Coaches 2

Educating Leaders

Rowden Fullen (2000)

COMMUNICATION

Consider the various ways to communicate and try to keep things simple and to the point.

  • Simplicity.
  • Methods — verbally, visually, by demonstration.
  • Understand your audience (the right language).
  • The right timing.

GROUP COACHING

Consider the various ways to make this effective.

  • Volunteers and sparring.
  • Mixed abilities, how to handle.
  • Best format.
  • Maintaining interest.

EQUIPMENT

The various items and aspects and how to use them to best effect.

  • Tables.
  • Blades.
  • Rubbers, all types including pimple and anti-loop.
  • Sponges, all types including sponge for gluing/optimising.
  • Robots, when and how to use.
  • Multi-ball, when and how to use.

PLAYING

How the player should start and different ways to develop.

  • The strokes, beginners, intermediates and advanced.
  • The routines.
  • Technique.
  • Tactics.
  • Style development.
  • Physical development.
  • Mental development.
  • Theory.

COACH’S RESPONSIBILITIES

In the area of resource management.

  • Communication.
  • Competence.
  • Knowledge.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • Managing relationships.
  • Professionalism.

In the area of analytical skills.

  • Planning.
  • Developmental skills.
  • Administration.
  • Support skills.
  • Tactical and technical skills.
  • Mental skills.

Consequences

  • Pupil progression — personal development.
  • Community benefits, social, relaxation and fun.
  • Increasing numbers.
  • Ability to influence over a wider area.

Training: Group Schedule

Rowden Fullen (2000)

 Group Chart

It is often a good idea when working with small groups of players to plan their development and keep records of which aspects they need to improve. If you use something like the above chart, which lists various areas in which players in your group may need to work in, it is relatively easy to jot down the player’s number or initials under the respective titles. This has the added advantage when planning sessions, that features which are common to a number of players are readily high-lighted. In the same way it is obvious which players may need more individual exercises.

If you are working in national or regional centres or having to report to local authorities then such charts give a professional impression. They have the added bonus of helping to focus the coach’s attention on which aspects are important and with which particular players and helping to remind him that all players are in fact different and should have individual help and advice.

Teaching Table Tennis

Rowden Fullen (2000)

Table tennis is a fascinating sport and because of the combinations of spin, speed and deception, one if not the most difficult of all ball-sports to learn. Many people working in the medical profession consider table tennis to be one of the best sports for the development not only of bodily reflexes and coordination but also for the brain, because it requires such a variety of decisions in such a short time.

Like many other things in life the human organism absorbs table tennis and its principles, theories and requirements rather better at a younger age and the establishing of a sound base at a young age cannot be over-emphasized.

The prime skill of table tennis is to be able to adapt to an ever changing situation at speed. Unfortunately the way we train is often significant in reducing our chances of achieving this ideal. As a result of repetition our strokes become ‘grooved’ and automatic. We train so we don’t need to think about what we are doing — so that we can react instinctively, in effect play on autopilot. So once we are in this position of playing completely automatically just how are we supposed to handle an unusual situation or to react to something new and different, much less being actually able to cope with and adapt to new aspects? For once you introduce the conscious, thinking process into an automated response you destroy its effectiveness.

This is why it’s so vital for coaches to ensure that their players, right from the formative years, have the opportunity to train and play against all styles of play and combinations of material. In this way the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that the player has to work so hard to build up, cover a much larger series of actions and it’s rather easier for him or her to adapt to new situations. In other words the content and method of training assume rather more importance than we may have initially thought, especially in the formative years.

Equally it is important that we teach the ‘whole package’ in the formative period. Many coaches and trainers have the idea that certain aspects are better left till some undefined time in the future. However when the future comes it is that much harder to integrate the new aspects into the player’s game. Once you allow the style to become ‘set’ then it becomes difficult to introduce new techniques.

This does not of course mean that players should not be introducing new aspects into their own game, they should. Indeed unless their game continues to change they will not develop, rather they will 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 and 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, am I developing new tactics? Have I problems with certain types of player? 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.

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 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 or she wants to take, whether he or she 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. The only alternative to progress is stagnation!

Coaching: Lateral or Vertical Structure?

Rowden Fullen (1980’s)

It never ceases to amaze me when I tour the tournament scene and talk to top cadets and parents, that many of these young and in some cases very young players have achieved so much, so quickly, often with little or no technical backing. It should perhaps be emphasized that I refer to youngsters ranked in the top twenty, in some cases in the top ten in the country!

Is it not understandable that so many good prospects do so well at cadet level, even play nationally a couple of times, only to fade away into oblivion as they get older? It would be an interesting exercise to make a list of the top-10 cadets in any country in Europe over the last 15 years, to find out just how many out of the 150 have played more than three times at senior level (or even to see how many are still playing as seniors)! I think most countries would be appalled at the wastage figures! I am not saying that there are not other good reasons why teenagers give up or give less time to our sport. I am saying that lack of good technical coaching in the formative years coupled with a clear path of development, can cripple the youngster’s chances of real achievement at senior level.

Do not get me wrong on another front either. The close family approach to the game, with the sharing of organization, planning, coaching and corner work is something I very much approve of — this is the development of the artistic, the deeper side of coaching within the family unit; where we have total trust, advice, motivation and encouragement are readily accepted and acted on. What does concern me is that in-depth technical attention is not available in sufficient quantity or quality, at the period in the child’s development when he or she is most susceptible to the learning situation. I see young players 10 – 12 years old doing things which should be ruthlessly stamped out if they are ever to be competent seniors, I see many glaring omissions and above all I see limited guidance towards an end-style which will be effective at senior level. I even see players being developed with techniques which manoeuvre them into a cul-de-sac from which there is no way to progress further.

Equally at a rather higher level, at county, regional or even national sessions there appears to be in many cases a shelving or an over-assumption of responsibility. I hear remarks such as – ‘Once a cadet has reached top-20 standard their style is set, it’s not up to us to change things.’ Presumably this means that if a 9 year old girl is in the top 10 because she plays with long pimples and has a serve the other cadets can’t return, then all further technical development should be written off and she should progress as and where the mood takes her!

Or coaches go the other way even at national level and I hear talk of how well ‘my player’ is doing, this from someone who sees them all of two weeks a year and has very little input into the actual development of the player. Unfortunately because of our system of development and selection in Europe far too often young impressionable players come into contact with too many different coaches and too many different ideas.

Some years ago I started telling players, even those I coached, not to listen too much to trainers and coaches, even myself. Ask questions all the time, don’t just do things, be critical and ask for reasons. As I said to them if a coach doesn’t know why you are doing a particular exercise and how it is of benefit to you with your way of playing, then why should you waste your time listening. Since then I have had feedback from several players who now play professionally in Europe. They are not very popular with many coaches but as they say – ‘ The head coach treads very warily now when I train and has started to think more about the training and even asks me what sort of multi-ball I want for my particular style!’ Another player said to me — ‘I’m going to give our national coach the benefit of the doubt and believe that he’s got too much on his plate and too many players to look after. The alternative is to believe that he has never really known anything about coaching players!’

I think that much of the difficulty is that the vast majority of coaches think of the process of coaching as a lateral rather than a vertical structure. Just what do we mean by this? We mean that they tend to see the development of a talented youngster as best served by a series of steps where the player is uprooted at each stage and passed on to a new and supposedly more senior or more experienced coach. (Many parents or coaches would in fact be quite horrified if they knew just how little thought had often gone into the selection of these ‘more senior’ coaches and in many cases just what qualifications and experience they actually had!) What many people fail to appreciate is that there is little motivational continuity and little stability of development with this and each change requires an adjustment to a new situation. Players are after all people and not robots and in my opinion stability especially in the case of the young and often in the case of girl players (even of an older age) is of particular importance. I would suggest rather than being beneficial, such a system slows down progress!

The vertical structure as I see it provides a much sounder base for advancement where the young player proceeds through the various levels of the one club gaining stature and maturity as he or she does so. This tends to be the system in the bigger clubs in Europe where the young ‘gladiator’ comes to train and to hone his or her skills against the established stars. The unfortunate aspect is that we have far too few top clubs where this can be achieved. This type of system does occur in other sports, athletics for example, where the national, Olympic or World Champions regularly return to train with and run for their own club. The thought does not seem to occur to them that they may perhaps be too good for this sort of involvement or that there may not be too much in it for them, rather they seem to have an ingrained loyalty to their roots which we might do well to look to in our own sport.

The Coach: Tradesman or Artist?

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

Almost every coach in the country would wish to produce a World Champion. Just think of the far reaching effects on our sport if we had the best playing here in England. Not the best in Europe, not even one of the top dozen in the world, but the world Number One man or woman. What an incentive to the young players!

An impossibility you might say — the quality of life in the West has become so easy, over indulgent, that the ultimate effort is shirked by the talented few. Others are satisfied with a little success and feel no pressure to push themselves to higher limits. Often national teams consist of the same old players year after year with no players challenging for the top spots. Win or lose, players are going to keep their place in the team — not really a tremendous incentive to keep working and pushing to raise your own game to ever higher levels! Often other activities or sports are seen as offering more glamour, pleasure or reward. However I would say this, things are only impossible or unattainable if you believe them to be so. What is an indisputable fact is that unless coaches are prepared to be totally professional in all aspects of their trade then achieving real results becomes very difficult indeed for the player!

Most of us are not professional enough. We mention trade, all coaches are tradesmen, technicians, engineers, many remain at this level, many only wish to have for one reason or another limited commitment, however a few, a very few become artists. I do not say this in any derogatory way, one definition of a tradesman is a ‘skilled worker’ and this is just what coaches are. The fact that we need to coach at different levels is why we have different grades in coaching. Most coaches are part-timers or volunteers and of course they have a life outside of table tennis, we cannot expect them to sacrifice this to get a few players to the top. So have a care when you talk to coaches about what they are prepared to give to our sport!

