the ball hard. The harder you can hit the ball with a closed racket, the more topspin you will produce. Women don’t hit the ball as hard as men do, so they achieve less spin and have less on-the-table control. It is speed and control of speed which is rather more important with women’s play. The ability to loop several balls in a row is not a prime requirement. Instead timing is vital as women drive much more - the timing window in drive play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 - 2 centimetres before.

Length also assumes much more importance with women’s play, as does placement. In the men’s game power with strong topspin means that the ball accelerates after bouncing and leaves the opponent’s side of the table with a much flatter trajectory. The vast majority of men counter from a deeper position and give themselves time. From this deeper position it is of course much more difficult to vary placement. Men more often than not look to place the first opening ball and once the rally deteriorates into control and counter-control back from the table then power and spin are the main elements. In the women’s game almost all players assume a much closer-to-table position and it is rather easier to vary placement, long and short or to the angles and to vary speed. Because women have a closer position it is inevitable too that a bad length ball is easily smashed. It is crucial that women can spin short or long and not to mid-table.

As a result women really need to open in a different way to men. The ability for example to open hard against the first backspin ball and not spin all the time is a vital asset. Even the way that women loop, if they open with spin, is critical. This should not be hard and fast as in the men’s game for without the extreme spin that the men are capable of creating, the fast loop executed by women is more predictable and easier to counter, particularly when the opponent is much closer to the table.

Women should be looking rather more to open with a slower ball, with finer touch, good spin and good length. More often than not this will create openings to drive or smash the next ball. Indeed rather than regarding topspin as an end in itself as the men do, women should look upon it as a weapon, a means to create openings from which they can win the point.

As we indicated at the start of this article the ability to combine these 4 elements, power and spin and speed and placement, into your game when competing, will have a direct significance on your ultimate level of play. Against the top players a weakness in any one aspect will be exploited instantly and will be a limiting factor in your own development.

6. MULTI-BALL AND WOMEN’S TRAINING.

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, 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 the 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 do 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 to women players that you work with mixed speed/spin multi-ball — two or three backspin balls, one or two flat or topspin. This then 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 an 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 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 anti-loop 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 in a particular situation.

7. READY POSITION, SERVE AND RECEIVE. ARE THESE CHANGING?

If we look at the top men, women and juniors in the world do we notice any changes in the ready position and in the serve and receive tactics? Obviously there are individual style factors which affect the issue — some top stars such as Kreanga and Steff use the backhand side to open much more from the middle of the table and especially against the serve or on the third ball. What we are looking for however are more general trends either in the men’s, women’s or the junior game.

It would appear that the ready position in the men’s game is changing. Many of the top junior boys and the younger top men now adopt a squarer stance, so that they have more options in short play (the right leg is not so far back as it used to be). Players such as Boll, Maze and Chuan Chih-Yuan fall into this category. If you look at the world’s best junior boys many have a relatively square stance - Zwickl, Süss and Asian players too such as Yang Xiaofu and Sakamoto. The main exception is with the Asian penhold players who want to play more forehands and receive with the right foot (for a right-hander) well back.

Even in the case of many players who do stand with the right foot back, often they come in with the right foot against the serve to use the forehand from the middle of the table. In this way they keep control of the table with the forehand on the subsequent ball. The men take over 80% of the opponent’s serves with the forehand wing. If top men can’t open against the serve, the main receive is the short push return with the forehand.

In comparison with the top men over twice as many of the top women stand quite square - almost 60% as opposed to 25 - 30%. The women too use the backhand much more from the middle of the table on the service receive, both to push and to open. They in fact use the backhand receive almost 50% of the time. European players such as Steff and Struse and the junior Pota fall into this category as do Asian players such as Guo Yue, Zhang Yining, Niu Jianfeng (Ch), Lin Ling (H.K.), Jing Jun Hong , Li Jia Wei (Sin) and top world juniors such as Peng Luyang (Ch) and Fukuhara (J).

In the service area we note a number of differences between the men’s and women’s game. The female players use the long serve more than the men, in a ratio of around 16 - 17% as opposed to 10%, but there is not such a great difference in the short and half-long serves at the very top level. Perhaps the most informative factor is in the difference between the junior and senior players of both sexes. Both the boys and girls use the half-long serve more than the senior players do and the girls use the long serve more than the women. At senior level the service game becomes noticeably tighter. The men almost exclusively use the forehand to serve, with one or two notable exceptions such as Primorac. Backhand service is however generally lower than 5% as opposed to nearly 20% in the case of the top women.

There is a marked difference in service tactics between the top Asian and the top European women. Asian women serve more short serves, around 65% in comparison with 50% and significantly less long serves, 13% as opposed to almost 30%. The best girl in the world Guo Yue, number 15 in the women’s rankings at 14 years, serves around 97% short or half-long serves. The Asian women are generally better and much more confident in the ‘short’ game and at opening against a backspin ball even over the table.

The European women usually serve longer as they wish to get their topspin game in at the earliest opportunity. However in many cases it is obvious that the Europeans have neither good enough serves nor a good enough first opening ball to obtain a real advantage. If we look at statistics of rallies between top Asian and European women, the Europeans are struggling to hold their own in drive or counter-play but also they are not really dominant in spin play either. Unless their first opening topspin ball is of exceptionally high quality they almost always lose out when the game accelerates into fast counter-play.

It is obvious too that counter-play is still the basic norm in the women’s game. We rarely if ever see the loop to loop rallies that we see in men’s play with both players well back from the table. Instead the first opening spin ball is blocked or hit and there is no time to spin again. Rather the top women come in so that they are in a better position to counter fast over or close to the table. After the first opening spin ball, the next is usually taken at an earlier timing point to pressure the opponent.

There seems to be little thought at top level to bring in any changes in the forehand service action or position to create a more positive advantage in respect of the new service law. Most top players just try to remove the free arm and serve as they did before. Few have thought to increase the rotation of the upper body so that the free arm automatically swings away, or to use a higher throw so as to have more time to rotate the body. Players don’t really seem to appreciate that without rotation the service action is often quite stiff and it can take up to three separate movements to get the body and feet in the right position to play the next ball. Few players too have thought to serve from a squarer stance so as to be more adaptable against the return ball. It is noticeable that the women particularly are sometimes a little slow now to get in the right place for the third ball, especially if this is played hard into the corners.

8. DIVERSITY IN TECHNIQUE AND TACTICS - MEN’S AND WOMEN’S GAME

Many trainers in Europe seem to be of the opinion that girls at the moment are getting nearer to the boys and playing a more similar game. However more often than not this is talked about in general terms and we seem to get very little detailed information. If in fact you go to the ‘experts’ on girls’ training (eg. Nikola Vukelja, Croatia), the top European coaches who have players winning individual and team events in the European Junior Championships and ask them why girls can’t be successful playing strong topspin like the boys the answer is quick and to the point — strength, speed and balance, (especially under pressure). To these I would add one more quality, the ability to understand technical matters fully and quickly and to translate these readily into physical actions. Many girls do not easily grasp mechanical and practical aspects and need much guidance on technique, much more than boys.

Unfortunately in a large number of European countries we are not really professional enough, from a coaching point of view, in isolating the important areas in technique and movement when our girl players are at a young and formative age. Many coaches too do not really seem to grasp the essential differences between the men’s and the women’s game. If you examine the basic topspin techniques for example you find that in the case of the men the racket usually starts further back and has a much more ‘closed’ bat angle. Quite simply the men have a longer stroke. Are there reasons for this and surely women can play the same?

