The Loop: Advanced Coaching Elements

Rowden Fullen (1970’s)

Long-arm Loop

Long pre-swing usually knee high or higher and beginning a couple of feet behind the right leg (for a right-handed player). The right shoulder is dropped prior to contact and there is strong body rotation and knee lift, the weight being brought forward from the back to the front foot for speed and power. The wrist may be adducted (dropped) throughout the stroke but remains constant and is not used in the stroke. The left elbow can begin the shot to bring in good rotation and to use both sides of the body and thus guard against injury to the back. This loop is often played from a little deeper position.

Use area – In the fast modern game counter to just about any shot, another loop, topspin drive, long push or chop, any ball that comes off the end of the table and especially one which carries a little deeper or which has more power to it. A good way of turning defence into attack or slowing down attackers when used as a counter from the mid-area, due to the excess spin and power either forcing the opponent back or reducing him to a more passive blocking game. A useful weapon for getting the defender well away from the table and often wide, because of the ease of applying sidespin. The wrist is not used in the stroke as the prime force is exerted through body rotation and from the shoulder. The long, trailing bat arm is accelerated through the shot and the free arm is utilized as a counter-lever and balance-assist to aid rotational speed. However the shot is often played with a dropped wrist (adducted) as sidespin can easily be initiated when the racket is brought round the outside of the ball instead of over the top. In the case of sidespin the racket will normally start behind the body and is best played against a ball that is a little wide of the outside knee.

Slow Loop

Knee high or lower pre-swing, with the racket starting close to the right knee (for a right-hander). Short arm and use of the wrist, the dropped wrist (adducted) is abducted at impact, the dropping ball (taken late) is played from the top shoulder of the racket down the full length of the blade. The body should be shifted forward under the ball and the prime racket angle will be upwards emphasizing spin rather than speed. There will be pronounced knee lift, limited rotation and transfer of weight and a rocking action of the shoulders.

Use area — Against choppers, blockers or short to the penholder’s backhand. Primarily used against the slower ball to open up attacking possibilities or as a weapon to pry open the defensive or mid-field game. It is more difficult than the fast loop to block or to counter-loop (Magnus effect) and is particularly effective against the heavy spin choppers. The slower ball will be taken at a later timing point as it drops and closer to the body, with the body weight being shifted under the ball. Beware trying to use too much in every situation in the faster modern game as good attackers have time to move across and kill the loop with their forehand wing. It is rather more important with this loop that players work much on achieving good length, either very short just over the net or very long (up to the base line) and also that they are able to drive or kill at the earliest opportunity. This will obviously mean that after each loop that the racket is kept up ready for the smash in the standard recovery position and does not drop back below table level.

Short-arm Loop

Short pre-swing with the racket starting close to the right knee or higher (right handed players). Good body rotation and knee lift, with dropped right shoulder and weight coming forward from right to left foot. Power and spin are primarily achieved by rotation and the speed of forearm fold. The elbow of the short free arm should be used as a counter-lever to accelerate angular velocity.

Use area — Against block, drive or loop or even push or chop. Can be fast or slow depending on which timing points are used and is particularly useful against the shorter ball which does not come through too deep. It is important to use the free- arm elbow to initiate the stroke as short-arm rotation from a standing position puts much stress on the lower back muscles. Many women use this loop and are not as strong in the back as men — it is therefore even more crucial that they have good technique from the start. The shot can be played with a dropped wrist, straightened and abducted at the moment of contact, though the prime spin will be achieved by the speed at which the bat-arm elbow is folded over. This loop is particularly useful for close to the table players as it enables quick recovery.

Coaches — When coaching loop pay especial attention to the free-arm side of the body — very few players use it effectively. Also watch where the racket starts. Many players don’t get effective topspin because they commence the stroke too far behind the body. To achieve topspin then requires two distinctly separate movements!

Backhand Loop

In the modern game this is usually initiated from the left hip (right-handed player), with the right shoulder forward. There will be a little knee lift, a little body rotation and fast forearm extension. It is this forearm extension and use of the wrist which give maximum spin. The wrist often commences in an adducted position (dropped) and is straightened and abducted at contact. The balance of pressure between the thumb and forefinger on the racket is important. There will be more body rotation and knee lift if the shot is played from a deeper position.

Use area — Virtually against any ball, topspin, drive, block or backspin. Particularly effective when used at an early timing point or if the player can mix this in from a drive or block situation, perhaps even changing direction at the same time.

Backhand Slow Loop

Still best initiated as they did back in the 1970’s from between the legs as per Klampar. In this case the ball is taken at a later timing point with the racket head dropped. There will be pronounced knee lift and the right shoulder will start in a forward position. Rotation is very limited as the main emphasis is upwards. Spin will be achieved primarily by strong abduction of the wrist and fast extension of the forearm and the pressure of the thumb on the racket is important.

Use area — Mainly against the backspin ball and often this loop is thrown up high into the backhand corner where it is more difficult for the opponent to control. Many players have difficulty in reading just how much spin there is from the backhand side and have problems in controlling the backhand loop.

Looping: History and Theory

Rowden Fullen (1970’s)

A drive or even a topspin drive becomes a loop when the spin content is intended to have more effect than the forward speed content. This concept of intention is useful when analysing many strokes in the game. Without the loop ‘intention’ players would proceed to strive after faster and flatter drives which at one time they indeed did. A fair proportion of players would still in fact be well advised to do just that and should not pursue the loop intention too far. (For example older, stiffer players, good flat-hit players, those who prefer thinner or less spinny rubbers and loop-happy juniors who have not yet mastered the basic skills.)

As well as intention one must remember purpose. Many players continue spinning long after they have achieved the goal of getting the ball up high enough to kill. Surely the idea when playing table tennis is to win the point – the loop should not necessarily be regarded as a point-winner, but rather as another weapon in your arsenal, another tool to create openings.

Intention is also a useful criterion for another reason. Five players starting off with the same intention will probably end up with five different types of performance. The effort to impart extra spin may well result in an important element of sidespin or an increased degree of forward speed or even equalizing the proportions so that we end up with merely a very strong and sure drive. If these accidental effects can be made intentional, then the loop practice has indeed been worthwhile.

We should also however bear in mind that for many players looping skills can only be acquired at such high cost in effort, time for practice and loss of other skills, that there are better ways of creating openings and winning points.