Let us take a look at the tradesman’s areas of responsibility

  • Technician — passing on knowledge, developing technical skills.
  • Scientist — analysing direction and style.
  • Sparring partner — keeping the player sharp, developing tactics.
  • Disciplinarian — building the framework so the player remains receptive to information.
  • Administrator – planning, organizing.
  • Publicity Agent – promoting.
  • Trainer – increasing fitness, stamina, handling strains and injuries.
  • Corner-man – handling tactical advice and dealing with stress.

Although these ‘bread and butter’ aspects are the easy areas of coaching, efficiency here is vital — without the basic tools the player will have no chance to reach the top or ever to achieve his or her full potential. Stroke development, movement patterns and style need to progress along totally professional lines. Coaching should be organized in depth so that the player has a programme and knows exactly where he or she is going. Each session should have a purpose and be part of a series. Many coaches will say that they just don’t have more time to give but in fact I’m not talking about giving more, I’m talking about using the time we do have available, much more effectively. Only in this way will we achieve the best results. It’s relatively easy to keep track by drawing up a simple three month programme for your player and tick off after every session which areas you have worked on. In this way you start to follow a plan and coaching becomes more organized. Of course the programme may have to be amended as tournaments or matches throw out aspects which need attention but this is only to be expected.

As soon as the player starts to emerge from the intermediate level, he or she will need squad coaching, where he or she is a member of a group benefiting from the experience of meeting and sparring with a variety of styles and the formal, disciplined interaction between committed players. Squad coaching offers a variety of moods and incentives, a classroom of association with rivals and allies and the coach who can use the individual’s assets for group progress is on the road to success.

The player will also require personal sessions with one or two good players and coaches, where he or she can be put under the spotlight, studied in rather more depth and put under more pressure. It is only with individual emphasis that you can work effectively in such areas as serve and mental development. On the technical front it goes without saying that a great deal of work will need to be put in at both personal and group level on aspects such as serve/receive, 2nd, 3rd and 4th ball, irregular movement and style development. However overall the coach should try and maintain, within the time and commitment he is capable of giving, the highest professional level in his preparation and handling of and approach to the differing areas of the player’s development. Only in this way will high level results be achieved and will the player have a chance to reach his or her full potential.

We have talked of the engineer, the tradesman, the competent technician. Indeed we see in many clubs and on many training camps and even at national level, what we can call the trainer. This is the exercise ‘setter’ or organizer, he makes sure the session runs smoothly with a minimum of interruptions or problems — the on-the-table exercises follow each other with monotonous regularity and at exact 7½ or 10 minute intervals. It looks good, it seems to function well and even the players appear to like being ‘organized’. The sad thing however is that often thinking has stopped and everyone is just going through the motions. What is the purpose of each exercise, how does it benefit each individual player, is there a programme for the individual players, do the players know where they are going and how to get there? There is a far deeper side to coaching. Coaching is after all a progression, a growing process, an alteration and a maturing of standards, values and attitudes. It is of the utmost importance to bear in mind at all times that we coach people and not just techniques. As the great Kung-fu master said — ‘It is far more than just a most effective form of self-defence. It is an exercise in physical and mental balance and moulds the personality of the individual.’ Equally the moulding of a champion in our sport of table tennis is far more than the mere passing on of techniques.

Coaching is something akin to an experienced climber taking a youngster up a high mountain — he or she must be trained gradually and well trained in the technical aspects. Well taught basics are vital and will almost certainly determine just how good a climber the youngster will become or whether he will become a danger to himself and a distraction to others when he gets higher up. Initially there will be a duty to safeguard and to protect and guide. However as the climb progresses not only will the coach and pupil face differing problems but slowly the relationship between the two will change. The trainee will become more confident and self-sufficient and indeed should be encouraged to be so. In due course the roles will be reversed and he or she will become the master, at ease in any situation.

This is a time in fact when many coaches let go and give up with the feeling they are no longer required. In some cases true, they aren’t. However I would say this to many who find themselves in this situation. What gives you the right to give up on your players when you have spent several years honing them to a peak of physical and mental perfection, when you know them inside out, know exactly how they will react in any given situation, are aware of all their little moods and problems? What gives you the right to leave them on their own when you are the one old, comfortable friend they can trust and to whom they can talk openly and naturally at any time? As we have said, over a period of time the teacher, technician and trainer areas will diminish and if the right sort of relationship has been allowed to develop, rather more important aspects will flower. This can be the time that the performer needs your support more than ever as the one stable rock in an ever changing environment. I would suggest you think twice before running out on your player.

  • Tactical adviser.
  • Psychologist.
  • Motivator.
  • Friend, mentor, counsellor, confidant.

As many of you will have noticed even at the very top in other sports, tennis for example, the champions have their friend and mentor at the court-side. Top players are well aware that as far as skills, techniques and physical condition are concerned, these are pretty near identical at the highest levels. What will make the difference, the winning factor, will be the inner self, the attitudes and values built up over the years - who better to have at court-side than the one person who has helped them to develop these qualities? Here is where the true artistry of the coach will be apparent and I suggest that it is only if he achieves the breakthrough in these areas that perfection is possible.

Observations on Top Table Tennis Centres for Young Players

Rowden Fullen (2007)

QUERIES

  • In the total package of education/sport how much time will be given to table tennis –
    • overall?
    • during school hours?
  • Is there any restructuring or flexibility in the educational side to make more time available during the day for sport?
  • Are there provisions for the children to be looked after/monitored when they are not in the school?
  • Do the players travel as a group to tournaments at weekends together with the coaches?
  • What are the ultimate aims of the centre and what level is it expected the players will attain?
  • What plans are there for the player’s mental development? Are there sports psychologists among the team?
  • Will players be taught to be flexible in the mind?
  • Is training in the centre the same for male and female players? Are there different training methods for girl players?
  • How many table tennis theory sessions are there each week?
  • Do the players have their own representative to channel complaints and problems through to the head coach?
  • How often do players and coaches meet to evaluate technical problems or is this only done in the training sessions?
  • How many times a month do coaches discuss with players how they personally are going to develop, where they are going and how they are going to get there?
  • In which areas of style development does the coach have the final say and in which are the player’s views of more importance?
  • How much time is spent on the cultivation of table tennis consciousness?
  • How much time is spent training against differing materials or playing styles?
  • How many and how often are outside sparring players available for training with centre players?
  • Does the centre have connections with centres in other countries in Europe/Asia and regular exchange visits etc?
  • Do seniors, juniors and cadets train together or are they segregated?
  • How many hours of multi-ball are there each day?
  • Will there be coach supervised serve training?
  • Are training sessions and multi-ball geared towards the individual needs of the player?
  • Is physical training geared towards the player’s personal style requirements?
  • Does the centre have access to experts in physical training, experienced physiotherapists, chiropractors etc? (Of course these should be specialists who know about our sport and what is required for table tennis players!) This is important as children are still growing and developing.
  • Are the coaches in the centre capable of relating to young teenagers at their level (children can often be ‘difficult’ at this stage of their development) without the use of the ‘big stick’.
  • Are there any political or traditional limitations to the player’s development? In other words at national level are certain styles more favoured than others because the coaches understand them better or feel these are more suited to our culture?
  • Is it part of the coaches’ job in the centre to deliberately change the style of the player if they think this style will not be effective internationally? Do they liaise with the parents and the player’s own trainer if they are thinking along these lines? Do the coaches involved have the knowledge and the insight to do this?
  • How many times a year do parents and the player’s own trainers get reports from the centre?
  • Will players be introduced to the advanced playing techniques suitable to their type of game?
  • How much time is spent on serve/receive exercises during each training session?

OBSERVATIONS

Often at national centres training is allowed to become too rigid and inflexible and there is a lack of innovation and ideas. With large training groups and few coaches, development becomes stereotyped with the same exercises and methods, systems take over and the individual emphasis and personal touch are lost. Coaches do not make or take the time and opportunity to focus on what is individual in style to each particular player. The group as a whole drifts without guidance into a general style of play and development of new and different aspects and personal style specialties is slowed down or lost.

Equally training itself, the process of training becomes devalued – players work within the group and often work very hard indeed but in many cases without ever knowing exactly why! They train because they want to be better – how can they achieve any destination when they don’t know where they are going or how to get there? In this sort of situation it’s only the one or two very best players who benefit. It’s very easy for the rest of the group to drift and become merely a support element, expendable cannon-fodder!

On the other hand if the group is too small you lose the stimulus of variety and it’s too easy for training to become boring and stereotyped, with the same players and sparring day in and day out. As in all things there must be a balance, a balance between individual attention and group training.

Equally if there are too many coaches involved, all promoting their own ideas and without any overall liaison, then the players will become confused and motivation and attitude will suffer.

Above all parents and coaches should ask the right questions, especially in the case of younger girls starting in table tennis centres (they require more technical help, more style development advice and different training) and should keep on asking until they get the right answers.

After this the next stage is to monitor development so that you are sure it is proceeding as planned. If you can’t get answers then be suspicious, if things don’t happen as planned be even more suspicious! Over the whole of Europe there are many of the best individual players who don’t go to their national centres and have refused to do so even in the face of threats of expulsion from their national team. These players and their coaches must have very good reasons for such a stand. In those countries where many top players do go to national centres results at world level have hardly been encouraging, especially in the case of the women.