It is not quite as simple as it may first appear. Men are generally much stronger than women and are able to feed considerable power into the stroke by starting with the racket well back and even holding this position prior to initiating the stroke. Women however usually need the ‘assist’ of elastic energy in stroke play to achieve real power which denotes directly that they must complete the whole stroke sequence as rapidly as possible.

In addition men and women face totally different incoming balls with very different bounce factors. Men almost always face a much higher level of topspin and power than the women do. If you have ever watched women playing in men’s tournaments at the higher levels, they have great difficulty in coping with the increased degree of spin and power on the ball. This higher degree of rotation means that men almost always face a significantly more predictable ball than women do in their play against other women. Because they face a more predictable ball it is of course understandable that men use their strength and start the stroke from rather further back. If they were to face a much bigger variation in ball movement after the bounce as occurs in the women’s game, men would find it rather more difficult to play in this fashion.

If you think about this at some length the potential problems become quite obvious. The further back you start the stroke, the more difficult it is to change the trajectory if you have a bad bounce. You are fully committed from the moment you commence the forward swing. If you use a shorter stroke and start nearer to the bounce it’s then much easier to change direction and to do different things.

In the women’s game you face less topspin, more drive and block play and a much larger proliferation of ‘funny’ rubbers. The element of strong topspin, which gives control and predictability to the returns, is often no longer present. As a result because your own spin is often returned in unexpected ways and also because the ball is being returned from a variety of pimpled rubbers, women players more often face much more unpredictable returns. You regularly have balls stopping short, bouncing low and kicking up or even sideways after the bounce. It thus becomes rather less appropriate to use the man’s long loop stroke with a very ‘closed’ racket even if you have a woman player who has the strength to do this.

We must also of course consider the time element and what happens after the serve and 2nd ball. In the case of the world’s top men we usually see power with spin from a deeper position, two to three metres back from the table — the men give themselves more time to play and to use their superior power. In contrast in the women’s game the first opening ball is returned from a much closer position. It can be blocked, forced, countered or even smashed from an early timing point. The women have little or no time to topspin two or three balls in a row. What happens more often than not at top level is that after looping the first ball, the woman comes in and blocks or drives the next one. She tries to keep the initiative with a closer to table position.

All these aspects are of course ones which should be considered in the formative period of the player’s evolution, when you are looking at the stroke development and planning for the future. In a sport such as ours where the aim is to automate actions as quickly as possible, it is difficult if not impossible to make major changes at a later date. Too many trainers look at the boys’ or the men’s style as giving the ultimate answers to growth in the women’s game.

Coaches too encourage girls for example to have the same ready position as the men and to take the serve as the men do with the forehand wing wherever possible. Many men of course do this so that they can control the table with the forehand on the next ball. They also often stand with the right foot a little further back so that they can get in with the forehand right from the word go.

However this is changing even with some of the top men, especially the younger players. Players such as Kreanga, Boll and Chuan Chih-Yuan stand much more square than was usual three to four years ago. In addition they are just as liable to open with the backhand from the middle as they are with the forehand. If you have a strong backhand then of course you should play to your own strengths. But perhaps there are other reasons too. Opening with the backhand adds a measure of variety and unpredictability to the play. Often too it is a little more difficult for the opponent to tell exactly where you are going to play the ball.

If you examine top-level women’s play in some detail, the women quite simply play more backhands than the men in the receive situation. They push receive more than the men with the backhand and they open more than the men with the backhand from the middle. They stand more square than the men but with less wide a stance and are in a better position to move in to the centre of the table to play backhands from the middle. Top European players such as Steff and Struse and the junior Pota all fall into this category. You see exactly the same with the Chinese players Zhang Yining, Niu Jianfeng and their top junior Peng Luyang, Lin Ling from Hongkong and Li Jia Wei and Jing Jun Hong from Singapore. The men on the other hand both push receive and open more than the women with the forehand wing.

The female players use the long serve more than the men, but there is not such a great difference in the short and half-long serves at the very top level in the men’s and women’s game. Perhaps the most informative factor is in the difference between the junior and senior players of both sexes. Both the boys and girls use the half-long serve more than the senior players do. At senior level the service game becomes noticeably tighter.

There is a considerable difference between the European and Asian women in the percentage of long serves. Generally the Asian players serve a much higher proportion of short and half-long serves and are rather better in the short game and at getting in on the attack from this position. European players use more long serves and particularly to the backhand side. Asian players on the other hand are very quick to come round and kill this type of serve with the forehand from their backhand corner. It would appear that there is much to be said for working quite extensively in the area of ’short play’ with our European girls and from an early age.

9. WOMEN — THE SIMPLE FACTS

With the modern racket the characteristics of the sponge and rubber allow the bat to be swung in a different, flatter arc, giving more forward speed to the ball and because of the spin this produces, permitting much more energy to be fed into the shot. In effect the ball sinks into the bat, is grabbed by it and as the bat is moving up and forward, the ball is projected upwards and forwards too. The surface of the rubber is very tacky so it grips the ball and imparts a great deal of topspin. It is this topspin which causes the ball to dip down on to the table. Another fundamental point is that for the same bat path, the faster the racket moves, the more spin it puts on the ball. A fast hit with a flat, forward arc will contain more topspin than a slow hit. How much spin you produce is seen most readily when you play against long pimples and your hard hit comes back with very much more backspin than your slow hit.

Quite simply men can hit the ball harder than women so they will achieve more topspin

Most players, especially women, do not understand the importance of the initial power input in achieving spin. Very few women for example are as powerful as men and few ever attempt to play with the same degree of closed racket angle as the men, so how can they hope to achieve the same level of spin as the men? It is the gyroscopic effect of the spin which gives strong directional control and allows more and more power to be fed into the stroke without greatly reducing on-the-table accuracy. Because women achieve less topspin, they have less on-the-table control than men do. With less topspin the ball has a less downward curving flight path and less directional control.

with less topspin women have less on-the-table control

With less topspin on the ball it’s also easier to block or to hit through the spin. Therefore it becomes immediately apparent that length becomes much more important in the women’s game. In the case of the men who are playing much further back and hitting the ball with much more spin and power, whether the ball contacts the opponent’s side of the table in the middle or at the end is relatively unimportant. With the women any topspin ball which bounces in the middle of the table is liable to be smashed back.

it is crucial in the women’s game that the loop is either very short or very long. good length is critical

Another extremely important consideration is predictability. For two reasons the men face a ball which behaves as anticipated. Firstly the higher level of power and spin means that the ball bounces off the table as expected - it dips sharply downwards before the bounce and shoots forwards after hitting the table. Also the men do not face the vast array of differing material surfaces which are common in the women’s game. A loop played against a long pimple blocker will be returned for instance with backspin and sidespin.

in the women’s game the behaviour of the ball after the bounce is more unpredictable

This factor tends to have a direct effect on the technical development of the two sexes. The men for example often have a long stroke, especially on the forehand wing, with the racket starting well behind the body. This is of course quite permissible when facing a stable trajectory and a predictable bounce. When facing an unpredictable ball however such a long stroke means that the player is ‘committed’ too early to a particular racket ‘path’.