  1. Why is topspin needed at all in attack? Because it gives the ball a downward curving flight path while maintaining directional control.
  2. What is good about a downward curving flight path? It is much more certain that the ball will hit the table because its final approach is nearer to the vertical instead of almost horizontal as in the flat drive.
  3. The gyroscopic effect of the spin gives strong directional control, thus more and more power can be fed into the stroke without greatly reducing accuracy.
  4. It cannot be avoided that maximum power means loss of accuracy. The effort involved in producing the maximum is so involved that attention to accuracy suffers. Skilled or semi-skilled, every player in the world has his or her accuracy barrier.
  5. Due to the nature of the execution of the stroke in comparison with the drive (more lift) it is easy to use many more timing points and thus much more variation.
  6. Because human nature is careless, the coach tries at all times to raise the accuracy factor, by emphasizing smooth muscle movements to reduce effort and topspin control to reduce error as more power is fed in.
  7. A beginner’s drive may be taught as a slow roll with absence of effort. An intermediate level drive calls for definite forward effort through the ball and correspondingly more topspin to restore the degree of control. However an advanced drive needs crisp forward speed on each ball with no loss of accuracy even when fast footwork is required between each stroke.
  8. The next stage is the point-winning drive in which the effect is usually achieved by forward effort with topspin as an accessory. Other effective winners are produced by unpredictability, by irregular changes of direction. On the whole the more pronounced the directional change, the more careful the player must be with the power input.
  9. In tournaments and matches the player faces a host of variations which are even more immediately effective than his carefully coached, controlled drives — the flat hits, punch strokes, forcing blocks and sidespin drives. However under 4. each of these has its accuracy barrier – they are safe if used with good judgement but all have their limits.
  10. At this stage coaching becomes sensitive. In the three-horned dilemma, power, accuracy, variation, each limits the other. Who knows what resources the player has in him to raise his barriers and to increase his boundaries? Perhaps the player does, perhaps his trainer, perhaps another coach.
  11. In the search to raise the limits, a pioneer found that by applying maximum effort to the topspin department and letting the forward effort look after itself the effect was very profitable.
  12. How does this first generation loop respond to 4.? Maximum effort tends to less accuracy, but increased topspin tends to more accuracy. Since the effect is great the equation cannot be faulted! This means the loop has less directional accuracy and less length accuracy but more ‘hit the table’ accuracy (due to the violent down-curve).
  13. Many players trying to copy the great loop players did not produce a true topspin when applying maximum effort – the result became a strong topspin plus sidespin loop or an aggressive loop-drive. Once again control was lessened, but effect was increased — the second generation loop had arrived!
  14. The first stage loop scored mainly on its unfamiliarity as regards length and bounce (the coaches and players of the 60’s could see what was happening but no-one thought to investigate why - it was of course a perfect example of the Magnus effect in action), but had relatively little forward penetration. Could the maximum spin effect be linked with near maximum forward effect? It could — by really skilled players. Accurate control suffered once again but the penetration effect was increased and the third generation loop was born. An unpredictable battery of power loops, sidespin loops, dummy loops and short-bounce loops is now the common currency of top-class players worldwide.
  15. These third level loops by their domination need no longer be used only against the backspin ball — they can in skilled hands be used in response to any ball that comes over the net.
  16. The only criterion basically is that the player’s racket angle should correspond to the trajectory of the incoming ball.
  17. The drastic degree of effort and the fineness of touch needed in producing the good loops exact their own penalty — bad loops are just terrible and so many players persist in using them when they should be counting the lost points. Others get so carried away with looping that they cannot finish an easy point with a normal drive or smash.
  18. So how should you play matches against loop players? If you are fast enough you can keep them under such pressure that they have little time to play good spin, especially if you keep changing length and direction. Or alternatively you can go the other way and give them very little pace, with continuous light and angled attack mixed with very short balls. If they are not really top-class performers even let them loop — you will win on their mistakes.
  19. One of the most successful answers is the block, which can be executed in a variety of forms, topspin or forcing block, chop, stop or sidespin block, soft touch block. Do not neglect training to hit through the loop at an early timing point (especially in the women’s game) — this is a technique which can pay big dividends.
  20. Finally of course there are the various material combinations which often cause loop players problems. The long pimple defender who chops with such aggression and length that it’s next to impossible to loop two or three balls in succession. Or the skilful short pimple blocker who uses the looper’s own spin on the return ball.

Thinking Points on the Forehand (Drive and Topspin)

Rowden Fullen (1970’s)

  1. Eyes follow ball on to the racket (unless ball is contacted in front of the body).
  2. Head still throughout the stroke.
  3. Aim to contact the ball on the correct part of the racket for the type of drive or topspin you intend to use.
  4. Contact the ball at the correct timing point on the stroke’s arc.
  5. Rotation of the shoulders and/or slight rocking action.
  6. Both elbows equidistant from sides.
  7. Shot played in part from the elbow through and up (not all shoulder).
  8. Fast arm action (forearm fold).
  9. Punch shoulder through the stroke.
  10. Good pre-swing (shoulder back quickly).
  11. Pre-swing long enough and quick enough to gain the benefits of elastic energy.
  12. Limited follow-through.
  13. Central recovery (both body and racket).
  14. Recovery path standard.
  15. Trailing wrist (extended) closed a little on contact.
  16. Marginal abduction of the racket hand (depending on the topspin element and which type of topspin).
  17. Counter action of free arm elbow – ensure whole body action, not a one-sided stroke.
  18. Bat and free hand equal tension – reasonably loose.
  19. Free hand level or slightly lower than the racket and following bat arm wrist (not higher).
  20. Rotation from the waist.
  21. Head, bat and ball all close together on contact.( More important with drive than when playing topspin).
  22. Back bent, humped, shoulders forward.
  23. Legs bent prior to contact.
  24. Weight on the right foot prior to contact.
  25. Left knee lower than the right prior to contact.
  26. Push off the right foot.
  27. Right foot at a right angle to where the ball is going.
  28. Corkscrew action up and forwards.
  29. Straightening of the right leg as the left twists.
  30. The heel raise identical from the left foot to the right.
  31. Left toes pointing to where the ball is going.
  32. Transfer of weight from the right to left foot.
  33. Equalize the weight after the stroke.
  34. Aim at smooth, relaxed power input at all times.