Unfortunately in a number of countries in Europe the tendency is to isolate top young players from their own coaches, presumably on the premise that only the National Team Trainers have the required knowledge for further development. Yet strangely enough when you talk to top coaches in Europe and discuss the way forward in terms of developing top talent and trying to compete with the Asians, more often than not the coaches stress the vital importance of individual development and that players should come to select high level training camps in Europe not with their National Trainers but in fact with their own personal coaches. They stress the importance, if we are ever to have real results, of having the coaches on hand who are actually working on a day to day basis with the players.

COACHING EXPERTISE

Over the whole of Europe High Performance Directors are coming to understand that table tennis coaching is much more complex in these modern times. Manuals are often written only after reference to between 15 – 20 specialists in the varying fields, experts in areas as diverse as nutrition, psychology and bat and rubber technologies. Even at national level coaches need access to a specialist back-up team to compliment/reinforce their own knowledge (and it goes without saying that the backup team should not only be experts in their own field but also in how their expertise is applied to our sport of table tennis).

Does your centre have the right team behind you?

Observations on Coaches/Coaching

Rowden Fullen (2007)

  • The awareness of bodily sensations is crucial to the development of skills. Unfortunately the majority of coaches persist in imposing their technique from the outside.
  • Blackmail or the use of sanctions are the last resorts of the coach who lacks the knowledge or the ability to convince the player.
  • The job of the coach is to teach the player to do without a coach.
  • Coaching is unlocking a player’s potential to allow him or her to maximise performance. It is helping players to learn for themselves rather than instructing them.
  • Most coaches talk too much – allow the player to have awareness and responsibility.
  • It should never happen, but far too often the exercise of power gets in the way of the development of the player.
  • Sport is a constantly evolving entity; unless the coach continues to evolve he cannot be effective.
  • The coach should try to identify a new way forward with players working from their own experience and perceptions rather than his own.
  • The coach must think of the player in terms of potential and not performance.
  • Coaches must bear in mind that their own beliefs concerning the capability of the player have a profound and direct influence on that player’s performance.
  • If you impose your experience on the player then his or her personal preferences, attributes and qualities are suppressed.
  • The coach is not an instructor, an adviser, a problem solver or even an expert. He is in fact a sounding board, a counsellor and an awareness raiser.
  • Often it is hard for experts to withhold their expertise sufficiently to coach well!
  • The obsession with our own thoughts, opinions and ideas and the compulsion to talk are often too strong, especially if coaches are placed in a position of control or power.
  • The coach must help the player to arrive at the level of unconscious competence.
  • To effect real change it is not the demands of the coach which are important, but for the player to access his/her own internal, high quality feedback.
  • The moulding of a champion in our sport of table tennis is far more than the mere passing on of ideas and techniques.
  • Thinking is the greatest enemy of perfection.
  • The coach acts as a catalyst allowing players to realise their own potential.
  • 95% of all sporting encounters are won in the mind.
  • Coaches must always be aware that strong guidance can in fact be detrimental to the full realisation of the player’s innate flair and spontaneity.
  • Coaching is like welding, stay away too long and you lose the fine touch.
  • Coaches should above all appreciate that no player is going to reach full potential unless his or her own natural capabilities are allowed to grow and flower.
  • To the coach what manner of player you are is not important. What matters is what kind of player you will become! To achieve this you have to renounce the player you have been. To renounce him, you have to take him apart and examine him piece by piece. Only you, the player can do this.
  • There are no good coaches. There are coaches who see patterns others don’t. Then there are coaches who understand the patterns unique to the individual player. Finally there are coaches who can transmute the theory into reality.
  • At all times it is the player who should be ‘in focus’. If the coach considers himself in charge and of importance then a certain amount of his energy is directed into maintaining his position and feeding his ego. Therefore not all of his energy is centred only on the player and in giving the player the best of all possible opportunities to reach his/her full potential
  • When a coach is able to produce better players and to obtain better results than the National Association, this is not only unacceptable but almost always absolutely unforgivable.
  • If you want to compete by playing and thinking differently, you must work with coaches who have a similar mentality.
  • In matters of technical skill there are 4 levels — competent, very good, brilliant and ‘a natural’. The last category goes beyond mere skill and into an area where all technical knowledge is backed by an innate ‘feel’, a gut instinct, a sixth sense, an empathy with the subject and the machinery which by its very nature cannot appear in the textbooks.

Coach Development

Rowden Fullen (2010)

A number of Associations fast-track young ex-players into coaching and expect them to be immediately effective. We should however consider whether or not top athletes are the best people to be drafted into top coaching roles – many of the top coach educators are very doubtful.

In their opinion rather than exceptional athletes being regarded as having potential for coaching roles – being effectively fast-tracked through coach education programmes and swiftly elevated to high profile positions – perhaps they should be recognised as requiring extra support in making the transition to thinking like a coach, with more comprehensive input from coach education and the accumulation of coaching experience in minor coaching roles. We certainly need, they say, a more sophisticated talent identification process for prospective coaches than athletic achievement alone.

Coaching is well recognised as a cognitive endeavour, as opposed to the predominantly physical nature of athletic participation. Coaching and performing are specific and distinct undertakings and a period of learning and apprenticeship is required in each. Decision making is arguably the most important skill for coaches ahead of communication.

Knowledge and experience are crucial to the development of the coach and to his achieving of higher and higher levels. The essential problem about the attainment of excellence is that expertise and skilled knowledge cannot be taught in a classroom, not even over a number of years. Another problem is that knowledge and understanding are not transferable from one sport to another or even from one area of one sport to another.

The really experienced coach sees all sorts of cues in the preparation and movement build-up, in the stroke production and in the physical and mental characteristics, which enables him/her to be certain of how the player will perform and of which techniques and tactics are needed for future advancement. The less experienced coach does not yet have this ability (and may never have it). Ex-players for example often try to force the strengths of their own style of play (with which they are of course most familiar) on to the up-and-coming player. Also this capability is not something you can teach it must be lived. It is above all an understanding which grows and flowers in the coach over countless hours of meaningful participation in a particular sport (or other areas of life) and it is selective to that particular activity. Also bear in mind that experience and understanding is of little value if you don’t train anymore. In both coach and player areas, training is 90% of what you do.

Often unfortunately many top coaches now come from the ranks of former players. As a result although they may understand what top players need and feel, they often have little insight into what is required in the development of differing playing styles and the use of materials, or in the case of the women’s game, of the many and varied paths to the top levels. In the majority of cases most of the in-depth development of these coaches comes only from the training camps they have attended as cadets or juniors and of course what they have learned is very much dependent on the expertise and methods of those in charge of such camps and also in the continuity of the training. How many coaches in National Centres have ever actually ‘produced’ top players themselves? Few if any!

Many of our European Associations don’t seem to understand the differing roles played by the officer organising his own small area of the front line (the player doing his own thing and responsible only for his own development) and the general in headquarters administering and managing the whole war front (the coach involved with the development of a whole group of diverse players with completely differing styles of play).

To produce top players what we need is a coaching team, using a number of coaches with their own specialist skills. This type of approach will almost always lead to more playing styles and will stimulate players to be more creative and inventive. The coaching team will of course bring differing skills, knowledge and experience which will compliment one another. Another factor is to build up access to the supporting aspects, mental training, physical testing, dietary and massage and injury experts. It also goes without saying that the various team members, whether coaches or supporting specialists, respect each other’s expertise and are prepared to work together from the outset. Far too often our sport seems to engender both a parochial and proprietorial attitude towards players – even national coaches are not immune.

Coaching the young (Chinese Style)

Jerzy Grycan (2010)

A) The initial stages
B) Technical preparation
C) Understanding technical quality

Table tennis is a highly technical sport and because of this acquiring the correct movement patterns which are appropriate to the player’s end style is the basis for future growth. Science also shows that to become an outstanding athlete, we must practise from an early age and therefore the initial stages of training are absolutely vital.

A) The initial stages

It’s important that the young player learns the right things from the start as follows:

1. About the differing areas on the ball and racket angles. It is useful to demonstrate these areas on the ball during ball-racket contact using the right side of the clock (from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock) and showing the racket angle required to hit the correct part of the ball.
• Top part of the ball is at 12 o'clock position, the angle of the racket faces down (is 'closed')
• Upper part of the ball is at 1-2 o'clock position, the angle of the racket faces forward (still quite closed)
• Middle-upper part of the ball is at 2-3 o'clock position, the angle of the racket faces slightly forward (slightly 'closed')
• The middle part of the ball is at 3 o'clock position, the racket is in a vertical position
• The middle-lower part of the ball is at 3-4 o'clock position, the racket angle faces slightly back (is slightly 'open')
• The lower-middle part of the ball is at 4-5 o'clock position, the racket is facing back (almost 'open')
• The bottom part of the ball is at 6 o'clock position, the racket faces upward (is ‘open’)

2. About the timing. You can hit the ball:
• in the early ascending phase
• in the late ascending phase
• at the top of the bounce
• in the early dropping phase
• in the late dropping phase

3. About table tennis basic ready positions:
• close to the table position 15—50 cm suitable for fast attack players
• medium-close to the table position 50—70 cm suitable for fast attack and topspin players
• medium-far from the table position 70-100 cm suitable for defensive players and counter-hitters
• far from the table, retrievers and pure defenders

4. About table tennis power:
• If in the hitting movement the swing is bigger, the power is also bigger
• If in the hitting movement you use more power from the waist and legs, then the stroke is also stronger and faster
• If you hit the ball too early or too late, the power of the stroke is reduced
• We can say that the increase in explosive power is based on the shortest possible time to achieve the fastest speed with the racket touching the ball at the right moment and with the fastest swing

