The Main Theme

Rowden Fullen (2003)

We have to remember that table tennis is above all an individual contest against another individual. Far too often in our modern society we are prone to stress the group aspects of sport and the individual emphasis is lost. Not only is table tennis an individual sport but it places heavy demands on participants and to cope they need to be well developed in a number of differing areas.

The main theme running through all coaching development must be the individual focus – yet to a large extent in Europe we now give far more attention to the group needs. The more individual approach naturally places altered demands on the trainers and coaches and also changes the working methods. For example no coach however expert can be a specialist in all the diverse spheres of table tennis. Even within the technical areas we have specialist fields such as style development, serve and receive, women’s or doubles play, use of materials, multi-ball, defenders and penholders for example. In addition to what we may regard purely as table tennis, we have aspects such as the physical and psychological sides plus areas such as diet, massage and sports injuries.

At the highest level where we have just one or two coaches deciding the coaching policy and direction or writing coaching manuals for any one country, to perform adequately they will have to refer to outside experts where they themselves lack knowledge. In a number of countries in Europe the coaching manuals include and pay tribute to articles by up to a dozen or more ‘specialists’.

The same applies also to developing 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, 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.

The capacity to reach the heights is in more of us than we may think. It takes a long time to be a top player and the road is beset by many pitfalls, but one of the most important qualities of the coach is to believe in his player and to support him or her at all times. For the player it’s vital that he or she works with his or her own goals, which cannot be influenced by others. If we can only create the right environment then many more players will be able to achieve their full potential.