Coaching and Playing Points

Rowden Fullen (1970s)


  • Directed training and directed development will always achieve better results.
  • Always have style development in mind.
  • Together with technical skills develop tactical awareness – while carrying out exercises bring in tactics by varying table placement, length, angles, ball speed and spin and timing.
  • Look at grips – does the player have a forehand or backhand bias?
  • Does your player know the secret of elastic energy?
  • Movement is the key to the future.
  • Evaluate balance and recovery.
  • The essence of all stroke-play is the instant of impact between the ball and the racket. Does your player feel the ball?
  • Consciousness – what is the degree of awareness of oneself, one’s own feelings and what is happening around? Assess your player.
  • Total concentration — table tennis is a switch on/switch off game, 100% focus when the ball is in play, relax and switch off when out of play. How does your player cope?
  • There is no room for feelings, especially anger. A relaxed calmness will pave the way to being in control, clear headed and able to think at all times. This does not mean that there is no place for controlled aggression – there is always a time to fight and many of the great players have total unshakeable determination. Evaluate your player.
  • Feel one’s strokes, feel the ball at impact — flat and brush strokes are the essence of table tennis. Assess your player.
  • The ability to keep track of the game, to know where you are winning and losing points, aware of serve/receive ratios, where opponents are weak or strong and the capability to take the initiative and adapt to changing circumstances are the mark of a champion. How does your player measure up?


  • ‘Stare’ at the ball — focus 100% all the time.
  • Be aware that the time to assess the spin on the ball is about 5 –15 cms. before the bounce on your side.
  • Be conscious of balance and the movement of the feet.
  • Be aware of recovery, the end of one stroke is the start of the next.
  • Be aware of contact points and differing timing, what happens and how to use these aspects.
  • Be conscious of placement of the ball.
  • Be ready to take the initiative in attack.
  • Be aware of the use of spin and no spin.
  • Be aware of adjustments in playing the stroke, less or more force or back-swing, timing, angle of the racket and where on the racket you contact the ball.
  • Be aware of the method of applying force, use of the wrist, movement of the fingers etc.
  • Have the desire to vary pace, spin and placement and know the different ways to do this.
  • Use your own strengths to the best advantage. Be aware of how you win points. Play to your strengths.
  • Block out all thoughts that are not relevant to your training/match/tournament.
  • Think of every training session in a positive manner and do not allow anything to interrupt your training focus.
  • Visualize success.
  • Cultivate a desire to achieve, to put up a good show and behave well at all times. Be competitive but a good sportsman.
  • Cultivate a positive approach to your sport, industrious but always ready to listen and to try new things.

Stroke Correction Techniques

Rowden Fullen (1970’s)

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

Peak gives the biggest target area and allows the player the best chance of hitting the ball down on the other side of the table. If players let the ball drop when small (a natural tendency with the ball coming at the face) this can easily become a habit leading to running away from the table whenever under pressure. This of course gives the opponent a better chance to use the angles. By adopting peak when young the player’s natural tendencies have the opportunity to emerge and he/she will have more options when older. It will be of prime importance later on, particularly with drive players (this includes the majority of girl players), to be fully aware that with this type of play there is an extremely narrow ‘window’ from the point of view of timing.


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


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


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


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

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


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

Recovery fastens the first seven reference points together and gives control of the table.


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

China Training

Rowden Fullen (1980’s)

China-training or multi-ball came originally from Asia, where it has long been used as a natural part of the training method. Not only is it used by Asian coaches but also by the players themselves and is in fact often utilized as an alternative in the place of normal training.

Multi-ball is an excellent training method for both new beginners and elite players and can be employed over a large number of areas, to improve technique and tactics, to develop footwork or to help solve problems in weaker parts of the player’s game. It is of especial value in that the method can be used in an infinite number of different ways and it is very easy to think up and evolve new exercises to suit the needs of your particular player.


Where the player trains one stroke, for example opening against backspin on the backhand. Here the coach can examine the technique and its effectiveness quickly as the player executes a large number of strokes in a short time period.


Where the player switches between backhand or forehand or topspin and backspin and must adjust to different placement, spin or speed. Such exercises can be regular or irregular.


Exercises can be aimed at short or long movement, in and out or side to side. The coach can determine just how long the movement should be and whether regular, part regular or completely random.


Where the player operates at a rather higher speed than in a normal game and is compelled to adapt his or her techniques, movement and balance under constant pressure. (A pressure which can be adjusted, increased or decreased at will by the trainer).


Where the player is called upon to change the game from control to attack or from spin to hit and to adapt to differing situations.


Where the multi-ball is put into a match play situation — for example short push to the player’s forehand, which he pushes or flicks long, return looped to the corners.


  • Regular switch play — One ball to each corner with topspin, even tempo, low bounce. The same with backspin.
  • Irregular switch play — One ball to the backhand corner, one to the middle or to any part of the forehand side. One or two balls to each corner.
  • Tempo training — The ‘Falkenberg’ with a fourth ball to the middle. Feed at a little higher tempo than the player would encounter in a game so that he or she must adjust the technique to the higher pace. Study the movement and balance, the aim being to increase the strength and movement abilities of your player. Ensure that the technique doesn’t suffer under the increased stress. Take up and feed the four balls then allow your player the time to return to the ready position before re-commencing the next group of four balls.
  • Technique training — Backhand loop against backspin – pay particular attention to the player’s technique and give him or her time to re-assume the ready position before continuing. It is important that this type of exercise is not operated at too high a speed.
  • With two players — the coach feeds a backspin ball to player 1 who loops. Player 2 drives through the loop.
  • Match training — Short backspin to forehand, long backspin to backhand, long topspin to forehand. Ensure that the player returns to the ready position between strokes and take care that the feeder does not feed too fast, especially between balls of different tempo. As a general guide the player’s ball should bounce on your side as you feed the next one. After regular exercises build in random movements as the player improves.
  • Defence training — Feed from a distance, perhaps 2 – 2½ metres back and it may be necessary to feed from a lower position to achieve the correct trajectory. Give the player time and vary the spin from heavy backspin to float.
  • Smash training — Feeder stands well back and lobs up high balls with varied topspin to different table areas. Train player to smash from differing areas but especially at an earlier timing point.
  • Control training — Feeder drives hard or topspins and player controls with various blocks and occasionally counters. Player should try to control to different table areas and return to the ready position after each stroke. Always also be prepared to ‘force’ or counter-hit hard and early on the suitable ball.
  • Footwork patterns — 1 – 5 balls to the crossover and one to the forehand or backhand. Important that the player has good balance at all times. It is physically hard to be played into the crossover all the time but the player must try to move the feet first, then play the ball.


