Thoughts on Training

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

Directed training always produces better results — this is why the top Asians all have their own coaches. Players who do not have access to the right help, especially in the formative years, unfortunately often develop with in-built faults and their future development is then in most cases limited and they don’t have the opportunity to reach full potential. Bad or ineffective coaching also limits potential as the player is often influenced to develop in the wrong direction. The first 2 – 3 years of training, the formative years are vital, this is when the base is laid and major changes in technique are difficult if not impossible to initiate at a later date.

Why is it next to impossible to change things at a later date? Table tennis is a fast reaction sport similar to the martial arts or boxing — you train by repetition day in and day out until a reaction becomes automatic, until you don’t need to think about it any more. It is when the body does things on autopilot that it is most effective. When you start to think about the strokes and especially about technique, you introduce problems, the thinking part of the mind interferes with the subconscious execution of the shot or serve and performance is affected. For a start the automatic reaction is much faster, you only slow things down by introducing the conscious, thinking process. This is why with players who have trained for many years and whose habits are firmly ingrained, you can often only change small aspects. You can only restructure the player’s technique by destroying his/her game and starting again. The things that you can think about when you play and think about profitably are where you are winning and losing points, which serves to use and not to use, free your conscious, thinking mind to concentrate more on the tactical areas of the game and how to gain advantage here.

INTRODUCE THINKING INTO TECHNIQUE AND STROKE-PLAY AND YOU INTRODUCE PROBLEMS!

So how should you train to do things right from the initial stages as a beginner if you wish to be a top player?

  • The first priority is to get the technique right from the start and this includes the grip and movement patterns — like most players your grip will be biased in favour of forehand or backhand strokes and you must have the right movement patterns to suit the type of game you will play as a senior.
  • Secondly you must look at the tactics which can be best used with your technique, because use of the appropriate tactics can bring your technique fully into play.
  • Thirdly you must assess and develop your own personal style of play, examining this from the viewpoint of both your physical and mental characteristics.
  • Fourthly you must ensure that you have the physical and mental strength and qualities to succeed in your aims.
  • Fifthly you must train against as big a variety of styles and rubber combinations as possible at as early an age as possible — the content and method of training can influence just how broad or narrow your automatic reaction range will be as a senior.
  • Finally you must train in the right way for you, with the right exercises for your style of play (too many safety and regular exercises and often you stop thinking) — and the training should keep you moving forward in the right direction. There should at all times be continued progress.

TRAINING SHOULD ABOVE ALL TAKE PLACE IN THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT AND WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE.

A word about the opposition you play against in training, your sparring partners and the level. Many players seem to think that you can only improve by training with much higher level sparring than yourself. If you always play only against much better performers than yourself, how do you ever learn to impose your game on others and to develop your own tactical ploys? The better player is always in control! You need in fact to practise at three levels.

  • With players better than yourself to learn new things and upgrade your skills.
  • With players of similar standard to work out new tactics and try to control the play.
  • With players of lesser ability where you can control the game and have more opportunities to use your more powerful strokes.

Be aware at all times what is happening as you train. Be aware of your own body, what it is doing and how you are using it. Be aware of your feet, the movement and your balance and recovery. Be aware of the differing contact and timing points and how to use these. Be aware of spin and no-spin shots, the flat and brush strokes which are the essence of table tennis. Be aware of variation in spin, speed and length and of force and lack of force. Be aware above all of how and where you play best, of how you win points and in what circumstances, of your own fortés and strengths.

Perhaps the single most important thought however about training is to bring the right approach and attitude to every session. Without the optimal mental state, the right level of nervous excitement and a positive, balanced approach to training, it is very difficult to progress — instead we keep taking half a step backwards. There is little point in training if you’re just not in the mood, if you bring outside problems from your personal life into the hall – feelings and emotions get in the way and even the smallest things will be a source of irritation. The psychological adjustment of players so as to keep them in the optimal mental state should in fact be an obligatory theoretical course for all players and trainers.