It is then next to impossible to change the stroke if the ball behaves in a totally unexpected way. In addition most women need the ‘assist’ of elastic energy in stroke-play and this is rather easier to achieve with a shorter back-swing and stroke action.

it is expedient in the women’s game that the players’ attention is directed towards the value of the shorter stroke

It is obvious that counter-play is still the basic norm in the women’s game. We rarely if ever see the loop to loop rallies that we see in men’s play with both players well back from the table. Instead the first opening spin ball is blocked or hit and there is little or no time for the looper to spin again. Rather the top women come in after their first topspin so that they are in a better position to counter fast over or close to the table. After the first opening spin ball, the next is usually taken at an earlier timing point to pressure the opponent.

timing is vital in the women’s game. The timing ‘window’ in drive-play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 – 2 centimetres before. It is essential too that women can convert – change from topspin to drive and vice versa at will. the ability to loop several balls in a row is not a prime requirement in the women’s game

The European women usually serve longer as they wish to get their topspin game in at the earliest opportunity. However in many cases it is obvious that the Europeans have neither good enough serves nor a good enough first opening ball to obtain a real advantage. If we look at statistics of rallies between top Asian and European women, the Europeans are struggling to hold their own in drive or counter-play but also they are not really dominant in spin play either. Unless their first opening topspin ball is of exceptionally high quality they almost always lose out when the game accelerates into fast counter-play.

in the women’s game the vital importance of spin on the first opening ball (and good length) cannot be over-estimated. This creates openings

European women should bear in mind that there are other alternatives when opening up against a backspin ball. The Asians often demonstrate the hard first ball hit against backspin, which we would do well to work with more often. As women usually play closer to the table this is a viable alternative to the loop. It is feasible to either use the incoming spin or to create your own, but the most important factor is to take the ball at an early timing point.

the ability to open hard against the first backspin ball and not just spin all the time is a vital asset in the women’s game

In the men’s game over 80% of receives are with the forehand so that they control the table with the forehand on the next ball. Many women players push or open with the backhand from the middle of the table on the 2nd ball. This is easier for them and involves less movement. Most of them stand closer to the table too so this is a viable option.

never stop girl/women players receiving with the BH from the middle (or even the FH) it’s done at the very highest level

Although at a lower standard and at a younger age girls/women are less positive than men are on the backhand side, at the very highest levels you rarely see women pushing more than one ball. They have the capability to flick over the table or to open from further back on this wing.

from an early age girls should learn to open and play positively on the BH side

There is a noticeable difference in service tactics between the top Asian and the top European women. The Asian women serve more short serves, around 65% in comparison with 50% and significantly less long serves, 13% as opposed to almost 30%. The best girl in the world Guo Yue, number 15 in the women’s rankings at 14 years, serves around 97% short or half-long serves. The Asian women are generally better and much more confident in the ‘short’ game and at opening against a backspin ball even over the table. Europeans must analyse the possibilities in this area and upgrade their technique and tactics.

from early in their career girls should train till they are at ease in the short play situation, aware of the various possibilities and able to gain advantage in this area

Examine top-level matches between the best European women and you see the play is often one pace and predictable, pre-planned and leisurely. By the way they play it looks as if many Europeans train far too much control play, loop to loop or loop to block, they don’t train to win the point! The result is that against the top Asians they just don’t have the time or the opportunity to utilize the stronger technical aspects of their game. Instead of playing further back from the table, perhaps the European women’s development should be directed more towards the importance of serve, receive and the first four balls and also towards methods of more effective and active play over the table. In this way they will have rather more opportunities to create attacking positions and earlier in the rally.

Rarely if ever are the Asians afraid of the European serves and follow up ball. They consider that the Europeans have too few serves, are predictable in the way they use them and therefore usually limited with what they can do with the first attack ball. Often at the highest level against the Asians, European players aren’t allowed the opportunity to get their strengths in and are not able to use strong spin early enough in the rally. With their serve and third ball and receive and fourth, the Asians deny them the time. Not enough European women are able to impose their game on the Asians.

Strong serve and 3rd ball are essential elements if women are to reach the highest levels

The importance of the receive cannot be underestimated in the women’s game. It is important that they are able to control the short serve, drop short, push long, flick and deceive and from differing timing points and with differing spins. Against the long serve it’s vital that women are both safe and positive. There are just too many mistakes against the serve even at the highest levels.

Receive tactics are of prime importance in the women’s game

10. WIN OVER ASIAN WOMEN

A number of top coaches and top women players in Europe seem to be of the opinion that if you can topspin the ball powerfully from both wings and get in the first attack, then the road to victory against the Asian players is open. The idea is often to develop the player’s style towards a two-winged topspin game similar to the men. It is also important of course to have the capability of attacking first and of using the serve to set up a third ball attack. These are keys to winning at top level. However is the concept of a consistent, strong topspin attack sufficient in itself in the women’s game? Perhaps it is necessary to examine the whole approach to this type of style in more detail! It can also be necessary to point out that we should see clearly what is happening and not what we would like to happen!

There is for example a noticeable difference in service tactics between the top Asian and the top European women. The Asian women serve more short serves, around 65% in comparison with 50% and significantly less long serves, 13% as opposed to almost 30%. The best girl in the world Guo Yue, number 15 in the women’s rankings at 14 years, serves around 97% short or half-long serves. The Asian women excel and are much more confident in the ‘short’ game and at opening against a backspin ball even over the table. They are superior in short play and Europeans must analyse the possibilities in this area and upgrade their technique and tactics.

It’s vital to have the advantage on the ‘first three balls’. If we let this slip away then we are on level terms or even a little behind with the serve and handling the 2nd and 3rd balls. It’s also important to reinforce control and counter-control measures over the 4th, 5th and 6th balls so we maintain an offensive initiative and do not let the play drift into a stalemate situation.

The importance of the serve cannot be underestimated against the Asians. The European women usually serve longer as they wish to get their topspin game in at the earliest opportunity. However in many cases it is obvious that the Europeans have neither good enough serves nor a good enough first opening ball to obtain a real advantage. If we look at statistics of the rallies between top Asian and European women, the Europeans are struggling to hold their own in drive or counter-play but also they are not really dominant in spin play either. Unless their first opening topspin ball is of exceptionally high quality they almost always lose out when the game accelerates into fast counter-play.

Indeed it is of some importance that the point be won after one or two topspin balls. In longer rallies top European women often lose the point. This in fact emphasizes the difference between the men’s and the women’s game. In the men’s game with the longer rally the Europeans have an equal or better than equal chance of winning the point, as the Asians are a little behind in counter-looping techniques and are often weaker back from the table, especially on the backhand side. Therefore when the rally degenerates into a control situation they are at a disadvantage.

The reverse is the case with women’s play - women don’t counter-loop, they drive, block, hit or even chop and as a result it is the player who loops, who is at a disadvantage as the rally progresses. In the women’s game the longer a looping rally goes on usually the less chance the Europeans have to win as the Asians initiate speed or variation. There is just too much pace or variation on the return ball and it is difficult to maintain consistent pressure with topspin tactics. In the women’s game therefore it is the first one or two loops which are of prime importance and it is vital that the loop player makes the opening to ‘kill’ and wins the point as early as possible in the rally.

European women should bear in mind too that there are other alternatives when opening up against a backspin ball. The Asians often demonstrate the hard first ball hit against backspin, which we would do well to work with more often. As women usually play closer to the table this is a viable alternative to the loop. It is feasible to either use the incoming spin or to create your own, but the most important factor is to take the ball at an early timing point to pressure the opponent.

Another aspect that strong women topspin players could work profitably with is counter-looping techniques. Give the opponent the half-chance to spin the 2nd ball for example, then pressure her directly with an aggressive topspin counter. This tactic is common in the men’s game but is rarely if ever used in women’s table tennis.

Often if you assess the European woman’s game plan she uses something like 60% drive or flick play and only 35% topspin. Does she fully understand how she should play? True short play may be the key but she must use the right tactics to get her spin in from a short play situation! If she puts the emphasis on speed and power she usually gets a faster ball back and it’s then more difficult to create good spin! As a result flicking and drive play over the table often work against what she is hoping to achieve, which is good spin on the first one or two balls so that she creates the opportunity to win the point. In other words spin one or two then hit!