  • Take the ball quite early, not too high or the trajectory can be flat and unnatural.
  • Drop the ball down or throw it slightly backwards.
  • For a higher tempo you can hit the ball directly out of the hand.
  • Take 4/6 balls in the hand at a time so you can have an even rhythm.
  • Be relaxed.
  • Try to work calmly and methodically. The priority is that the balls come over the net in a natural way, at whatever speed you work.
  • Let the player know the time interval if you are feeding series of say five balls then a short pause. It is often good to work in series for example in footwork exercises. In a technical learning situation however the player often learns better if you feed continuously for a given period.
  • Stand closer to the net to play short balls.
  • During speed or movement exercises if you miss one point proceed to the next, then the player doesn’t lose the rhythm.
  • Use China-training to improve your player’s placement, ability to play straight balls or to the crossover or out to the angles. Many players have too much diagonal play.
  • Bear in mind that China-training takes much more concentration than a normal session and should not be operated for the same time period. The player strikes many more balls in a much shorter time.
  • One-to-one training of this kind gives excellent opportunities to talk ‘table tennis’ to your player.
  • Feeders can use both forehand and backhand. It’s also particularly useful to use different rubbers from time to time to train your player against defence or pimples.
  • One big advantage for the trainer is that he has an excellent opportunity to study his player’s technique and to see any problems first-hand.
  • Have an extra racket for China-training as the rubbers will wear very quickly!

Requirements for Table Tennis

Rowden Fullen (2002)

  • Condition
  • Speed
  • Control of speed
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Feeling
  • Technique
  • Mental toughness
  • Adaptability
  • Willpower

Evolution of the Player

Rowden 2011

Technical development

– The 9 Stages
1. Athlete will be able to produce and explain a proper grip, including pressure points (‘a’ grip, as different grips will lead to differing styles).
2. Athlete will be able to demonstrate an appropriate ready position (different ready positions will also lead to differing styles of play).
3. Athlete will be able to execute the following basic strokes with correct form, directional control, and with an 80% success rate when fed by coach:
• Backhand push and forehand push against backspin
• Backhand and forehand blocks against topspin
• Backhand and forehand drives against topspin
• Backhand and forehand topspins against backspin

4. Athlete will demonstrate an understanding of the basic elements of all strokes:
• How to strike the ball - Friction versus force type of ball contact
• When to strike the ball - The proper timing for each of the basic strokes
• Where to strike the ball – The correct contact point on the ball for each of
the basic strokes

5. Athlete will learn basic backspin and topspin theory. This includes:
• How spin affects the flight of the ball
• Where to strike the ball to produce each spin
• The concept of going with or against the spin

6. Athlete will understand the following basic theories:
• The role that racket acceleration plays in all strokes
• The role of the back-swing in helping with stroke/timing/power and when
this is less necessary.

7. Athlete will learn basic serves as he/she learns each stroke.
a. Example: Backhand push = learn a backhand backspin serve

8. Athlete will be able to produce correct 1 and 2-step footwork in both directions while executing correct strokes.
9. Athlete will be able to produce mixed stroke combinations against both backspin and topspin, using all of the basic strokes with a success rate of 80%.
10. Athlete will be able to successfully complete simple consistency drills with a partner.
11. Athlete will be introduced to the concept of inside and outside ball contact to control the direction of the ball.
12. Athlete will be able to change his/her point of contact on the ball to correct for the change between topspin and backspin ball feeds.
13. Athlete will be introduced to the concept of using the lower body to produce power and spin, where this is appropriate.

14. Athlete will be introduced to the concept of producing topspin at different speeds (gearing) by controlling the amount of body use and the speed of arm.
15. Athlete will learn and be able to produce the modified service grips.
16. Athlete will focus on developing the necessary hand skills to produce heavy spin services.
17. Athlete will be introduced to the concept of stopping, using or returning the spin on the opponent’s serve when returning serves.
18. Athlete will learn the relationship between racket acceleration and going with or against the spin on the opponent’s strokes.
19. Athlete will be able to produce both forehand and backhand drop shots, flicks, and pushes against short serves.
20. Athlete will be able to produce and explain the effect of sidespin on the ball.
21. Athlete will be introduced to the concept of applying and redirecting power against an opponent.
22. Athlete will be introduced to the concept of relaxation and use of the stomach in generating maximum power.
23. Athlete will be able to produce both backhand and forehand loops against both topspin and backspin ball feeds.
24. Athlete will be able to practise (with a partner) using the five ball sequencing system. This consists of practice focusing on one of the first five strokes of the game:
• 1st. – Serve
• 2nd. – Serve Return
• 3rd. – 3rd. Ball Attack
• 4th. – 4th. Ball Defence or Counter Attack
• 5th. – 5th. Ball Attack

25. Athlete, working with the coach, will begin developing his or her own personal style of play. This will be accomplished by examining:
• The characteristics of the styles of play currently used at World Level.
• His/her own strengths and weaknesses and which style of play he/she best matches up with.
• What style of play would he/she most enjoy playing?
26. Athlete will learn basic strategy consisting of the four ways to win a point. These include:
• Power
• Deceiving the opponent, varying speed, spin, height, and placement to force
• Special Techniques – combination rackets, special serves, or unique shots
• Time Pressure – playing faster than your opponent is comfortable playing
27. Practice will focus on developing patterns of play which best suit the style of play of the athlete.
28. Athlete will develop effective techniques from close, mid, and far distance from the table with the bulk of the practice focusing on the ideal distance from the table for the athlete’s style.
29. Crossover footwork will be introduced and practised during this stage if the style requires.

30. Athlete will develop the advance stroke techniques necessary to complete his/her own style of play.
31. Athlete will be able to make the necessary grip adjustments during play to enhance specialised strokes.
32. Drills will focus on consistency and learning the new skills.
33. Athlete will focus on improving his/her serve and receive game focusing on the correct serve placements and patterns for his/her style.
34. Athlete will focus on improving his/her footwork focusing on the movements necessary for his/her style.
35. Athlete’s training will continue to focus on the development of his/her strongest strokes (main weapons)

36. Practice during this stage focuses on adding the advanced techniques into the Athlete’s style of play using the 5-Point System of training.
37. The athlete should now have the technical skills necessary to implement any of the four basic ways to win a point against any opponent’s style of play.
38. The Athlete’s main technical development should now be complete.