5. About blocking. The characteristics of the block are as follows:
• stance very close to the table
• ball often taken very early
• stroke movement very short
• good placement with lots of variety
• as fast as possible
• able to control the rally and put extra pressure on the opponent
• able to create opportunities for spin, drive or pivot attack

6. About how to absorb the power. In table tennis there occurs in most situations:
• using one’s own power
• absorbing the power of the in-coming ball which is the key to creating short-long ball variation
• absorbing the power requires at the moment of ball-racket contact a slight movement back (of the racket and /or softening of the wrist) and relaxing the body to absorb the power of the in-coming ball in order to get the effect of the drop-shot or ‘stop’ ball

7. About rotation in table tennis:
• Examine rotation of the hips, this is in the centre of gravity area of the body and of vital import in the control of the stroke production and also in the recovery
• There should also be rotation of the shoulders and the impetus of the striking shoulder is vital but there should not be over-rotation
• The prime objective, which should never be overlooked, is to recover facing the opponent and to be ready to play the next ball

8. About side-spin. Looking at the table tennis ball from the top:
• there is clockwise rotation for the left spin
• counter-clockwise rotation for the right spin
• it is important to bear in mind that rarely will there be pure spin on the ball. Topspin will often contain some sidespin etc

9. About pen-hold grip reverse-side strokes:
• The pen-hold grip player, having rubber on the reverse of the racket can serve, attack and loop with that side

10. About differences between spin and no-spin. The ball:
• over 20 revolutions per second is called a ‘spin ball’
• less than 20 revolutions per second is called a ‘no-spin ball’
• a backspin serve can have around 50-60 revolutions per second
• maximum revolutions with the big ball are 132.8 per second

11. About table tennis skills. Every table tennis skill development goes through 3 phases:
• The first phase is the general phase, with rough, badly formed action, accompanied by many unnecessary elements
• The second phase is the developmental phase, the movement is becoming gradually more economical, accurate and natural
• The third phase is the automation phase, the technical skill has been formed
So we have to learn these essentials through hard practice, step by step going through these three stages gradually, to finally develop a strong and effective skill.

B) Technical preparation

Technical preparation is probably the most critical element for achieving mastery in table tennis. It includes:
• specific coordination – the structure of specific movements both in time and space
• the quality of the table tennis strokes characterised by an amalgam of consistency, speed, spin, power and placement.
Technical quality is a fundamental for tactical areas such as:
• variety
• adaptability

Specific coordination is the main task in the initial table tennis training stage. To develop the right technical skills we need to follow the basic stroke principles such as:

1. Move naturally and economically:
• The movement in table tennis should be aligned to the requirements of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, psychology
• The movement of every stroke should be natural, rational, effective and economical, without unnecessary elements
• The movement should be specifically in tune with the style of the individual

2. Use your whole body when playing table tennis:
To achieve quality in the table tennis stroke requires skilful utilisation of the whole body. The role of different parts of the body in stroke movement are as follows:
• The trunk can initiate the swing, is important for power, but can’t create high speed, has low agility
• The arm has the main role in creating power in the stroke, is more agile than the trunk and can create high speed on the ball
• The forearm with its fast and agile movement can create high dynamic power and speed/spin on the ball
• The wrist is the most agile link, the smallest part and can create high acceleration. However it has only low power and over-utilisation of the wrist can easily cause injury

3. Organize your stroke in a ‘whip-like’ manner:
To achieve the maximum speed of the bat (in a perfect world) you have to use all parts of the body in sequence. Bio-mechanically the human body is a chain and to achieve the maximum speed of swing the stroke has to be ‘whip-like’:
• the bigger link should precede the smaller link (first legs and trunk, then shoulder, arm, forearm, wrist) in a co-ordinated sequence
• the movement should progress from the less agile part (trunk) to the most agile part (wrist)
• the movement should progress from the part ‘closest to the body’ to the part ‘furthest from the body’

4. Maintain balance between back-swing and follow-through:
• Every table tennis stroke includes basic ready position, back swing, forward swing, contact, follow-through, recovery
• It is important to create the necessary length of backswing to produce the required power of the stroke and to make the follow-through as short as necessary to maintain the balance of the stroke

5. Concentrate on ball-bat contact to ‘brush’ or to ‘hit’ the ball:
• The most important phase of the stroke is the bat-ball contact phase which lasts a fraction of second. The bat-ball contact can have different approach (spin or flat) phases, placement, duration of contact, angle of the bat, direction of power etc
• In practice almost every table tennis stroke is a combination of spin or flat hit
• For instance the flat (fast attack or block) strokes usually have some spin
• Also spin strokes have a flat stroke component
• Accordingly there is an emphasis on one or the other component

6. Choose the right ‘phase of ball-bat contact’ for the right stroke:
• The in-coming ball after bouncing on your side of the table goes through a phase where it rises, peaks then falls

Values of the rising, falling and highest phases:
• If you hit the ball in the rising phase you can shorten the length of ball trajectory (and increase the speed) and utilise the power of the in-coming ball
• If you hit the ball at the highest point you can use you own power
• If you hit the ball in the falling phase, when the ball has already lost its speed, spin and power you can increase the consistency of your stroke

According to your purpose and the kind of stroke you should be able to hit the ball in different phases. Not only should you should be able to hit the ball in different phases, but also according to your individual playing style master the skills close to the table (in fast attack), at medium distance (topspin attack) or at far distance (in defence). You should master the different phases but always bear in mind your predominant phase (the phase in which you primarily operate) which will depend on your individual style.

7. Strike the right part of the ball:
• Speed, spin and placement depend on which part of the ball is hit. For different results (speed, topspin, left-side-back-spin etc) you have to contact different parts of the ball. For example for fast attack you would hit the middle part of the ball in an upwards and forwards direction

8. Use the right type of stroke according to the nature of the in-coming ball:
During the bat-ball contact phase the relationship between the movement of the ball and movement of the body with the bat is especially important. There are three situations:
• Using the power – this occurs when the speed of the body-bat movement is faster than the speed of the in-coming ball for example ‘smash’, ‘loop’ or ‘powerful block’; these movements require necessary back-swing
• Utilising the power – this occurs when the speed of the body-bat movement is equal or slower than the speed of the in-coming ball for example ‘fast block’; these movements do not require back-swing but good timing and the right muscle tension
• Absorbing the power – this occurs when the speed of body-bat movement is slower and in the same direction as the speed of the in-coming ball, for example ‘passive block’, this movement requires good timing and muscle relaxation when hitting the ball

9. Control amount of power, direction, angle etc. according to the nature of the in-coming ball:
• The interaction between the opponent’s and one’s own stroke is very important. The ball trajectory depends on two main forces: (1) the force developed by the opponent (A) through his/her stroke and (2) the force developed by your own stroke (B). Both forces interact giving the resultant force C
• By understanding what was the force of the opponent’s stroke (and how the ball will behave after the bounce on your half of the table) and controlling your own stroke – the amount of power (back-swing, utilisation of the body etc), its direction (direction of used power, the angle of bat etc) you can control the resulting force C

10. The Basics:
• In learning table tennis many students focus on the movement of the racket, but at the same time ignore the basic ready position and footwork training. This has a very negative influence for further technical development, and leads to learning incorrect stroke habits. The basic ready position and footwork play a significant and leading role in table tennis, this is the most basic skill and a crucial part in preparing to hit any ball. Therefore, the table tennis beginners should do a lot of footwork training. A good basic ready position and good footwork enable the player to assume the proper hitting position and together with good stroke skills enable improvement of the quality of strokes and long-term technical development

11. The importance of the basic ready position and footwork:
• The basic ready position must be developed according to the idea of the player’s playing style and the specific basic playing position and body posture
• The body position should enable the athlete to hit the ball while maintaining the most reasonable position for the body. The basic ready position is the foundation for all table tennis techniques and it directly impacts on the development of all technical skills in table tennis, it is also an important factor in winning competitions
• The basic ready position enables the player to have good footwork, enables him/her to get into the best position for high quality strokes and enables rational coordination of the whole body - arm, waist, legs and other parts all combine to achieve the intended purpose
• Footwork includes the basic ready position, situation evaluation and reaction, the power of the legs, the economical transfer of the body weight with balance at all times and footwork methods
• But no matter what steps the player uses the footwork should be fast, accurate, practical and smooth in order to achieve the result of as high as possible quality of stroke-play

12. Let the player first observe, then think, then do:
• In technical training we need to be especially careful with the key components of every skill. There are many table tennis skills and they are very subtle
• In every technical skill the waist has an especially important function, for correct utilization of the waist is a key element in the coordination of every stroke, this enables fast footwork, increases the power of attacking and the spin of looping strokes
• For example, when learning movement of the forehand fast attack you need to learn using your waist first, so than you can assume the right position for the stroke
• After learning the twisting movement of the waist, we can start learning the proper stroke swing, first the position of the backswing using the arm, the forearm and the wrist, then starting the proper forward swing with arm and forearm, making sure that your arm is relaxed enough in the elbow area (beginners very often keep the elbow too stiff) and that the whole arm creates a 'whip-like-movement'
• To prevent the elbow stiffness problem, you need to make sure your fingers don't hold the racket too tightly and you don't use too much power and also make sure that in the backswing phase you forearm is stretched (helps with elastic energy)
• It is useful to learn the backswing and the forward swing as separate units. For example: Firstly do the imitation of forearm swing forward - from a relaxed and stretched forearm do accelerated and relatively short swing forward exercise with forearm. Make sure that your swing is relaxed. On the basis of that do the next step of the exercise imitating the forward swing with arm and forearm together. Make sure that the exercise is done strongly. Finally do the full stroke imitation – backswing and forward swing together