If we also often use a fairly high ratio of long serves (over 30%) the result is again that we get a hard return and have problems in creating enough spin on the third ball. When we assess the backhand too in Europe we often see that women have not really such good spin or don’t try to use much spin - more often than not they drive the ball. Again as a result they get drawn into the counter-hitting type of game.

Not only must we work at developing better serves, but must use them to best effect. The priority (and here length is of particular importance) is to get the opponent to push so that we can loop strongly and with good spin on the third ball. We then have the initiative in the rally. The same applies on receiving. Subtle use of the push or of techniques such as the stop-block against the Asians will pay more dividends than trying to flick or open all the time, especially when our first opening ball is weak or has insufficient spin.

Often the tendency in Europe with a woman is to harness the strength element and to encourage her to play more like a man. This strategy ignores both the theory of the creation of spin and the differences between the men’s and women’s game. Top European women are often made to look very ordinary when they meet players who can control their hard loops and who pick the right ball to counter.

The theory of the creation of spin tells us that the harder you hit the ball with a closed racket, the more spin you will create. Women are not as strong as men and will never achieve as much spin as men. It’s of little use taking the view that a strong woman can hit harder than a man - compare Boros with Wang Liqin or Kreanga and there is little or no similarity in the power development.

Equally the return ball is completely different in the women’s game. Rarely if ever do the women run back and counter-loop, they block, hit or defend. More often than not the loop player just has no time to loop more than one ball, as their loop comes back with so much speed - and in many cases the harder you topspin, the faster the ball comes back. Such players as Steff for example (top 10 world ranking) have the capability to topspin the first ball then come in and counter the next ball from a very early timing point. It is often in fact a better tactic in the women’s game to topspin slower and with more spin rather than faster and with more power.

The other critical point about the women’s game is that both because of the lesser topspin and the greater use of differing rubbers, players face a much more unpredictable reaction from the ball after the bounce than they do in the men’s game. This tends even to influence the technical development of the female topspin stroke. There is little point in developing the habit of starting the loop stroke too far back if you’re uncertain just what the ball will do after the bounce.

Overall in fact there seems to be very little point in women training to loop several balls in succession. Rather they should be training to loop one (or two) then smash. Spin rather than speed is of the utmost importance so they create the opening to hit hard on the next ball. In fact the single most important loop is the first opening against a backspin ball.

If you look at the top European women such as Boros and Steff you in fact perceive quite quickly that they do not run away from the table and loop several balls in a row. Indeed much of the play, over 50%, consists of flick or drive strokes. But they are capable of flicking the 2nd ball for example and looping the 4th. They are also accomplished in looping the 3rd ball if they have the slightest opening and they both have good serves and good variety in the service area.

One final aspect that we must of course stress is the importance of competing in Asia. It is necessary to play against Asian players and often, in order to learn what we need to work on to defeat them.

11. LONG PIMPLES SIMPLIFIED

In learning table tennis our actions are ‘automated’ by constant practice, in other words we train so that we don’t need to think when we play. In fact we play better when the body is on autopilot. Because of this major difficulties occur when we encounter something unusual, an atypical response. When for example we see a ‘push’ action our brain interprets this in a fraction of a second as backspin.

If however the ball comes over as topspin then we are confused and all our instinctive, carefully automated reactions are worse than useless. We then have to try and introduce a ‘thinking response’ into an automated system, which tends to throw everything out of tune. We are again like beginners, faced with a totally new situation. Reactions that we have built up over countless thousands of training hours are not only of no help to us but they in fact actively hinder our understanding of the new situation. This is why training against pimpled rubbers at an early age is so important, because it widens the boundaries of our instinctive reactions.

The most deceptive long pimple rubber and the one with most effect is without sponge and on a fast blade, so that the ball springs off the blade very quickly. Many players don’t understand that what is happening is that they are in effect getting their own spin back. If they for example put heavy backspin on the ball and the opponent pushes the ball back the return will not have backspin (even though his or her stroke is down and forward) but an element of topspin. A long pimpled rubber with a thicker sponge will usually return the backspin ball as ‘float’, while the rubber without sponge can send back a ball with considerable topspin.

Of course long pimple players use their rubbers in many differing ways. Time is always an important factor when trying to read what is happening. The long pimple defender gives you more time to play your shots and to read the spin or lack of spin. The long pimple block player or attacker on the other hand gives you no time at all and this is when life can become very difficult.

This of course occurs because most long pimpled rubbers have little or absolutely no friction capability. Whatever spin you initiate, this stays on the ball, because whatever stroke the opponent plays this doesn’t have any effect. You loop, the ball comes back with your spin still on it, unchanged. You therefore get back backspin. You push, the ball comes back with your original spin, topspin. Your mind only has to accept the fact that whatever the opponent does with his or her racket is completely irrelevant!

Long Pimples

Another factor that many players and coaches overlook is that power also affects the return ball. The harder you hit the ball with a closed racket, the more spin you create. Thus the harder you hit the ball against long pimples, the more backspin you get back on the return ball. It is often a better tactic to play slower balls or balls without spin to this type of rubber.

A big problem too is that few if any of us play with ‘pure’ spin. We loop not only with topspin but with sidespin too. This therefore results in us getting a return ball with backspin and a sidespin ‘kick’. This too is the reason for the ‘wobbling’ effect we often see on the return. The ball is in fact not rotating truly but is spinning in an irregular fashion and the axis changes as one spin or another predominates.

Many long pimple players for example are aware that sidespin is extremely effective with their rubber. They serve a short, heavy sidespin serve (with their reverse rubber)and when you push return they in turn block/push the ball back very fast with the long pimples and from an early timing point. You then receive a ball with topspin (from your push) and a sidespin ‘kick’ (spin still remaining from the serve). You also have little or no time to think or read what is happening.

When playing against long pimples it is in fact your own experience that lets you down. It is not what your opponent is doing with his bat that is important but what you did with your last shot. You therefore have to re-train your mind to remember exactly how you played your last ball.

Predictably this is not easy and even after you train yourself to do it, you will often have lapses, where your ‘automatic’ training kicks back in and you make the most basic and stupid mistakes. When this happens don’t panic, just keep calm, try to remember what you should be doing and have the confidence and courage to do it.

Themes for Short Training Sessions

Rowden Fullen (1990s)

FOREHAND DEVELOPMENT.

  • Look generally at the modern ready position in detail, width factor, right foot depth, body position, flexion of legs, balance and position of bat and free arm.
  • Look individually at the player, how he or she stands, moves in or out to the serve, whether he or she has a specialized style (defence for example), which may require a different ready position.
  • From a static position, consider the stroke technique and the basic areas of expertise, control, accuracy, consistency and feeling.
  • From a static position, consider variety in timing, early, ’peak’ and late.
  • From a static position, consider pace variation, slow, medium and fast.
  • From a static position, consider variation in length, short, mid-table and long.
  • From a static position, consider variation in placement, to the forehand, the body and crossover and to the backhand and the adjustments this may require.
  • From a static position, consider short, over-the-table forehand play.
  • From a static position, consider ’deep’ play, back from the table.
  • In a moving situation, consider the stroke played from the backhand, middle and the forehand, while maintaining the technique.
  • Consider the stroke played from the middle then out to the forehand.
  • Consider the stroke played from the backhand then out to the forehand.
  • Consider the stroke played short on the forehand, out deep to the forehand and then back in short.
  • Consider variation in power and in spin.
  • Consider specialties and how these can be developed. (Sidespin, early ball or slow loop, ‘stop’ or chop blocking etc.)