39. Practice during this stage focuses on specific tactics against different styles of play and at various stages of the match.
40. Drills during this stage become more and more random, forcing the Athlete to begin to concentrate more on what the opponent is doing.

41. Practice during this stage focuses on making small technical changes that have been proven necessary through intensive match play.

42. Practice during this stage focuses on preparing the Athlete to 'Peak' for major competitions.

Physical Training

Athletes should:
1. Be introduced to a program of basic exercises that become part of their warm-up program. These exercises need to be age appropriate and are designed to prepare the athlete for future training.

2. Be introduced to simple movement exercises that help develop the needed foot skills necessary for the sport.

3. Begin a program of general physical training that consists of age appropriate exercises without added weights.
4. Begin a program of aerobic training through on-the-table movement drills.

5. Understand the need for and begin a program of regular physical testing.
6. Incorporate a program of circuit training (without added weights) designed to improve anaerobic fitness.

7. Begin a program of supervised age appropriate weight training to develop the needed strength base required for the sport.
8. Understand the role of strength training, aerobic training, and anaerobic training within their planned training cycles.

9. Understand the need for and incorporate a regular program of flexibility training in their overall training program.
10. Incorporate Power Training (Plyometrics) into their training cycles.

11. Be able to help the coach in designing their own fitness program that incorporates the principles of periodisation.

12. Be able to design their own year-round fitness program that fits into their overall long and short-term goals for the sport.

Injury Prevention

Athletes should:
1. Demonstrate an understanding of the role that proper warm-ups, stretching, and cooling down play in injury prevention.

2. Understand the concept of R.I.C.E. when treating injuries.
• R – Rest
• I – Ice
• C – Compression
• E – Elevation

3. Understand the 5 levels of pain, what treatment to seek and how much play is safe at each level.
• Level One - Discomfort or mild pain that goes away with warm-up.
• Level Two - Mild pain during play which goes away within 24 hours.
• Level Three - Mild to moderate pain during play that continues after 48 hours.
• Level Four - Moderate pain that continues during play and is not helped by warm-ups.
• Level Five - Moderate to severe pain that alters table tennis technique.

4. Understand that strength training is important in both injury prevention and improving performance

Goal Setting

Athletes should:
1. Establish written technical performance-based goals and share them with coaches and parents. These goals should be reviewed regularly. The purpose of these goals is to have the Athlete concentrate on technical/tactical development not competitive development. Example: To execute 8 out of 10 forehand drives, against topspin placed alternately from the middle of the table to the wide forehand of the player.

2. Set realistic but challenging competitive goals and separate them into:
• Long-term 5 years
• Intermediate 2-4 years
• Short-term 1 year
These goals should include ranking levels and specific tournament results.

3. Be able to develop specific objectives necessary to achieve the short-term goals. These include:
• Technique
• Strategy and tactics
• Physical training and fitness levels
• Sports psychology
4. Be able to demonstrate that he/she is developing intrinsic motivation during training and matches. This includes:
• Showing consistent intensity during practice
• Showing dedication to physical and psychological training
• Moving towards independence as a player
• Becoming more involved in the planning of his/her own training


Athletes should:
1. Demonstrate an understanding of the training cycle principle
2. Work with their coaches to develop the yearly competition schedule and to establish which events they wish to 'peak' for.
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the different phases of the training cycle. These include:
• Preparation
• Pre-competitive
• Competitive
• Active Rest

4. Work with their coaches to develop specific training cycle plans for these 'peak' events. These plans should include:
• Goal Setting
• Initial Evaluation
• Technical Training
• Development of an aerobic base
• General and specific table tennis anaerobic training
• Strength training
• Power training
• Psychological skills training

5. Be able to shorten their training cycles, which will allow for more 'peak' tournaments during the year.

Sports Psychology

Athletes should:
1. Be introduced to the importance of keeping competition in the proper perspective.
2. Be able to use imagery to rehearse or to change technique before or during play.

3. Develop a ritual before every serve or serve return that will enhance relaxation and concentration.
4. Be able to use imagery to correct incorrect strokes during practice or competition.

5. Develop a confident physical appearance during practice and competition.
6. Understand the body/mind relationship and how one can affect the other.
7. Understand how important the role that positive self-talk plays in reducing stress, enhancing self-image, and allowing the body to perform at its highest level.
8. Understand how damaging negative self-talk can be to performance and the enjoyment of the game.

9. Be able to concentrate on court and develop mental techniques to help develop the skill
10. Understand that they must concentrate only on the things that they have control over.

11. Understand the level of arousal that they need to train or compete at to reach their highest level and develop techniques to deal with under or over arousal issues.
12. Understand how to recognize negative mental scripts and actively change these into positive scripts through active rehearsal.


Athletes should:
1. Understand the importance as well as practise proper hydration at all times during and after practice and competition.

2. Understand how to make healthy food choices from all the nutrient groups in the food pyramid.

3. Understand the importance of maintaining the optimal body weight

4. Understand how to eat properly before, during, and after competition
5. Understand the negative consequences of drug use in life and sport.

6. Understand how to make good nutritional choices when travelling both domestically and internationally

Media Skills

Athletes should:
1. Always be friendly and cooperative with reporters.
2. Always speak positively about opponents.
3. Always make sure that sponsors’ logos and products are visible.

4. Always dress appropriately for all interview or public situations
5. Maintain good posture and make eye contact with fans or press.

6. Be able to speak clearly and slowly when speaking in public.
7. Make an effort to show their personality when giving interviews or speaking in public.
8. Be aware that they do not need to answer any personal questions that they feel uncomfortable in answering.


Athletes should:
1. Understand that honesty and integrity on the court are more important to one’s life than winning.

2. Demonstrate proper on court etiquette before, during and at the conclusion of the match.
3. Always take responsibility for their actions.