C) Understanding Technical Quality

There are five elements of technical quality: consistency, speed, spin, power and accuracy. The more of these elements you have in your stroke, the more difficult it will be to return and the higher quality stroke it will be. In every technical quality training exercise you can focus on the development of some aspect of technical quality separately or on some combinations. According to your individual style you can emphasise speed and placement (fast attack), spin and power (topspin attack), spin and consistency (chopping). Make sure that your main, ‘winning’ stroke(s) have the highest quality

1. Consistency:
Consistency is the ability to Influence the ball in such a way that you have control over the ball trajectory after your stroke to ‘keep the ball on the table’. It is extremely important in table tennis since every stroke can win or lose a point. However you should avoid practising consistency separately. You should always practise consistency considering other elements of technical quality- e.g. speed, spin, power or accuracy

2. How to develop consistency in your strokes?
To achieve a high level of consistency in your strokes you need:
• correct assessment of the in-coming ball -- long or short, high or low, topspin, back spin, side spin or no spin etc
• control which part of the ball you hit -- middle, middle top, middle low etc
• control the direction of power of your stroke -- forward, forward up, forward down etc
• control the amount of power in your stroke -- weak, powerful etc
• control the angle of your bat when hitting the ball -- ‘open’, ‘closed’ etc
• control the spin in your stroke

3. How to increase the consistency of your attacking strokes?
• If the ball is short and high hit the middle top part the ball; use your power in a forward downward or downward forward direction
• If the ball is long and high hit the middle top part of the ball; use the power in a forward (sometimes forward and a bit downward) direction or play the ball with a bit of topspin
• If the ball is short and low hit the middle (sometimes middle and top) part of the ball; use the power in an upward and forward direction; use weak power to shorten and heighten the ball trajectory or use a bit of topspin on the ball
• If the ball is long and low hit the middle (middle top) part of the ball; use the power in a forward and upward direction and use more power to lengthen the ball trajectory
• If the ball is a strong topspin create a low and short ball trajectory; hit the middle top (or even top) part of the ball; use your power in a forward or forward and downward direction; the more the spin on the in-coming ball use accordingly a more closed angle and less power so the ball won’t go off the table
• If the ball is a strong backspin create a high and a long ball trajectory; hit the middle or middle lower part of the ball. Use your power in a forward and upward direction; the more spin there is on the in-coming ball the more power you will need to use so the ball isn’t drawn down into the net

4. How to increase the consistency of your push and chopping strokes?
• If the ball is short and high brush the middle (middle and low) part of the ball and use the power in a downward and forward direction
• If the ball is long and high create a low ball trajectory; hit the middle and lower part of the ball and use the power in a forward and downward direction so the ball doesn’t fly off the table
• If the ball is long and low create a long and high ball trajectory; brush the middle low or almost the lowest part of the ball; use the power in a forward direction
• If the ball is short and low create a high and short ball trajectory by brushing the lower part of the ball and use the power in a forward direction. Use the amount of power carefully to slow down the speed of the ball
• If the ball is a strong topspin create a low and short ball trajectory. Use a very small ‘open’ angle of the bat and brush the middle or the middle and lower part of the ball using the power in a downward direction. Use more power if required (the more topspin, the more powerful the chop should be)
• It the ball is a strong backspin create a long and high ball trajectory, brushing the ball with an ‘open’ bat angle. Brush almost the bottom part of the ball and use the power in a forward direction

In table tennis every stroke can result in winning or losing the point, so consistency of the stroke is extremely important. You should avoid however practising consistency separately, but do this together with speed, spin, power or placement.

5. Speed:
Speed is another very important aspect of the technical quality of table tennis.
• The faster your stroke the less time your opponent will have to prepare a counter. A faster topspin will be (generally) more dangerous to your opponent than a slow topspin. If your strokes are faster than your opponent’s, you will have a better chance to gain and maintain the initiative and you will have more opportunities to attack
• Find the best relationship between the speed and consistency of your strokes

6. How to increase the speed of your strokes?
• Stay close to the table so that you can hit the ball early, shortening and lowering the ball trajectory
• According to the power of the in-coming ball make your swing shorter and utilise the power of the coming ball. Use the ‘small power’ of your forearm and wrist
• With the same length of the ball trajectory, hit the ball harder (use more power) to shorten the time of the ball trajectory
• Increase the ‘hitting component’ of your stroke and decrease the ‘friction component’ of your stroke
• In your physical preparation emphasise the development of speed (reaction time, playing arm, footwork etc.) agility and coordination. The faster your swing and the bat movement, the faster the speed (or spin) on the ball
• In your whole technical-tactical, physical and mental training develop anticipation ability and adaptive intelligence when playing table tennis

7. Spin:
• Spinning the ball is the next important method to create difficulty for your opponent. The more spin you can produce in your service, push, chop or topspin, the more difficult your strokes will be to return and the better chance you will have to create spin variety
• Most table tennis strokes have spin. For example a loop can have around 130 revolutions per second, chop around 105, push 50, fast attack 30 etc
• If you hit the ball with an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ angle of the bat you will create spin. The force of the stroke can be divided into two components: -- hitting - causing movement of the ball forward; and --friction - causing spinning of the ball. The amount of spin depends on the friction component of your stroke and the spin on the in-coming ball
• When producing the spin we can have two situations: -- reversing the spin- e.g. looping the loop or pushing the push – or adding to the spin- e.g. .looping the backspin ball or chopping the topspin
• In case of adding to the spin, the direction of spin of the in-coming and returning ball is the same. In case of reversing the spin, the direction of spin of the in-coming and out-going ball is opposite. You can add spin only if the friction component of your stroke is more than the in-coming spin level. If the in-coming chop has spin of 30 revolutions per second and your topspin is equal to 30 revolutions per second or less the ball won’t have extra spin
• In the case of reversing spin you can return a similar ball with a different spin. If the in-coming ball has backspin and your stroke achieves more revolutions than the incoming spin, you will return the ball with backspin. If your spin is equal to the in-coming spin, you will return a no-spin ball. But if your spin is less than the in-coming spin, you will return a topspin ball. If the in-coming ball is topspin and your spin exceeds the in-coming spin, then your return will be also topspin. If you create less than the in-coming spin, then your return will be backspin
• If you understand and apply these principles in the game you can create more consistent strokes but also a variety of spins in your game and you will know why some counter-topspins fall into the net and some others fly off the table

8. How to increase the spin in your strokes?
• Brush the ball with the maximal ‘friction component’ and minimum ‘hitting component’ of your strokes and as far from the centre of the ball’s mass as possible. Brush the ball with a ‘closed angle’ (topspin) or ‘open angle’ (back spin) etc
• Increase the power of your stroke and/or the speed of the bat during the moment of bat to ball contact to increase the ‘friction component’ of your stroke
• Use rubbers that produce extra spin (smooth pimples-in rubbers).
• To increase the spin of your stroke, especially the spin of your service, contact the ball on the furthest part of your bat
• To increase the spin of your stroke -- push, chop or topspin, brush the ball with an inward curving swing

9. How to increase the power of your strokes?
• With fast and accurate footwork you take the optimal position for a powerful stroke. In other words you come to the ball quicker and are better placed to play a strong shot. This position should enable you to utilise your whole body (legs, hips, trunk, arms etc.) to produce the complete whip-like movement. The distance between your playing shoulder and the ball at the moment of bat to ball contact should be as far as possible. (In women’s play strokes are often shorter thus creating less pressure on the back. Most women also play closer to the table use the ‘total’ body less and develop less power than the men.)
• Before you play the stroke stretch the muscles so they can contract faster and your stroke can be more powerful (elastic energy)
• To achieve full power in your stroke find the right angle between the trunk, arm and shoulder. When you are playing forehand strokes hit the ball in front of the right side of the body (right-hander). When you are playing backhand strokes hit the ball in front of the left side of body (if you are right-handed)
• To produce the maximum power in your stroke, your bat should be at its fastest at the moment of bat-ball contact. To ensure that your stroke movement is ‘whip-like’- the legs should lead the hips, hips should lead the trunk, the trunk should lead the arm, the arm should lead the forearm and the forearm should lead the wrist. In the case of weaker strokes the movement can be shorter and the centre of gravity can shift only a little. To produce the maximum power in your stroke make sure that the accelerative phase of the swing is long enough
• After the stroke relax your muscles immediately and returned quickly to the basic ready position so you are prepared for the next stroke. To be ready for the following stroke make sure that the follow-through phase is not too long (as short as possible without losing balance)
• In your physical preparation emphasise the development of coordination of whole body movements and dynamic power

10. How to increase your ability to control the placement of the ball?
• Every time you play table tennis, in every table tennis technical and tactical exercise be aware of where you are placing the ball. Develop precise placement of your every stroke, increase the difference between long and short balls, between the ball played to wide backhand and the ball played to wide forehand
• If you practise ‘one to one’ exercises be accurate in hitting the ball to a set spot. For example if you practise cross court (backhand or forehand) master sending the ball long but also to a very wide angle
• If you practise ‘one on two’ exercises (set routine or random), work on widening the distance between ‘down-the-line’ and ‘cross-court’ strokes
• If you practise ‘two on one’ you have a great opportunity to practise the ability to control the placement together with footwork.
• If you practise ‘two on two’ exercises (set routine or random, left and right, short and long etc.), work at widening the distance between the short and along ball, the wide to backhand and wide to forehand balls. This is an excellent opportunity to develop your ability to control the placement and the ability to control variety of placement and at the same time improve your footwork flexibility and agility for you and your playing partner