BACKHAND DEVELOPMENT

  • Look generally at the modern ready position in detail, width factor, right foot depth, body position, flexion of legs and position of bat and free arm. Pay particular attention to the right foot and balance during backhand play.
  • Look individually at the player, how he or she stands, moves in or out to the serve, whether he or she has a specialized style (defence for example), which may require a different ready position.
  • From a static position, consider the stroke technique and the basic areas of expertise, control, accuracy, consistency and feeling.
  • From a static position, consider variety in timing, early, ’peak’ and late.
  • From a static position, consider pace variation, slow, medium and fast.
  • From a static position, consider variation in length, short, mid-table and long.
  • From a static position, consider variation in placement, to the forehand, the body and crossover and to the backhand and the adjustments this may require.
  • From a static position, consider short, over-the-table backhand play.
  • From a static position, consider ’deep’ play, back from the table.
  • In a moving situation, consider the stroke played from the backhand and the middle, while maintaining the technique. Consider also the player’s style and whether the forehand should be used more from the middle and exactly where the ‘cut-off’ point should be.
  • Consider the stroke played from the middle then out to the backhand.
  • Consider the stroke played from the backhand then back to the middle, while bearing in mind the backhand or forehand split to be used by each individual player.
  • Consider the stroke played short on the backhand, out deep to the backhand and then back in short.
  • Consider variation in power and in spin.
  • Consider specialties and how these can be developed. (Chop and ‘stop’ blocks, spin or drive and changing from a specialty to normal play or vice versa.) Consider also the possible use of differing rubber combinations and materials, especially in the women’s game.

MOVEMENT

  • Re-emphasize the ready position and especially from the point of view of recovery, both of the body and of the racket. The player must at all times have good balance and be ready to play the next ball.
  • Does the player have a specialized style which may affect the movement patterns or which may require them to be modified in any way?
  • Consider movement to the short ball on the forehand side or in the middle.
  • Consider movement to the short ball on the backhand side.
  • Consider short sidestep movement to the forehand wing.
  • Consider short sidestep movement to the backhand wing.
  • Consider the playing of the forehand from the backhand corner.
  • Consider wide movement to the forehand wing.
  • Consider wide movement to the backhand wing, or back to the backhand wing after having played a ball wide on the forehand.
  • Consider movement backwards on the forehand side.
  • Consider movement backwards on the backhand side.
  • Consider in and out movement on the diagonal.
  • For a right-hander explain the importance of the right foot in the movement patterns. Look at the movement ‘circle’ as a whole.
  • Consider the change of stance required in playing at differing distances from the table and any changes needed due to a personal or specialized playing style.

OPENING (FROM A PUSHING SITUATION)

  • Consider first the differing types of pushes, their uses and how to push to make openings. Look at the preparation to attack and how this differs depending on the type of attacking stroke you intend to use.
  • Look at the different ways to open, slow spin, fast spin, sidespin, drive play, punch or slow roll. Examine the effectiveness of these attacking methods in differing situations and against differing balls.
  • Opening on the backhand against the short ball.
  • Opening on the forehand against the short ball.
  • Opening on the backhand against the half-long ball.
  • Opening on the forehand against the half-long ball.
  • Opening on the backhand against the long ball.
  • Opening on the forehand against the long ball.
  • Opening with the forehand from the backhand corner against half-long or long balls.
  • Consider the timing of the first opening ball.
  • Consider the importance of the first opening ball and methods of making it most effective.
  • Consider the advantages of more or less power in differing situations.
  • Once you have completed the first attack consider whether and how you will change to another form of attack to maintain pressure on the opponent or to win the point.

THE USE OF TOPSPIN

  • Consider the differing types of topspin, fast and slow loop (with or without an element of sidespin), drive or topspin block and slow roll.
  • Consider the differing preparation, which each type of attacking stroke may require.
  • Are you using elastic energy to its fullest effect?
  • Have you control of the bat-swing and are you using it to full effect?
  • Consider the different timing points that should or may be used in executing each attacking stroke.
  • Consider if you are making contact with the ball on the right part of the racket.
  • Consider whether it’s best to continue with the first type of attacking stroke or whether it’s usually more effective to follow the first opening ball with a different type of stroke. (From spin into drive for example).
  • Consider which type of topspin it’s best to use against which type of incoming ball. (Against backspin, block or topspin for example). Which is most effective?
  • Consider whether it’s best to use backhand or forehand from the backhand corner and when.
  • Consider the importance of length when playing spin.
  • Consider the importance of placement to gain maximum effect when attacking.

SHORT LECTURE SUBJECTS

  • Control of midfield.
  • Types of forehand and backhand loop and their execution.
  • Beat the block.
  • Variation in pace and timing.
  • The backhand, a lever to open up the game and a weapon against the left-hander.
  • Playing against defenders.
  • Playing against material.
  • Service and how to gain advantage.
  • Receive tactics.
  • The first four balls.

Coaches’ Seminar: Summary

Rowden Fullen (2002)

Coaching methods throughout Europe — formal or informal/innovative methods.

  • England, Germany, Russia and former satellite countries, Holland. (A framework). Can be too dogmatic. (D. Parker and Hasegawa).
  • Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France. Develop own style. (Without a framework difficult to develop, where is the base?).
  • Influence of more ex-players going into coaching on modern playing styles. Can have good and bad effects.
  • History and growth over the decades — facts and changes in the game.
  • Hard bat — upward direction of the strokes, no spin reversal from 1920’s – early 50’s.
  • Sponge bat — spin reversal, lob defence early 1950’s – 1959.
  • Sandwich bat – late 1950’s onward.
  • 1960 Loop – S. Jacobson. (Slow, much spin) Birth of the modern game.
  • 1970’s Long pimple and high throw.
  • 1980’s Swedish model, old guard, S. Bengtsson, K. Johansson, U. Thorsell and youngsters, E Lindh, J. Persson, J. O. Waldner but with M. Appelgren in the middle plus coaches such as G. Östh and B. Persson. New model playing style - short topspin, between Hungarians and Chinese, nearer table and with glue. Stronger B.H.s, better blocking, better serve/receive, more individual style development. Swedes in every final from 1983 - 95, (winning ‘89,’91,’93 and in 2000).
  • Worlds dominated by Europe (Hungary) 1926 - 1955. Dominated by Asia (China) from 1956 - 2002. ( Sweden 1973, Hungary 1979, Sweden ‘89-’93 and 2000).
  • Style 2000’s plus? Super power but without so much spin, workmanlike but without flair?

    The world picture — from a playing and coaching perspective

    Players in Europe, most of top stars are old now but still at the top in Europe and high in the world rankings - Waldner, Gatien, Saive, Persson, Primorac, etc. where are the young ones? Boll, Maze perhaps. The women in Europe are even worse off, a forty year old winning the European singles! Women’s table tennis is quite simply dying in Europe. With the Chinese super-league starting Sept. 2002 and big money in exhibition events in Japan it may well be that European table tennis as a whole is on the way out.

    From a coaching viewpoint we are losing expertise all the time, many of the older coaches are giving up and not being replaced. Many ex-players are now going into coaching so we are in fact getting a different kind of coach. The career path of a coach and that of a player are in fact rather different. Players are often biased in favour of their own style of play and not always aware of the ‘whole picture’, the potential of other styles, uses of materials, the differing tactics and problems in the women’s game, the theory of table tennis etc. Probably this is why we have less unusual players like C. Prean and Ni Xialan coming through the system. In many areas too the status of the coach is devalued as clubs want not coaches but player/coaches, someone who can play in their first team and act as coach/trainer too. All in all we have more ‘fitters’ as it were but fewer engineers as in many areas of modern life (generators and brushes). In many countries in Europe the level of reward available to professional coaches is much lower than that in industry.