4. Know the rules of the sport and how to properly deal with difficult on court situations.

5. Appreciate the benefits that you receive from table tennis and be willing to give back to the sport.

Multi-ball: High level training

Rowden 2011


The main aim of the following sample exercises is the improvement of adaptive intelligence by reading the play in an intense ‘short burst’ situation where the player puts in maximum input working in short exercise sequences of 6 to 8 balls. The short exercise sequences are repeated between 8 to 10 times, with a 10 second gap between each sequence, then the player will have a break of several minutes. This ‘short exercise’ intense system has been used in Asia for many years and also for the last 7 to 8 years in Germany. (If it is difficult to remember 6 to 8 balls in a row, run the sequence first with 3 or 4 then build in the second half).

Table tennis is all about controlling the play (which means being consistent) until you can win the point by some form of change (more power or spin, better placement or angles, softer, shorter ball etc). These combinations of change whether in speed, spin or placement are the way our game is going to develop. This aspect of change must be executed by you first before the opponent can do it

As coaches will see the exercises incorporate movement in and out and side to side, also changes in placement on the table, spin, speed and length. The idea of course is to simulate the game situation as much as possible. It is also of course possible and indeed necessary for coaches/trainers to devise their own exercises so that they cater more accurately for the needs of the individual players they are involved with.

Multi-ball training has been proven to be a functional practice instrument, which enables the player to work on his/her strokes in a manner which is closest to the requirements he/she faces in competition later on. Speed training by using multi-ball is theoretically and experimentally backed up by Weigelt´s studies in Germany. (See ‘Speed equals coordination’ in ‘Coaching – Technical’ on this website)

1. Long backspin to the FH
2. Short backspin to the FH
3. Long backspin to the BH
4. Short topspin to the BH
5. Long topspin to the BH
6. Long topspin to the FH
7. High ball to smash

1. Long backspin to the BH (Player uses BH)
2. Long backspin to the BH (Player uses FH)
3. Long topspin to the middle
4. Long backspin to the FH
5. Long topspin to the FH
6. Long topspin to the BH
7. Short float to the middle
8. High ball to smash

1. Long backspin to the FH
2. Long topspin to the BH
3. Long topspin to the middle
4. Long backspin to the middle
5. Long topspin to the FH
6. Short float to the middle
7. Long topspin to the middle
8. High ball to smash

1. Long backspin to the BH
2. Long backspin to the FH
3. Long backspin to the BH
4. Short backspin to the middle
5. Long topspin to the FH
6. Long topspin to the BH
7. Short backspin to the FH
8. High ball to kill

One Leg or Two:

Kenneth Riggberger (2006)

Kenneth Riggberger has coached many top athletes, including Henrik Dagård, European decathlon Silver Medallist in 1994. In his archives he has data in respect of physical tests on men’s and women’s teams over 24 different sports. However more recently for the last few years he has taken on two young female athletes, Malin Andersson (17 years old) and Elinor Widh (20). The results he has achieved have astounded top coaches in Sweden and turned traditional methods on their heads. After only two training sessions per week both girls took medals in the Senior Swedish Athletics Championships in javelin, Elinor gold and Malin bronze and a measure of their performance is that Carolina Klűft could only manage 5th place!

He advocates less training, as little as twice per week and that strength exercises for the legs be done only on one leg. It’s interesting to say the least that these two young girls after several short years training in the Riggberger method have been proved to have a much higher leg strength level (and by a large margin) than any of the top women athletes in Sweden. In fact only Johann Wissman, the runner and one of the country’s most highly trained athletes compares favourably with them.

Riggberger believes in the vital importance of building base strength first and in less training with higher intensity. Many athletes in his opinion train too hard without the core of real strength and as a result spend too much time injured. In stamina events one can train more when the recovery phase is shorter and it is possible to be much stronger without going up a great deal in weight.

He believes too that in the case of many racket sports that the power from one leg in movement is vital together with balance. Both movement and stroke-play are often executed from a position where the loading is on one leg or the other, not both. As a matter of interest Elinor is also in the National Squad for badminton in Sweden.

His method is the quick vertical jump on one leg with gradually increasing weight on the shoulders. How fast and explosively his girls can jump up and down with the weight (up to 50 kilos) doesn’t only look easy, it produces unbelievable results. He advocates increasing the loading gradually, using high intensity and not using more than 5 repetitions. There appears to be very little difference in leg strength between men and women, taking into account body weight. This type of training leads to extreme loading on the muscles in a short time. In a comparison with Elinor and Johann results were achieved as follows (Johann weighs 15 kilos more):
• Elinor – 20.4 watt/kilo
• Johann – 20.3 watt/kilo

Player - Focus Points

Rowden August 2017

● Read the play. Play your shot, watch the opponent’s body action and preparation for his/her return and you should know 6 to 8 inches before he/she hits the ball where it is coming and with what speed and spin. Make this a habit till it’s automatic.

● Have two/three alternatives (in stroke play, service return etc.) to each situation you face on the table. You will meet many differing opponents with many differing strategies. One solution will not always work. Many players neglect using the opponent’s speed/power.
● Make sure you especially have alternatives in short receive, drop short, flick and push long with heavy spin and no spin.
● Have alternatives in receive of long serve too; control, block, speed, spin, timing, placement, and slower returns.
● To achieve full potential be alert to the dangers of stagnation. Never be satisfied with your level, always look forward, never be afraid to try new things.
● Never look inwards when you compete, never doubt, instead look outwards and study the opponent’s face. You will know when you’re going to win.
● Every player, however highly ranked has weaknesses, it’s just a matter of finding where they are.
● Our sport is all about CHANGE in all its forms and knowing when and how to apply this. Absorb the following:
1. If you fall behind – think change.
2. If there is a stalemate – think change.
3. If you’re well ahead and the opponent starts coming back – think change.
4. If the game is close and on a knife-edge – think change.
5. In the critical final points – think change.
● Also study the phases of the game, change may be required at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a game.
● Think of change in all its FORMS – power, speed, spin, timing, angles, rhythm, placement, straight and body balls, trajectory, control, slow balls and consider that often change may consist of not just one aspect but in fact a combination of two or more.
● Each player is different, with differing strengths and qualities. So don’t copy, be you and develop you. Listen to your body and be creative.
● With the plastic ball the following assume greater importance:
o Symmetrical play, equally strong on BH and FH
o Precision in placement, length and angles
o Unpredictability and diverse patterns
o Use of length and the whole table
o Use of sidespin

Player Evaluation

Rowden Fullen (1970's)

In any evaluation of how effectively a player performs it is necessary to conduct an in-depth examination of a number of factors.