11. Creating individual playing styles:
Creating the individual playing style of the table tennis player starts from learning the grip, therefore the scientific selection and determination of the individual playing style is not only the first problem to be solved in initial training, but is also intimately related to the athlete’s future technical development and improvement.
The scientific selection and determination of playing style should consider the following factors and constraints:
• The athlete’s individual characteristics, personal interests, personality and body type, temperament etc table tennis developmental factors, the technical characteristics of various styles of play, trends in development, the proportion of some aspects over others. One of these aspects is the selection of the right playing equipment
• The experience of long-term development of many elite athletes shows that selection and determination of playing style is the result of all the above mentioned various factors, of which the athlete is the main component. Personal interest seems to be the most important factor
• To achieve the highest possible level in table tennis, it is especially important to do a good job in the initial training stages, to design good long-term development plans with ambitious goals and to strive to find future talented professionals. Also it is important to have in mind the requirements of the next stages, the quality and quantity, and making sure that the highest standards are met etc

12. Specific fitness training
• According to Chinese studies about specific fitness for table tennis this is mainly based on aerobic metabolism with moderate intensity in table tennis specific training and the order of importance of physical qualities is: agility, speed, and power
• In table tennis endurance training should also be combined with agility, speed and power training

Development and Training

Rowden 2012

To develop full potential the prime criterion is that the player has an understanding of his/her own style of play as early as possible in his/her career. Bear in mind that tactical development is based crucially on technical abilities. If the player doesn’t have the technical weapons to play his/her own game most effectively then the performer never reaches full potential. Throughout Europe there has to be a great deal more attention payed by coaches to the individual development of the player and to maximising his/her own personal style of play.

However there is much more to coaching and developing potential than just focusing on the individual characteristics. It is the responsibility of the coach to address 3 prime areas in the training and evolution of the player:

1. Pointing the way to develop adaptive intelligence and use multi-choice exercises, which require assessment of the opponent’s shots and decision making from the player.

Because table tennis is such an extremely fast reaction sport it is of crucial importance that players, right from the early developmental stages learn to be adaptable and not to think in predictable patterns or to play in predictable ways. Essentially reactions should be automatic because subconscious reactions are much faster than ‘thinking’ reactions. But essentially the mind has to be trained to be adaptable and flexible. Therefore the reaction base must be as large as possible, so that the player reacts automatically and effectively to more and more diverse situations. Training must reflect this. Equally the player must as much as possible learn to think quickly in tactical and strategic situations and exercises should exhibit the requirement for rapid decision-making and for accurate assessment of the opponent’s shots and tactics to ensure the best possible responses.

2. Directing the player to train in the right way for him/her as a male or female. Training and development will almost always be radically different.

Training and development for the two sexes will be different and this should be reflected from the early developmental stages not only in shot production and tactics (the type of strokes most commonly used and the way in which they are used), but also in the ready position, movement patterns and the distance from the table. Not only the technical areas will differ but also the physical and mental requirements and this should be understood by the coach from the beginning.

3. Helping the player to fully understand that training in the right way for him/her as an individual is crucial to the realisation of full potential and that the training regime should be such that it is most beneficial to the growth and eventual blossoming of individual style.

Many players reach senior level (and some even go through their whole career in table tennis) without ever really understanding in detail just how they should play as an individual to achieve the most successful results and to reach full potential. The coach has a real responsibility in this area to guide the player towards an in-depth and complete understanding of his/her own strengths and how the style should ultimately evolve. Even more fundamental is the understanding from the player’s side of the training methods and regimes required to reach full potential. Especially when the player attends sessions run by other coaches (at County, Regional or National levels) he/she should be alert as to whether the training program is even beneficial to his/her personal style development or whether it could be counter-productive or actually harmful !

In general terms players succeed by refining their strengths and making these stronger. The aim of the coach should not be to make the player outstanding in areas where he/she will only ever be mediocre.

Many of the top coaches and coach educators throughout Europe are now becoming increasingly aware of the importance of this individual emphasis in producing top performers, who have some chance of matching the Asians and especially the Chinese. Even more so they are becoming aware that the comprehensive understanding by the player not only of how he/she is going to play most effectively but also of how he/she is going to achieve this, are pivotal in attaining full potential. As we in Europe train less in quantity and less professionally, we must use each and every advantage we can to raise our levels if we are to compete on the world stage. Certainly we must aim at the ideal of all our players achieving and performing at as near as possible to full potential.

In all of this we must bear in mind when coaching young players that the brain is not fully developed till the mid-twenties. Recent research has shown that the frontal part of the brain is the last to develop. This area deals with decision making and the assessment of possible consequences. This of course is why so many young people between the ages of 15 and 25 often make such bad decisions which impact seriously on their lives. They look at results and what they can achieve in a different light to adults. The coach must also be very aware of this when dealing with player development at a younger age. Young players do need guidance and it is up to the coach to ensure that this is in the right direction for them.

Progression Ladder

Rowden March 2018

● At a young age the ability to do the same thing time and time again till it becomes completely automatic and you don’t need to think about it, should be a priority

● Speed is the single most important aspect of our sport. Work at continuing to raise the levels of speed week by week, but continue also to maintain the levels of consistency
● At all levels minimize mistakes
● From an early age learn ‘game management’ and teach yourself to focus on the opponent’s strategies and what needs to be done to win or gain maximum advantage
● Appreciate the importance of having enough ‘alternatives’ in your game that you are able to create change and use differing tactics to your advantage
● To reach the higher levels the importance of change cannot be stressed enough. You cannot afford to play in predictable patterns
● Understand that to succeed at our sport requires the establishment of automatic habits. However these must be the right habits and we must always be capable of change, of being able to use alternatives. In other words the execution of strokes can and should be automated, but the mind must be free to focus on tactics and strategies
● Each player will develop his/her own individual style and will have greater strengths in some areas. However it’s always crucial to understand that your ‘best’ game may not work every time against every opponent. This is when alternatives come into their own
● Do not overlook the area of ‘best playing distance’ from the table. Each player will have their own ‘best playing distance’ and these will be individual to the player
● When you play matches or competitions you cannot always play as you WANT to: to WIN you must do what you NEED to do to cause problems for the opponent.

The Growth of the Coach

Rowden 2010

The Problems

Most of the top coaches in Europe are concerned as to just how effective coaching is at the moment and if indeed we are going in the right direction and with the right methods. Particular criticism is directed at the lack of coaching expertise in general, the in-depth knowledge of women’s development and the increasing tendency to focus on the very young rather than developing players for the senior game. We certainly do not seem to be producing players to match the Asians any longer and particularly on the women’s side. Let us hear what some of the top people at the ‘cutting edge’ of sport throughout Europe have to say.

Slobodan Grujić: The danger is that the coaches try to prepare their young players to win cadet or even mini cadet championships and do not think about the most important long-term goal - how to form the player, his/her technique, tactics, fitness for the future as a senior player.
Peter Sartz: Regarding women we do not have training programmes and methods only for women yet; that’s why European women mostly can’t play at top international level. Also in Europe many countries have done nothing to improve their women.
Dusan Osmanagić: We all see that the situation in European table tennis is not very good. For me one of the most important reasons for such a situation is the problem with coaches - speaking of course generally as there are for sure exceptions to the rule - most of our coaches are not capable to meet the required standards.
Michel Gadal: We in Europe are much behind, we usually start later, we think in age categories and try to make from young players champions in their age category, not to follow from the beginning only the goal to make a top senior player - in that way we lose a lot of time.
Mario Amizić: The Asian countries have adapted to modern table tennis, Europe has gone backwards. The last three years have seen a particularly rapid decline in Europe; at one time I believed that the younger generation would be able to step into the shoes of the older, but this is no longer a possibility. The present situation in Europe is a catastrophe but if we really think about it, it is in fact the reality we should have expected. The methods we had in place some years ago produced a superb generation of players but these are not working any more. 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.
Rowden Fullen: There are differing coaching approaches throughout Europe, which vary from the rigid to the flexible. Systems unfortunately breed predictability and limit creativity. There are coaches and coaches. We have coaches who see the pathways and designs that others don’t. We have coaches who understand the patterns unique to the individual player and the relevant designs and intentions which are crucial to him/her reaching full potential. Finally we have a few coaches who not only understand the theory appropriate to the individual but who can actually convert this into reality.
Clive Woodward (England Rugby Supremo): A good coach opens your mind to new possibilities and plants the idea that to win against the best players in the world needs a whole armoury of playing tactics. Just like there are no rules in business there are no rules in sport. It is all right to question traditional thinking in others, who do things in certain ways because that’s the way they’ve always been done.

Being a top coach is not and never has been a question of certificates and diplomas and how many you are able to accumulate; rather it’s more a matter of how you think.

In most countries the Level 1 and 2 courses for coaches are characterised by predictability and rigidity; coaches are encouraged to go ‘by the book’ and to be conventional and to work within a certain regulated framework. Unfortunately as these coaches try to move forward and upwards they find that what they have been taught is no longer applicable. They find for example that what applies to beginners and intermediates may be totally irrelevant when they come to look at the real top players. For example at top level:

• The stance may be very much wider
• The players are more square to the table
• There is no leisurely build-up to the stroke, weight starting on the right moving to the left foot, measured rotation of the body etc
• The movement patterns wide, especially to the FH may be very different
• Often top players will use BH receive from the middle and even from the FH

What coaches eventually realise is that they cannot be totally dogmatic if they want to move on – their thinking has to be much more flexible and more unconventional. Unfortunately many coaches have been at Levels 1 and 2 for too long and are firmly entrenched in their views and approach to coaching; often they will have great difficulty in making the change and in ‘thinking on their feet’.