    Coaching objectives — the prime skill is adaptability. (Sara and Anna, Japanese training camp). The importance of growth and especially of direction. (Many coaches take players up to a certain ‘plateau’ then the development stops and levels out.) How many players even know how they should play — B.H./F.H. split, playing distance, length, stroke-play spin/drive, serve to suit own game, slow return of serve, a winning weapon etc. Many players don’t really seem to know where they are going or how to get there! There must always be progress, without this there is stagnation.

    Multiball – Movement v drive/topspin.

    • Opening v chop/float.
    • Variation v chop/topspin.
    • Movement in/out, short/long.
    • Player’s distance, close and back.
    • Adaptability, irregular.

    Stroke correction techniques

    • Length of the stroke.
    • Timing (where you hit the ball on its trajectory after the bounce).
    • Table position (re where you hit the ball).
    • Stance (relate to the line of play).
    • Body action.
    • Bat arm.
    • Free arm. (rotation).
    • Recovery.
    • Anticipation.
    • PLUS MOVEMENT.

    Service — New rules and how to gain advantage.

    Ball visible from the time when it is first thrown up to the time it is hit with the racket. How do we gain advantage now? Distance between the contact of the ball on the racket and the ball on the table, plus fast action. B.H. service action, higher throw and more rotation on F.H. to get arm out of way and aid spin, some of old serves come back? (Axe serve?)

    Receive

    Early ball push, stop balls, slow returns of fast serve, value of slow roll etc.

    Tournament coaching

    Not talk about technique, not too many things, only a couple of points. Make sure first that player’s mind is in tune, treat the mental problems first, calm them down if necessary. Main context should be tactics, how to oppose your player’s strengths to the opponent’s weaknesses, or sometimes play weakness to weakness.

Coaching Course Summary

Rowden Fullen (2003)

THE MOUNTAIN

WHAT IS TABLE TENNIS? - WHY SO DIFFICULT TO LEARN?

THE YOUNG LEARN BETTER

COACHING OBJECTIVES - THE PRIME SKILL

COACHING METHODS THROUGHOUT EUROPE AND ASIA

HISTORY AND GROWTH OF TT. THROUGH THE DECADES

THE WORLD PICTURE - PLAYING AND COACHING

TRAINING IN CHINA WHAT THEY THINK OF US

THE WHOLE PACKAGE

CHANGE AND INNOVATION

INDIVIDUAL STYLE DEVELOPMENT WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE MEN’S OR WOMEN’S GAME AND ABOVE ALL PROGRESS

STATISTICS - MEN’S AND WOMEN’S PLAY

WINNING, LEARN FROM LOSSES

GRIP AND BASIC STROKES

THEORY OF SPIN

AUTOMATION, WHY INNOVATION EFFECTIVE

PIMPLE TECHNIQUES

AXIS

READY POSITION AND MOVEMENT

SERVE AND RECEIVE MEN AND WOMEN

THE SERVE POTENTIAL, 3RD BALL

RECEIVE TACTICS FIRST FOUR BALLS

STROKE CORRECTION TECHNIQUES - THE NINE FACTORS

(HANDOUTS FOR COACHES + FH TOPSPIN)

CENTRE OF GRAVITY IN STROKEPLAY

POWER AND LEVERS

CONTROL BAT SWING TO MAXIMIZE EFFECT

LOOP TECHNIQUES, ANGULAR VELOCITY

SHORT PLAY

BLOCKING

CHANGE OF PACE

MULTI-BALL TECHNIQUES

ELASTIC ENERGY - ELASTIC BAND STORES ENERGY, TIME VITAL, DELAY 1 SEC LOSE 55%, DELAY 2 SECS LOSE 80%, LOST IN FORM OF HEAT. WAY YOU PREPARE FOR THE STROKE IS VITAL

4 ELEMENTS -SPIN/POWER AND SPEED/PLACEMENT(LENGTH)

MEN AND WOMEN - KEY ISSUES

Manuals and Policy

Rowden Fullen (2007)

Over most countries in Europe coaching manuals and policies are initiated and controlled by only one or two coaches. Although in the case of the manuals there is an increasing tendency to bring in experts (in some European countries manuals for example pay tribute to as many as 20 – 25 specialists over a number of fields, diet, physical, mental, technical, professors of ballistics, authorities on table tennis history etc.) often coaches in charge of policy are reluctant to dissipate their power by calling in outsiders.

Unfortunately in these modern times with the increasing complexity of our sport it is next to impossible for any one coach to be accomplished in all the technical aspects of table tennis. All coaches whatever their level will be good in some areas and not so experienced in others. Some are better ‘corner-men’ and tacticians, others at ease giving lectures or seminars. Some are more skilled in the development of the girls’ game, have comprehensive insight into style development, or in coaching defenders or pimple players. Yet others are specialists in multi-ball and its various uses. What is needed more and more is for National Coaches to have access to a team of specialists, if they are to be successful at world level.

Regrettably by their very nature manuals are often obsolete by the time they come out in print. The preparation time more often than not takes years and our sport is continually changing, so to keep them up to date is next to impossible. How many coaches too in charge of national technical development are completely up to date – how many are in touch with what the top players are doing at world level and observe them critically in action at the major tournaments at least half a dozen times every year?

Often the key to innovation is apparent in the tactics and techniques which are being used by a significant number of the world’s best players. If enough good players are all adopting a certain tactic then there must be a good reason for this and it’s up to the policy coaches to see and understand this as quickly as possible and then to disseminate the information down to grass roots level. Sadly this takes far too long and in a considerable number of European countries there seems little urgency to redress the situation – in fact technical development in some countries is still some 10 – 15 years behind the times.

The quickest way to contact the table tennis public is probably via the national website (a technical update page) or to hold a forum at major tournaments 3/4 times per year. A section in the manual ‘Technical developments over the last 1 – 2 years’ could be regularly updated and the rest of the manual left largely untouched. Probably in fact we are now reaching a stage of professionalism in our sport where a National Technical Adviser should be appointed in most European countries, solely to monitor technical/tactical changes and advances as and when they occur.

Develop Excellence and Expertise in Coaches

Rowden 2011

The prime component of any expert system is significant, pertinent and ongoing knowledge and experience. Such experience is never transferable in its entirety to other areas or subjects, though some parts may be. Regarding for example top athletes being fast-tracked into coaching, the downside is that unless their own coach was a great teacher and had them fully understanding the whys and wherefores of workout designs, they are completely missing the foundational skills of coaching. Doing and knowing are rarely the same thing.

Coaches therefore require a substantial core of relevant and up-to-date information and continual experience – in other words they need to be doing the job all the time and learning as they are doing it.

New coaches need access to continued professional development at a high level but any system needs not only to provide data and instruction but also to create the means for change. There is more to coach development than just gathering data, there is understanding what you have gathered and learning the relevant applications.

1. Informing – giving coaches new information

2. Forming – changing the way coaches do things

3. Transforming – changing the way coaches think or look at things, which results in a permanent change in their behaviour

Of the above three aspects that of giving new information is both the easiest and the most basic. Because of the structure of courses in the UK and time constraints, too much time is almost always spent on 1 (giving out information), very little on 2 and nothing on 3. To maximise the effectiveness of any educational programme there has to be a shift towards more forming (learning activities) and transforming (guided discovery and contemplation).