• Attacking and control strokes, what are percentage and type?
• FH and BH strokes, percentage and type, plus table area and coverage.
• Looking at over-the-table, at the end of the table and back from the table strokes, what are the percentage and type in each area?
• What are percentage and type of strokes taken at early, ’peak’ and late timing?
• Use of pace, slow, medium or fast: percentage and type of stroke at each speed.
• Use of long, short and angled strokes, percentage and type of stroke in each area.
• Spin, use of topspin, backspin, sidespin and float: percentage and type of stroke with each spin.

Effect of technical execution on strokes and further development

GRIP -- Does this change from one stroke to another and does it affect performance?

LIMITATIONS -- are strokes executed in such a manner that the player is limited either in what he or she can do now or in how he or she will be able to develop in the future? Is footwork being developed in such a way that it does not limit present or future performance?


• SERVE/RECEIVE -- Is the player in control in these areas and able to keep the play ‘tight’ when necessary?
• ‘MIDFIELD’ -- Is the player proficient in this area and does he or she control and exploit the play?
• SWITCH-PLAY -- Is the player able to break out from a control play situation and get on to the attack? Is he or she capable of switching from drive play to topspin or vice versa and of doing this fluently and at different stages in the game?
• ERROR RATE -- Is the player safe in his or her game or are there unforced errors? What percentage are we talking about?
• RECOVERY ABILITY AND TIME SCALE -- Does the player have good recovery in all aspects and under pressure and is he or she looking for the next ‘angle of play’ after each stroke?
• FORTÉS -- Just how does the player win points? Does he or she have one or two strong fortés which opponents have problems coping with?
• SET PIECES -- How does the player use set pieces, serve and 3rd ball, receive and 4th ball?
• ADAPTABILITY -- Can the player change his or her game to cope with different opponents and playing styles? Can he or she handle differing materials and rubber combinations?
• RECOVERY -- What are the player’s recovery rates, physical, mental and tactical, when put under pressure?


Proportion of --

• Through and chop strokes to topspin.
• Spin to drive strokes.
• Push to other strokes.
• Switch-play strokes.
• Forehand to backhand.
• Neutral strokes, just keeping the ball in play.
• Attack to control or defence.
• Short, over the table strokes to those from a deeper position.
• And classification of strokes (attacking, ‘brush’, through, neutral, forehand and backhand), played over the table.


• Points won and lost as per table areas.
• Points won and lost as per stroke-play.
• Points won and lost in serve and receive areas.
• Points won and lost with set pieces.
• Points won and lost with power.
• Points won and lost with control play.
• Points won and lost with spin.
• Points won and lost with deception.
• Points won and lost in short play.
• Points won and lost in the middle game.
• Points won and lost against material combinations.
• Points won and lost with tactics.
• Points won and lost in relation to the length of the rally (early or late in the rally).
• Points won and lost when the player changes direction, spin or speed.
• Points won or lost when the opponent changes direction, spin or speed.
• When, where and how the player is outmanoeuvred.


It is a simple matter to draw up an assessment card where you can plot the number of points won or lost on both the BH and FH side and see as a result the patterns that emerge from this exercise.

• Loop
• Topspin
• Drive
• Push
• Block

• Chop
• Float
• Serve
• 3rd Ball
• Receive
• 2nd Ball

• Over the table
• Back from the table
• Others


In the same way you can assess how effective your player’s serve and receive are functioning in match-play and where points are won or lost and on which wing.

• Short
• Half-long
• Long

• FH Push
• FH Drop
• FH Flick

• BH Push
• BH Drop
• BH Flick



Rowden July 2019

• How you play should be simple to learn

• How you play should be simple to execute, without complicated moves
• How you play should be totally effective
• How you play should be applicable to differing situations
• How you play should be specifically appropriate to you
• How you play should be appropriate to current science
• How you play should be technically correct (this will work more often than not and there will be less margin for error)
• How you play should be under your mental control
• If you have a specialty use and develop this

• Each one-to-one sport is mental
• Confidence is created by proper training
• Relax and breathe, with calm the chance of success is always greater
• Be prepared, total body preparation
• Be aware of the opponent and your surroundings
• Be aware of your own body and how you react under pressure
• Be aware of how others see you
• Live in your own sporting bubble
• Life is a process of change, always embrace change when the game is tough

Speed equals coordination. Author / Translator: Gunter Straub

Stefan Weigelt

Stefan Weigelt wrote his Doctoral thesis on ‘Motor speed in Sport’.

His main proposition is bold: He states that basically speed is coordination. Some coaches might be shocked by this statement because – at least in Germany – speed and co-ordination are conceptualized as two different animals. Speed usually is seen as a component of physical fitness and very often theoretically separated from coordination which is assigned to motor fitness.

Metaphorically speaking Stefan Weigelt wants to loosen the link between speed and strength on the one hand. And on the other hand speed is moved closer to the idea of a well-timed movement sequence. In fact Weigelt shows that the inner structure of speed is significantly different from other components of physical fitness such as strength or endurance. He confirms this hypothesis by measuring arm velocity within the field of table tennis. Young table tennis players, who took their sport very seriously, were observed under two different conditions: They were told to produce a forehand topspin as quickly as possible in shadow practice (i.e. just by imitating this stroke without hitting a ball) and at another time in multi-ball training.

One could suppose that in shadow practice there’s no need to care about ball flight and the right contact point. Therefore one could guess that arm velocity is much higher while doing shadow practice than in doing multi-ball training. But for almost all subjects the opposite is true: when playing multi-ball acceleration was much higher than when just imitating a stroke. It seems that the athlete needs the “feeding” of an incoming ball and the arm movement of the coach feeding it. For the player both these stimuli can function as points of orientation. In addition strokes were video taped and later on the technique was analysed. Weigelt found out that the shadow version of a forehand topspin was performed quite differently compared to the multi-ball version of this type of stroke.

This speaks for itself. Multi-ball training has been proven to be a functional practice instrument because it´s rather difficult for technical mistakes to slip in. Multi-ball training enables the player to work on his strokes in a manner which is close to the requirement which faces him in competition later on. Thus, speed training by using multi-ball is theoretically and experimentally backed up by Weigelt´s study. In German table tennis it is said that the rapidness of a shot can be trained by hitting 6 to 8 balls explosively in a row with a rest after the sequence has been done.