One of the toughest skills to teach any athlete is how to think, the toughest skill to teach any coach is to think more flexibly! It is often hard even for experts to withhold their expertise sufficiently to coach well. But probably one of the worse things in sport can be the dogmatic coach who insists on dictating and forcing his ideas on to the player. Each player is after all an individual and some of that individuality should appear in his/her game, we should not all be clones to the coach’s idea of technical perfection.

If the coach sees the player’s performance only in the light of his (the coach’s) idea of perfection in technique then the coach is still at the beginner level in coaching and at too low a level to be of real value to the better player. Then too we have the aspect of image and importance. Many coaches seem to think they are important and a considerable amount of their time and energy is directed to maintaining their image instead of using all their capabilities to help the player reach his/her maximum potential! In the final analysis only the player is important and he/she should be in total focus.

The prime skill of table tennis at all levels is the ability to adapt to an ever changing situation and to do this quickly. Training is repetition in the right environment, with the right content and the right attitude. As a result of this repetition our strokes become ‘grooved’ and automatic. We train so we don’t need to think about what we are doing -- so that we can in effect play on auto-pilot. Unfortunately the way we train is often significant in reducing our chances of achieving the ideal of adaptability.

For example once we are in this position of playing completely automatically just how are we supposed to handle thinking about something new and different, much less being actually able to cope with and adapt to new techniques and tactics? It is obviously vital for coaches to ensure that their players, right from the formative years, have the opportunity to train and play against all styles of play and combinations of material. In this way the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that the player has to work so hard to build up, cover a much larger series of actions and it is rather easier for him or her to adapt to new situations. In other words the content and method of training assume rather more importance than we may have initially thought, especially in the formative years.

Teachers, coaches and instructors unfortunately more often than not are tempted to perpetuate conventional wisdom and to want players to learn by the ‘book’. This means that the personal preferences, attributes and qualities of the performer are suppressed. This makes life easier for the coach and the dependence of the player on the expert is also maintained, which many coaches unfortunately seem to need. Equally unfortunately the unique characteristics of body and mind of each individual are ignored or over-ridden. The pupil learns to develop to an outside prescription instead of harnessing his or her own confidence, esteem, self-reliance and responsibility.

Often it is hard for experts to withhold their expertise sufficiently to coach well! In many instances even the really experienced coach sees players in terms of their technical faults instead of seeing them in terms of how effective they are and how efficiently they use their bodies. Bodily inefficiency stems from self-doubt and inadequate bodily awareness.

We have less training time than most of the top Asian countries. So if we are to develop players who can match and overcome the Asians we need an ‘edge’. We need to harness the full capabilities of the players allowing them more self-awareness and giving them more responsibility for their own progress and development. We certainly need a lesser input from the coaches. The coach should act as a ‘sounding board’, an adviser, allowing the players to air their own ideas and giving them the freedom to direct their own growth.

In this way not only will the player grow in a way which is appropriate and relevant to his/her own skills and talents, but the coach will indeed grow too.

The Solutions

The training hall is the arena in which athletes learn and develop techniques and skills. The prime skill of table tennis is the ability to adapt to an ever changing situation and to do this at speed – it is obvious therefore that our sport is an open skill and learning to execute the same technique time and time again is not as important as developing the ability to select the most appropriate technique to suit a changing situation.

Training must provide continuous and evolving possibilities for our athletes to apply a variety of techniques in a realistic and competitive environment. Coaches must ensure that players, as they progress through the learning process, are able to identify the most suitable technique (and the most appropriate for them as individuals) and apply this in a variety of differing situations. Even with an open skill such as ours, it is crucial to develop an automatic or subconscious reaction level (as this is how we play best) but because we are facing a rapidly changing situation all the time, to cultivate adaptive intelligence is absolutely vital. How do we do this? In a number of ways – we must for example:

• Train against all styles of play, penholders, left-handers, blockers, loop players, defenders, long pimple players etc.
• Learn to read the game more quickly (watching the opponent’s body action etc.)
• Train in the right way for the individual, using variable/random or thinking situation exercises.
• Use alternative training, such as multi-ball and use this technique in a variable/random manner.
• Train in a fashion which compels the player to react most rapidly to changing situations.

The coach should also try to identify a new way forward with players working from their own experience and perceptions rather than his own. In our sport the most effective way for the performer to increase physical efficiency is to become increasingly aware of the physical sensations during activity. The awareness of bodily sensations is crucial to the development of skills. Unfortunately the majority of coaches persist in imposing their technique from outside. No two human minds or bodies are the same – how can the coach tell the player how to use his or hers to best effect, only the player can do this by being aware! Let us try to encourage our players to use their own intrinsic feedback to maintain and to refine their competence in applying various techniques.

Practice and how to do this should be evaluated in terms of short and long-term gains and also in terms of memory retention – some training methods result in rather better long-term retention and performance than others. We also of course need to practise in the right way so that we are able to adapt and quickly in the face of the myriad differing situations we will face in competition.

• Constant exercises where we repeat exactly the same stroke to the same place, with the same length and the same spin are usually not very useful in transferring techniques into a competitive environment. Each shot is identical to the next and the previous and the technique is very specific. Such exercises are of more use in closed situations such as shooting rather than in learning open skills such as in our sport, where we continually face new and differing challenges.
• Blocked exercises are also very similar where we repeat the same stroke but with minor variations in pace, length, spin etc. Again one technique performed repeatedly hinders the transfer of technique into an open or competitive environment. Such practice may appear very efficient and looks good, but is unlikely to have any lasting learning effect and will usually break down in competition, where we don’t meet the same predictability.
• Variable practice is when performers try to deliberately vary the execution of one technique, using differing speeds, spins, heights and placement. This helps performers to learn the technique more effectively, helps its recall and retention into the long-term memory banks and helps with the transfer of the technique into a competitive situation.
• Random practice where we mix a variety of techniques, not only helps recall and retention but also develops the ability to select the most appropriate technique for the situation and is most beneficial to an open skill such as table tennis. Obviously this type of practice most replicates the competitive environment and also forces the player to be actively involved in the learning process.
• Mental practice of techniques can also help the learning process especially if we imagine executing the technique using all the senses – the resulting image is then that much more vivid and realistic. Use of mental imagery can be particularly helpful when recovering from injury, learning new techniques and when preparing for the big match or tournament.

The main problem in our sport is the instability of the environment. The player must be effective in a constantly evolving situation. High level players for example learn from mistakes immediately and do not repeat errors – they find effective solutions rapidly. Adaptive intelligence is the ability to evaluate a scenario in an instant, take in all the immediately available solutions and then take the best action. Often this is called reactive thinking – the ability to think clearly under pressure and use any available means to hand to resolve the problem.

Speed and anticipation in sport however are not based on reactions but come from highly specific practice over a long period of time. Top performers possess enhanced awareness and anticipation. But the accumulated knowledge and experience are crucial. The really experienced player sees cues in the preparation and movement build-up which enables him/her to be certain where the ball is coming. The less experienced player does not yet have this ability (and may never have it). Also this is not something you can teach in a classroom over a few weekends, it is an understanding which grows and flowers in the player over countless hours of meaningful participation in a particular sport (or other areas of life) and it is selective to that particular activity.

To be a really successful top-level table tennis player requires the nurturing and evolution of this aptitude through specific training – for the top coach to produce top players he or she has to be constantly aware of this fact and also be aware of the means of stimulating and fostering this ability. Regrettably too many of the training exercises we continue to use even at quite high level in Europe still reinforce predictability rather than cultivating adaptive intelligence.

What may not be readily obvious either is that adaptive intelligence is much more crucial in the women’s game than it is in the men’s. This is of course because there are many more ways to the top and many more different styles of play in women’s table tennis. Not only do women face a much larger variety of styles but also a much larger variety of materials, which means that the larger element of unpredictability inherent in women’s play requires them to be more adaptively ‘aware’.

Above all however it must be understood that for any practice to be effective it must be tailored to the style of the individual player. Players are individuals with a host of differing ways of playing. Exercises which are very beneficial to one player may in fact be detrimental to another. The prime criterion of the value of practice to the individual is whether or not this complements the player’s evolution. For this to happen the player must be aware of the direction of his or her development and the means of achieving maximum potential – unfortunately a number of players go through their whole career without ever understanding these aspects.

Imagine the situation on a high-level training camp with the best young players in the country if the 4 coaches in charge all feed in a differing input and then expect the players to comply. The players will certainly be confused to say the least and the coaches will not get the best from either the group or the individuals. Envisage the difference if the 4 coaches, all with diverse backgrounds and experience, approached the players in an identical way. ‘What do you think you should be doing, I think these are the possibilities, but where do you want to go? Are you comfortable with your style of play? How does your stroke feel, do you feel a tightness, a tension anywhere, in wrist, arm, shoulder etc? I think this, but what do you feel? Are you comfortable with your distance from the table, your FH and BH split etc? Do you understand there are many things you can correct for yourself and that the awareness of bodily sensations is crucial to the development of skills? Are you aware that your development should be yours, not someone else’s?’

Coaching is unlocking a player’s potential to allow him or her to maximise performance. It is helping players to learn for themselves rather than instructing them. In many cases the way we learn and more importantly the way we teach in our modern society must be questioned and modified. The coach must think of the player in terms of potential and not performance. Good coaching or mentoring should in fact take the player beyond the limits of the instructor’s own knowledge.