Many resources can be developed (written, web sites, DVD’s) to deliver information outside of tutor contact, which would release time to allow for the required repetition of activities and for discussion and awareness seminars to reform and master the necessary skills and thinking. We should of course also develop specific opportunities within CPD to allow coaches to get more training in any specialist areas where they have an interest. Updated courses should allow for maximum active learning time to form new skills and to think in different ways.

What about the value of sending out experts into the club environment to work with both coaches and players? This would give additional input on the technical/tactical, physical and mental factors of player development. Also it would enable coaches to see first hand and at close range, the experts’ values and the qualities that make them what they are. This is often more important then what they do or know.

The United States Olympic Committee recently surveyed their coaches regarding the skills they considered most important. The order of skills was as follows:
• Communication
• Knowledge
• Skill development
• Team development
• Passion

The difference of course between beginner and elite coaches is the way skills are used!

Periodisation: Training Planning

John Shepherd (2009)

1960’s Leonid Matveyev (Russia), Tudor Bompa (formerly Romania).

Training year divided into phases – ‘macro’, ‘meso’ and ‘micro’ cycles. (Roughly months, weeks and days.) Within each cycle the key training variables of volume, intensity and specificity are manipulated to create the desired training effects. Racket sports do not lend themselves as readily to periodisation as track and field sports for two key reasons.

  • The performance outcomes in training and competition are not as easily measured. For example in track events the enhancement of CV ability can be monitored by heart rate control.
  • Racket sports have a relatively high skill component and are much more dependent on other players and the tactics of the opposition.

It is much more difficult to develop a highly quantifiable periodisation programme for the more ‘qualitative sports’, with their much greater and diverse skill requirements and influencing variables.

Double periodisation (and even triple programmes) are used from time to time, but for those sports which allow it should not be practiced year in and year out. Every third or fourth year the athlete should return to the single periodisation plan.

In the case of the ‘qualitative sports’ one must bear in mind that not only will there be conditioning (weights, anaerobic/aerobic activity) in a quantifiable way, but also the need to spend much time on technique and skill development as well as the mental aspects. It is of little use being supremely fit if this is developed at the expense of skill. Periodisation must never allow the development of physical condition to outpace technical requirements.

‘Skill strength’ periodisation models can also be developed, emphasising the development of sport skill at the beginning of the training year and throughout, before more ‘power’ is added in subsequent training cycles.

In table tennis an important part of the ‘volume’ will be time spent on the table.

Undulating periodisation is another model – this combines much shorter training phases with differing modes of exercises and exercise intensities (one day more speed and power, the next on endurance and the next on skill and agility). With this type of periodisation the coach has to fully understand the needs of the particular individual and be able to apply a repertoire of workouts and exercises that can be juggled to maintain players in as near to peak condition as possible.

Until relatively recently the periodisation of mental performance received scant attention. Now sports performers are increasingly working on matching physical and technical training with their mental training. It makes sense that different mental strategies should be employed during different training phases to maximise performance and to bolster competitive readiness.

Table Tennis of Tomorrow Part 1

Rowden May 2014

Today’s table tennis is developing towards an all-round type of game and players need to have all-round skills; there is no room for obvious defects or weaknesses which will be quickly spotted and exploited by good opponents. Players have to be just as strong in attack as in controlling the play and there has to be a good balance between the two. The aim has to be a high level of overall consistency while manoeuvering for position to get in your strong shots: of course shot selection and the appropriate moment is vital, you have to pick the right occasion and the right shot to make your strong attack.

Speed is at the heart of table tennis and is the cornerstone of developing the sport. However this is not just speed of the shot but covers all areas: the quickness of thought and of adaptive intelligence which gives fast adjustment to change, the speed and correctness of footwork, the point of contact with the ball, the sudden change of direction, angle or pace etc. Players must also consider the best use of timing within the element of speed: the primary timing point for maximum speed is late rising. Contact at peak is neither really fast nor deceptive and at this stage the spin is starting to have effect. As a primary point peak is not so forceful and is becoming out of date. Within this element of speed the player must also have the capability of controlling the speed of the opponent, whether by his/her own natural qualities or by using other means such as tactics or material.

If speed is at the heart, change is the animating principle behind and the nucleus of the playing style: changing at the right time makes the style effective against any opponent and changing before the opponent does makes him/her play our game! Over the last few years the game has changed dramatically and become much faster, with the BH used much more over the table to attack the short serve. As a result the whole area of short play has been revolutionised; no longer do most top performers play ‘safe’ and drop short, they open immediately and the counter-play situation is reached much more quickly. This has also brought about a mental readjustment in the approach to short play, being more innovative and aggressive over the table. Future development will almost certainly involve stronger confrontation and more and quicker changes and also probably more precision in half-long service and more potent long serves. We will enter an era of total unpredictability.

Change however must be looked at over its widest aspects. Accurate placement and rapid, unexpected change in placement is the key to controlling the opponent and the play. Combining placement with all its change of direction with speed, with change of pace, more or less power, short and long and use of angles, provides the ultimate unpredictability and keeps the opponent permanently off balance. But change embraces much more, the desire to take the initiative, to improvise and innovate; the mental state must particularly be in tune with the idea of change and ready to accept all aspects of this. The mind must be receptive to the need for and the moment of change and adaptive intelligence should be cultivated and developed. Change is more often than not reflected in the awareness of the player concerning how he/she plays; just how well developed is the player’s self-knowledge and understanding of how he/she performs and gets effective results? At the highest level the theme must be that we ourselves initiate change, not the opponent!

To utilize the vital components of change and speed to the full we need to be mentally psyched up to take the initiative at all times. This means we need not only the skills but the will! We also need to focus on the ‘intent’ to innovate at all times and to be more and more creative in our play. When serving we must be ready to attack all the time, at the earliest opportunity and then keep the opponent under pressure. Any attack needs to be constant, not necessarily more and more power, but keeping the opponent off balance until we can actually win the point. The importance of the quality of the first opening ball in this scenario cannot be underestimated. In fact if you improve the quality and effectiveness of your attack systems, your opponent will struggle and you will have better control of the rallies.

In the receive situation as in rallies we must keep control until we can take the initiative, do different things, use more or less spin or speed, change placement first. We should also appreciate the importance of linking the 2nd and 4th and 4th and 6th balls to maintain advantage. Even defenders should apply pressure to the opponent, pushing with variation, short/long, fast/slow, spin/float, while they maintain control and seek the chance to counter-attack. If you cultivate a variety of good serves you will have more opportunities to attack on the 3rd or 5th ball, if you work at faster footwork you can continue your attack longer and stronger. All these aspects will help you understand your own style more fully and where you are able to be most effective. Each player is of course above all an individual and must look to develop his/her particular strengths and specialties to the full.

Players find in modern table tennis that it’s no longer possible to play all shots from a stable base. More and more because of the increased speed of our sport, players have to improvise and in almost every situation. Often the only alternative is to use the speed on the incoming ball and to endeavor to block to a difficult position for the opponent, while trying to retain stability for the next stroke. If it’s not possible to take a strong offensive initiative it’s important to be able to control the play in such a way as to keep the opponent off balance and uncomfortable in the rally, until you are able to create the chance for the next strong attack. There is no room for weakness during any period of improvisation or for playing safe, while waiting for the offensive opportunity. This will only let the opponent back in.

Table Tennis of Tomorrow Part 2

Rowden May 2014

It is up to the coaches to design playing styles and to study the finer elements of the techniques and tactics of the game at the higher levels and we must continually be alert to new possibilities and different things which can benefit our players. Coaches must at all times look to be involved in the future evolution of our game and even more than the players be ready to be innovative and creative. With this approach they can improve the quality of play and be open to ways of enriching their players’ game. The pursuit of excellence becomes a way of life and is crucial to the future of our sport and its growth.