Shadow practice is on the other hand the ‘poor relation’ of this study so to speak. The usefulness of shadow practice as a means of increasing one´s velocity or improving one´s technique has to be questioned – at least in regard to high-performance sport (Weigelt 1995). Weigelt´s finding encourages me to think further. A shadow movement might be also ‘affected’ when an elastic rubber band or a light dumbbell is used for imitating topspin. So these classic methods of training motor speed seem to be somewhat less than perfect – methods based on resistance training in order to enhance motor speed by increasing explosive strength. In conclusion imitating strokes by the use of dumbbells and rubber bands has to be blacklisted too.
Let’s transfer this fundamental idea to leg velocity. The best instrument to practise rapid leg movement seems to be quick footwork drills with multi-ball. Sprinting on its own or leg movement without a ball (e.g. sidesteps or agility runs) are not bad in principle. But when we follow the logic so far explained these training forms are a number-two choice. They cannot function as an appropriate alternative to footwork practice with multi-ball. I even would be quite cautious in using weighted rackets and weight vests in order to practise speed in spite of the fact that both tools could be used in multi-ball training. Indeed a player might feel inspired by Weigelt´s work to make contrasting experiences by using their ordinary bat and a weighted racket in an alternating mode. The scientist from Germany tested this special method of alternative training by means of elementary wrist movements. He found positive results but the improvement observed wasn´t very lasting and the amount of enhancement was not higher than the advance arising from conventional speed training (without additional loads).

Although Stefan Weigelt concentrates on the coordinative aspects of speed, this does not mean that muscular strength has no impact on motor speed. In 1980 a man named Dietmar Schmidtbleicher wrote his dissertation about the relationship of maximum power and motor speed. By doing this he was taking up a cudgel for the fight against the common myth that strength training makes you slow. Schmidtbleicher´s study includes two more interesting results: Power does even make sense for an athlete who only has to quickly overcome small amounts of resistance. And: Power training (with heavy weights) does improve one´s velocity more efficiently than explosive strength training (with smaller loads). Thus, people who work on their maximum power seem to be right on their way to enhance motor speed. But after all we mustn’t forget that we have to incorporate this strength enhancement accurately into the dynamics of arm and leg movement while training at the table.

Considering this close connection of power and speed another question comes to my mind: Wouldn´t it be better to work with higher intensity while reducing the number of repetitions when we think of speed training in our clubs? Klaus Wirth and his colleagues recommend sets of 10 to 12 reps for those table tennis players who want to work on their power (2006). I guess creativity is in demand when we look at our training facilities. Uncommon exercises are needed, for example pull-ups, dips at the parallel bars or donkey calf raises (with a partner at the back). And exercises which are somewhat old-fashioned must be revised or made more difficult (e.g. push-ups with legs higher than the upper body or one-legged squats). So what is left in my basket at the end of this article? Well, it remains the idea that motor speed in our sport should not be trained by just imitating table tennis-specific arm or leg movements (with or without elastic or dumbbells) but ought to be trained by methods which have been proven as scientifically valid – that is multi-ball practice + power training.

The Way the Chinese use Multi-ball

Rowden 2011

There are a number of ways in which Chinese coaches use multi-ball which in fact highlight some of the common principles inherent in their coaching tradition. Below are a number of the more common and frequently used exercises.

The coach feeds a short, backspin ball to the player's forehand. The player moves in and pushes the ball directly back to the coach; the coach then pushes deep anywhere on the table, with the expectation of a forehand attack from the player.

Objective: One of the most common elements in the Chinese approach is found here, requiring the player to first move in, play over the table, then recover to his/her standard position in relation to the table to respond to the opponent's shot. This in and out movement is seen more often than any other footwork pattern so two aspects are stressed here: initiating the attack and using the FH more.

The coach feeds medium speed topspin shots all over the table, placed in a precise manner to promote quick movement and to execute forehand attacking shots on every occasion whenever this is possible.

Objective: Sustaining offensive play throughout the point is one of the distinguishing qualities of the Chinese offensive player. This multi-ball drill simulates a topspin rally of many shots. The ball feed is at exactly the right quality to test the player's movement and to create a forehand offensive shot repeatedly whenever possible. The coach is very attentive to the quality of the player's movement and shot quality; anything not up to the required standard is immediately commented upon.

The coach feeds short balls with various spins short and near the net, expecting the player to move in quickly and to attack strongly.

Objective: Always looking for opportunities to play aggressively is the hallmark of much Chinese play. This drill builds both skill and confidence in initiating offensive play in a short play situation, even in circumstances where most other players would not assess the opportunities as being possibly advantageous. Again we see the importance of moving quickly into the table.

An interesting variation is used here. The coach is assisted by another player playing on the coach's side of the table. The coach feeds a ball short to the player's forehand, the player pushes back to the coach, the coach pushes deep and fast to the player’s BH court.

The player is expected to recover back from the table after the initial short receive and to play a forehand attacking shot down the line. The coach’s assistant returns this shot strongly to the player's forehand court and the two players play strong forehands cross court until a miss occurs.

Objective: This is a very demanding drill, requiring exceptionally quick footwork coupled with producing quality offensive shots against both backspin and topspin. Again the exercise focuses on the power of the FH>

This three person context is the most frequently used option by the Chinese coaches in multi-ball training. A large number of variations are used with it, including many backhand-oriented patterns that require the player to respond to the coach's assistant player's strong forehand shots. Despite the presence of two players, the coach keeps his focus on the training player, with no regard for the assisting player.

With this approach, multiple balls (2 to 5) are used per “point,” to simulate a specific pattern of play during one point. The coach will take the required number of balls in his hand and create the desired shot sequence for the player to respond to, feeding one after the other until completed. Because the coach is feeding balls from his hand, the coach's feeding level for creating the specific shot to respond to, in terms of ball speed, spin, and placement, is very high.

Objective: It is clear from closely observing this exercise performed by expert coaches that there are numerous patterns they drill repeatedly with players.

Many table tennis observers have noted that top Chinese players seem prepared for every situation they encounter. The source of this preparation can be found in the correct application of multi-ball. One of the prime aims of this type of training in modern times is the development and improvement of adaptive intelligence and the ability to assess the quality of the incoming ball and therefore what the player can do with it.