Training Tips

Rowden April 2017

● Every practice session should be tough and should extend your limits. In this way when you play matches it becomes easier

● In training you should work until you’re tired, then you learn to focus, concentrate and to maintain your willpower at a higher level when you would normally be fading because of fatigue
● In all training there should be a culture of work-rate and an intention to improve and learn even if it’s only learning more about yourself and what you can achieve
● Don’t settle for being a one-dimensional player. Let your individual characteristics flower and especially in the women’s game bear in mind there are many more routes to top level. There should be more focus on the individual you
● It’s not the sparring that is of the utmost importance. Direction is the prime directive; how you are going to attain full potential, what alternatives do you need against differing styles and how quickly can you recognize and adapt to change in tactics? Table tennis is all about change and how you cope with this.
● Your style of performance should be tailored to the ‘whole’ you. Does it embrace what you do best technically, do you have the suitable physical attributes and is it mentally the way you really want to play?
● Rather than talent it is purposeful practice and the intensity of effort and exertion that distinguishes the best from the rest

Girls and Boys: Coaching Development

Rowden Fullen (2009)

Multi-ball

Multi-ball is an important tool not only in the advanced areas but also in the initial stages. Obviously at beginner level it is almost impossible for two learners to keep the ball on the table and to have meaningful practice. Not all clubs have the advantage either of having parents and feeders eager to join in and to help in this situation. It is however quite productive to have half a dozen beginners rotating and playing say 5 shots each at one end of the table, while the coach/trainer controls from the other.

However even in these early learning stages (or certainly as soon as the player can play two or three strokes in a row from a static position) it is important to emphasise the differences between girls’ and boys’ development.

Multi-ball Girls

When performing multi-ball with girls it’s important that you contact the ball close to the net or at most half-way down the table on your side. Also important that you hit the ball from below net height or at most at the same height. In this way you give the girls less time, feed them a natural ball and don’t give them too much spin. Bear in mind that the women’s game is about controlling speed and it’s vital that girls hone their reflexes and come to terms with the best way for each of them as an individual to deal with the fast ball.

You will soon see that whereas some girls want to stay in and block or counter, others will naturally go back and want to take the ball later. You will then be in a position as a coach to help them develop their own individual style and to pinpoint even within the general style type, which specialties the player should work on (for example some defenders may be good at chop and float, others at chop and topspin counter, some attackers good at fast counter-hitting, others at varying the pace or using spin). You will also be in a position to assess which rubbers will be of most benefit to your developing player.

Multi-ball Boys

In the case of boys’ multi-ball (when starting with beginners) you should look to contact the ball at the end of the table. Contact the ball from between net height to below table level. In this way you give boys more time, a natural ball for them and more spin (although in the real beginner stages obviously don’t give them too much). As the player progresses, you build up and vary the spin from slow loop to fast loop-drive helping the boys to come to terms with the spin game they will meet at senior level.

There will be variations in style development with the boys too (not however as many or as varied as with the girls) and you should be alert to these. With the boys the most important aspect in the modern game is play from the ‘mid-area’, this being the position from which you can win points. Holding and occupying the mid-area and playing power and spin from here is vital – if men drift too far back they are under more pressure, lose control of the table (angles and change of pace are against them and they have to move more) and it’s difficult if not impossible to win the point. Even however with the boys you will come across the odd defender or close-to-table player and not all players will play the same from the mid-distance, some will play with more spin, some more slowly or with better angles etc. The ultimate aim of course is to help players find their strengths and to play to these.

Multi-ball boys and girls

One of the single most important aspects in the development of both sexes (and one which can be done together, especially in the intermediate and advanced stages) is the capability to open up against the backspin ball and on both wings. Far too many coaches leave opening on the BH till it’s too late and many top girls/women still have a weakness in this area. The earlier you start, the sooner this will be completely natural to the player.

Bear in mind too that girls will often open in a different way to boys and if they are using pimples it will be necessary to explore differing racket angles and timing points. Boys will usually open with more spin but need to be able to drive too (especially on the next ball). Girls will often just drive to open (usually at ‘peak’ timing or a little (2 – 3 centimetres) before) and as a result the trajectory of the ball will be flatter and slower after the bounce on the opponent’s side of the table. A very small percentage of girls are able to spin well, if you encounter one of these help her to develop the ‘spin’ game.

Backspin feeding is better done from the close to net position for both sexes, as it is then easier to bring in the short drop-shot and to develop short play.

Material

This is a minefield – there are over 100 long pimple and anti rubbers on the market with differing frictions and sponge thicknesses. In the area of short pimples there are around 150, some almost as grippy as reverse, others with very limited friction, plus of course variation in sponge thicknesses.

If you think one of your players would benefit by using pimples, the first question for him/her to ask is not — ‘Which material should I now use?’ Instead it must be – ‘Where am I going now in terms of my playing style? How do I want to play?’ I would suggest you then contact an expert in the use of material with some salient details of the player and their style.

Thinking points on differences – boys and girls development

We must consider time and the implications of the time element in men’s and women’s table tennis. Men more often than not play from further back, with more spin and a more pronounced arc. Because of these factors although they hit the ball harder it takes fractionally longer to reach the opponent on the other side of the table. Women take the ball earlier and play flatter with less spin. There is a big time difference between attacking close to the table and executing similar strokes say three metres back. This is because of all the racket sports, table tennis is the one where the ball slows most dramatically through the air and where spin most affects the trajectory of the ball.

If we have two women both playing at the end of the table the time from contact to contact can be as little as 0.2 of a second or less. If one player is 3 metres back both will have around 0.5 of a second to react and to play the ball. If however two men are 3 metres back they will have a second or slightly more to play shots, which at top level is a long time. What we have to bear in mind too is that the limit of human reaction time is on average around 0.25 seconds so that women playing at the end or over the table are at the upper limits of or outside normal reaction time.

Just what are the implications of this difference in the time element? It has for a start a direct influence on technique for players who stay close to the table. When you have less time technical considerations such as stroke length and playing the FH across the face assume rather more importance – or for example playing the BH with the right foot or right shoulder a little forward. If the technique is sloppy you deny yourself recovery time for the next ball.

Equally movement patterns are vital – it is critical that women have the correct patterns for their style of play and can execute them with good balance. Above all retained squareness is vital – because they are closer to the table, women need to be ready at all times to play either FH or BH without a moment’s hesitation. A number of the world’s top women not only stay very square but they step in to the FH corner to cut off the wide ball early thus increasing their options in close-to-table play.

Having a stance with the right foot back when close to the table has several major drawbacks –

  • It limits strong rotation of the hips (centre of gravity) and ultimate power development within the time frame.
  • It leaves weaknesses in the body and crossover areas.
  • If players bring the right foot through to square up this takes too long.
  • It encourages players to move back as they play wide forehands and militates against taking the ball early on the forehand side.

On the other hand using the square or over-square stance while close aids recovery and there is no lack in power input provided rotation is good. The most common fault is that players take the ball too late; if the square or over-square stance is to be used then early timing is vital and participants must be ready to contact the ball well in front of the body.

From the above you can easily conclude that in the women’s game because of the greater pressure of time, your development and refining of the players’ technique is crucial. Girls need to be square when close to the table, need above all to finish each stroke square (facing the opponent) and with the racket in the central recovery position (ready for the next stroke wherever the ball may come). They must use movement patterns which help them remain square and help them retain and utilise the larger number of alternatives which exist in the close-to-table game. They should use short strokes with good hip rotation to maintain power on the FH. Economy of stroke and movement is more often than not the key.

Tactical considerations also become crucial. Not only do almost all women stand closer to the table, they also stand squarer, use more BH serves, receive more with the BH from the middle and play more BH shots from the middle. Nor are these tactics accidental as almost all the top women both Asian and European utilize them and many women so doing, such as Boros and Guo Yan, have in fact extremely strong FH strokes. These tactics are used because they work and because they save time.

Boys and girls – exercises, points to consider

A common tactic in the boys’ game is counter-loop against loop. This never happens in the women’s game and should not be practised by them. There is a difference between men and women in the main purpose of topspin – men spin to win the point, women spin to make an opening to kill the ball. In the women’s game the counter to a topspin ball varies depending on the style of the player and can be a counter-hit, a block or a chop. Boys should train to re-loop, girls to spin one and drive the next. Boys should also bear in mind the importance of occupying the critical mid-distance area.

Girls should work at varying pace, length and placement and also using the angles more – it’s much easier to do this from a close-to-table position. Boys should work at varying spin and speed with spin (also using sidespin). Many male players have problems for instance in forcing the slower, low and long topspin ball.

The majority of top women even those with very strong FH’s, use BH receive of serve regularly often from the middle or even the FH side and girls should train at this. (This is often safer and enables them to recover quicker to the 4th ball). Girls are often weaker against short serves to their FH side. Boys should train more to receive the serve with the FH and to play 4th ball FH – because they are faster round the table this presents fewer problems for them.

Women use more BH serves than men as this enables quicker recovery for the third ball and 3rd ball attack. Men more often use the FH serves and try to get in with the FH on the 3rd ball even from the BH corner.

For the boys devise exercises where control of spin and power is important, for the girls control of speed and placement.

Always pay more attention to the ready position and stroke technique with girls playing close to the table. With the boys a ready position with the right foot back is not as critical as they are faster round the table, want to get their FH in more and will often drop back to topspin so that a partially sideways stance here means they still have time to recover. Also if you watch in detail how the top men execute the FH strokes you will perceive that many of them square up as they play the shot so as to be ready for the next ball.

Common exercises for both boys and girls

  • Variation in pace, spin, length and placement.
  • Pushing and short play. Use mainly early timing on the push and use of spin and float balls. Cultivate ability to push long, drop short and flick.
  • Opening against backspin balls.
  • Training against defenders and/or ‘funny’ bat players.
  • Training against penholders.