We have already looked at the 2 prime elements or our sport, speed and change. In the study and development of players and playing styles coaches must also be aware of the 3 supporting elements, which provide the methods to win points or control the game: these are power, spin and trajectory. It is also vital that coaches understand the science behind these elements as this knowledge will be specifically relevant at the higher levels of involvement with world class players.

Power can be used in basically 4 distinct forms and ways.
• 90% use, when smashing for example. There is no need to use 100% as this would involve more body action, with the danger of slower recovery or loss of balance.
• 55 – 70% medium usage, as in drive play or topspin. This is more difficult than it appears as many players find it harder to limit their power, but it has the advantage of maintaining a consistent pressure on the opponent, while manoeuvering for opportunities to finish the point.
• Utilising the opponent’s force, by feeding in 30 to 40% of your own power in order to get 60 –75% effect. This harnessing of opposing force can be a safer way to be aggressive, especially for players whose comfort zone is closer to the table.
• Absorbing the opponent’s power by playing a softer or shorter return.

Spin has over the history of table tennis, had a tendency to continually increase. However there have been limiting factors and will be more. For example the Chinese National Team researched the maximum spin rotation of the 38 and 40mm balls in 1999 – 2000. Their findings were that the maximum revolutions per second diminished from 150ps to 132.8 and that the larger ball lost considerable spin through the air. This meant that top players had to come in and stay closer to the table to be effective. When the plastic ball is introduced further reductions in spin will occur. Also the banning of speed glue resulted in further loss of spin and the need for more physical input from players (which initially resulted in a number of injuries).

Spin can of course give us an advantage against and cause problems for opponents; it also adds stability to our own game and gives us more control in the rallies. Without the topspin intention for example players would strive for faster and flatter drives (which some players would in fact be better advised to do). As well as intention one must remember purpose. Many players continue spinning long after they have achieved the goal of getting the ball up high enough to kill. Surely the idea when playing table tennis is to win the point; topspin should not necessarily be regarded only as a point-winner, but rather as another weapon in your arsenal, another tool to create openings.

The combination of speed with spin was almost certainly the way table tennis would have evolved in the next few years, had it not been decided to limit the amount of spin by changing the ball and banning the use of speed glues. What will occur next will be up to the ingenuity of coaches worldwide and what happens with bats and material coverings in the near future.

Trajectory or the flight of the ball is also of vital importance. With a proper trajectory the consistency, accuracy and the percentage of shots on table are confirmed. Trajectory together with spin provides means for controlling the rally until you are in a position to change something, get an advantage and win the point.

The 5 elements are not isolated items but interlinked and will affect the development of our players. Each player must understand how he/she plays best and the importance of each element within the individual style development. According to studies of world-class players, to achieve real success it is necessary to be good at 3 of the 5. Otherwise it is unlikely performers will succeed at the highest levels. Coaches must not only be aware of the scientific background and technical/tactical requirements to produce top players, but also alert to the need for their own flexibility in thought and attitude.

Unfortunately many coaching systems throughout Europe are too rigid in their application, certainly in the initial stages and result in coaches being inflexible in their handling and development of young players. Sadly too many coaches never get past this stage in their own development, they keep working ‘by the book’ and their attitudes remain unchanged as they proceed up the coaching ladder. As Mario Amizic, one of the most respected coaches in the world, has stated; ‘We have lost our way, we are not adapting to new trends and our model is no longer up-to-date. The older coaches in Europe will tell you we are not educating our coaches and trainers properly or indeed in the right way.’
If we are to produce top 10 world-ranked players in Europe again, we need a total rethink on the coaching front.

Coaches need to be able to ‘think outside the box’ and to be creative and innovative, they need to constantly be looking for new things or they will stagnate. For example who invented/discovered the reverse penhold backhand now used by many top Asian players? Not a top player but an older coach working in the Provincial Centre in Harbin.

Above all however coaches must treat players as individuals and the relationship must be a two way process. Each player is unique and individual and if the coach forces players into a pattern of his/her own choosing, they are unlikely ever to find real success, in fact their own personal qualities are suppressed. Only by getting players to ‘buy in’ to their own development and to fully understand how they perform, can we achieve world-class results, because only in this way is the full range of their talents allowed to grow, blossom and to come to full fruition.

Technique only Half-way there

Rowden Jan 2017

The table tennis player in the early stages should work at developing conventional strokes to the best of his/her abilities. What the coach must bear in mind is that some of this process will entail unlearning habits inherited from other sports, whether this is in the areas of movement, technique, tactics or even the mental aspect.

Guard also against the purist’s approach; this can be right and wrong at the same time. Purists create systems and academies, academies create dogmas and dogmas create fossils. Technique, materials and ideas are in constant flux: purity is as limiting as consistency. Remember artistry favours creativity and innovation over consistency and convention, unpredictability over regularity and the exceptional over the normal. Artistry is flexible not rigid.
The whole point of standardizing one’s game and working to possess and execute all the conventional strokes and practising them over and over again until they reach the highest level of consistency, means arriving not at your destination (the complete and perfect player) but at reaching the threshold (or starting point) beyond which table tennis is able to be transformed into an art!
Of course in any form of competition it is never straightforward to predict a winner, there are many imponderables such as physical and mental condition, lighting, luck and above all the vagaries of style. We are all individuals, play similar strokes but differently and with a differing emphasis. Competency in a particular style often requires many months if not years of practice. The correct strokes, with the correct order, timing, tactics/strategies, character structure, balance and rhythm are all essential. And however good and well ranked you may be there will always be styles of play which can cause you problems.
In fact many of the Asian coaches and especially those from China, focus from the early stages on the individual qualities of the player, actively looking for not only a sound technical base but also for individual specialties. What does the player have which makes him or her different and which will present real problems for any opposition?
Whichever style you will adopt, which will be one which suits you and with which you feel most comfortable, you should endeavour to distill this down to a sublime simplicity. Much of how the great players perform goes unnoticed. The public watching always sees the great loops, the awesome smashes, but rarely sees the perfect balance, the seamless footwork, or the work put in to neutralize the opponent’s power, spin or placement. The great performances always seem on the face of it quite effortless!
Finally there is the problem of the mind, of too much thinking, too many thoughts crowding the mind, too many instructions, pointers and ideas. The intellect clouds the picture. Rules and laws take you so far but never beyond the threshold. Once you know them inside out, you can free yourself of them and enter the next dimension and be in harmony with yourself.
Continue to learn more about yourself and your sport, but also all that’s behind and beyond it. It is always a work in progress and has, is and will continue to be fun!

The Coaching Manual: What Should be Included

Rowden Fullen (2007)

1. The main theme – individual focus.
2. Basic concepts.
3. Equipment.
4. Techniques.
5. Playing styles.
6. The development process.
7. The rationale of training.
8. Girls and women – development.
9. Relaxed technique.
10. Multi-ball.
11. Tactics.
12. Doubles.
13. Performance development, player, team and club.
14. Individual development plan.
15. Competition routines.
16. Mental training, introduction in the early years.
17. Sports psychology
18. Over-training.
19. Warm-ups.
20. Weight Training.
21. Anticipation.
22. Physical training.
23. Physical testing.
24. Flexibility training.
25. Flexibility testing.
26. Massage.
27. Diet.
28. Ethics and morality.
29. Child Protection
30. The roll of the parent.
31. Table tennis history.
32. Characteristics of the top player.
33. Player analysis.
34. Match analysis.
35. Advanced Techniques.
36. What is new today.
37. The future of table tennis.
38. References.