Girls’ Training in National Centres: Programme Layout

Rowden Fullen (2005)

Examples of weekly reading matter. (One theory article each week).

  1. Just how should women play. (plus Success Triangle).
  2. European and Asian women’s game.
  3. Achieving perfection in performance.
  4. Winning.
  5. The mechanics of the long serve and why women use it more.
  6. Girls’ training needs – a method.
  7. Loop attack and the women’s game.
  8. Swedish girls and the big ball.
  9. Offensive play and spin.
  10. The first four balls.
  11. Girls’ play and National Centres.
  12. Thoughts on training.
  13. ‘Funny rubbers’.
  14. The axis.

Individual training programme. (To be handed out at the first session). Women’s development series handouts depending on whether player uses normal reverse or pimples on the B.H. wing. Other programmes in the case of unusual players or players with existing ‘specialties’.

Practical mental development, players to read and digest so that they understand and are ready to cope with mental training during sessions.

Programme development.

  1. Regular work on theory.
  2. Individual attention — direction, each girl should know how she individually will develop and how she is most effective.
  3. Each girl should know how to train and what constitutes good training.
  4. Mental training — develop and work on this every session.
  5. Materials — develop understanding of how girls should cope with differing rubbers and playing styles.
  6. Each individual player should start to take responsibility for her own devlopment, not just to rely on coaches/trainers/psychologists etc.

Areas to work in.

  1. Eliminating or minimizing existing technical and tactical problems - in basics, with technique and movement patterns, against materials and certain playing styles.
  2. Eliminating or minimizing existing mental problems — rigidity of play, rigidity of thought (prepared to consider new ideas, new methods).
  3. Understanding of the women’s game.
  4. Understanding that any development means change (if she is not prepared to change, then she cannot progress).
  5. Understanding of own personal style and how each girl is effective and wins points.
  6. Understanding of best playing distance from the table.
  7. Understanding of F.H. and B.H split.
  8. Ensuring which movement patterns are appropriate to girl’s own playing style.
  9. Understanding the right way to train for her style and how to keep progressing in the right direction.
  10. Understanding that training in mental techniques is particularly important if she is to reach the higher levels in her sport.
  11. Understanding that to reach the higher levels she must be prepared to train in the more advanced techniques used by the world’s top women.

Typical session layout.

  • Regular exercises (trying to minimize problem areas) — 15%.
  • Developing girls’ strength areas and aspects where they are already proficient — 20%.
  • Working in new areas and developing new skills — 15%.
  • Working in mental areas – 15 /20%.
  • Working on theory – 5 /10%.
  • Working on serve/receive and 2nd/3rd/4th ball and/or match play — 25%.
  • After session – evaluating and assessing performance (How she performed and how she felt during training).

Ground rules.

  1. No negative talking (or thinking) during group training — if a player is negative this has an effect on the others in the group and brings down the level of confidence in the whole group.
  2. Have your notebook with you at the table so you can take notes in the session and evaluate your performance afterwards.
  3. Be ready at start time, racket glued and water bottle with you, don’t let others in the group down.
  4. If you can’t be at training for one reason or another, ring as early as possible.
  5. Bring the ‘right’ attitude to the training hall, if you don’t want to train this affects the whole group and brings down the quality of training. It also slows down and hinders your own development.
  6. Be ready to control your own development. ‘Educate’ your coaches and trainers, think about your training, always be ready to question. If coaches can’t explain why a particular exercise is good for you and how it benefits your game, then perhaps they are not that knowledgeable and you shouldn’t listen to them. It’s your life, your development, value these — others may not.

Girls and National Centres

Rowden Fullen (2007)

As a coach you have a large measure of responsibility for the direction of your player’s development and you should always be ready to answer questions. Not only parents and players but other trainers at varying levels will have queries as to where the player is going, why they are going along this path, which aspects you decide on and where you have discussion with the player, which equipment is best for him or her, what the short and long term goals are, what the end style will be. You should always be clear in your own mind as to where the player is going and how he or she is going to get there. Equally on regional and national camps and especially at national centres parents and trainers should want to know exactly what is going to happen to the young player and national coaches should be ready with their answers and prepared to justify their position. They are after all paid servants of the association. Far too often however (if we have any communication at all) we encounter too many fairy stories and too little professionalism.

* What plans are there for the player’s mental development?
* 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 so that they can bring problems and complaints to the attention of 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?
* Do seniors, juniors and cadets train together or are they segregated?
* How many hours multi-ball are there each day?
* Will there be coach supervised serve training?
* Are training sessions geared towards the individual needs of the player?
* Is physical training geared towards the player’s personal style requirements?
* 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 at regional or national level 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 trainer get reports from national/regional centres?
* 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?

Questions such as these should not pose the slightest threat to senior coaches who have worked with player development for many years. When you consider national training then the level at which such centres are run should be above reproach and open to examination at all times. Above all there should be an organized and in-depth programme and players and parents should know the direction and content of the course. Parents committing their children to such places for a number of years have every right from the outset to definitive answers on both education and training and there should be not the slightest difficulty in obtaining these.

Also at national centres there should of course be separate programmes for male and female players. Not only are the playing styles very different but the variety of paths to the top in the women’s game call for a rather different approach and differing training methods. European girls must come to terms with all the possibilities in the women’s game, with the many differing playing styles, work out which is best for them and develop their own character within the style. There are available to women players many more possibilities for success, many more different paths to the top levels, than there are for men. They only have to be open-minded about this, ready to accept that they need not be limited in their choice. They must also of course train in the right direction for their way of playing.

Too often players, coaches and selectors are ‘blinkered’ when they look at women’s styles in Europe. They only really want to see one or two styles of play, it’s almost as if they think that only these styles have a chance to succeed at world level. Perhaps in Europe we should take a closer look at just how the top women in the world have played over the last 10 years, think about the variety of styles and why these players have been successful. Perhaps also we should stop trying to influence women to conform to men’s playing styles, even where these have been successful!

European girls must also appreciate that it’s not enough only to be able to play well one way, often you must be prepared to alter your style to beat others. You must have the capacity to have other ways of play and to be able to cope with all styles. Above all the player and trainer should get together and think of a specialty which can make the player unique. In Asia players have the opportunity all the time to compete against all differing styles of play; from the national and provincial squads down, almost all training groups have all techniques, defenders, short-pimple pen-hold attackers, long-pimple blockers, left-handers etc. Where the women don’t have a style to spar against they will ‘borrow’ a man player or even create a player with this style. In comparison in Europe players often meet only one or two styles in training and don’t know how to cope with many others. The ultimate level of play is as a result strictly limited. Training methods must be devised to overcome this particular problem and where necessary appropriate sparring organized. The development of adaptive intelligence in the women’s game is of paramount importance.

A word about the opposition provided 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.

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

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 national 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.

Above all parents and coaches should ask the right questions, especially in the case of younger girls starting in national centres 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.

What almost all parents and many trainers are totally unaware of is how national coaches for girls’ and women’s teams are selected throughout Europe. In most countries the women’s game is ‘second-class’, it is not a priority. Often the trainer for the men’s team will have ‘responsibility’ for the women too, or perhaps the job will fall on the shoulders of the trainer in charge of the juniors. Usually it’s a question of finance and the largest slice of the cake goes to the men – even in the big European tournaments a number of countries will send the men but not the women and the grounds will almost always be because they have a lower budget.

There is also an increasing tendency in Europe for girls’ coaches to come from the players’ ranks but not of the women, of the men! So you get a man who has been a player for twenty years who is suddenly responsible for the development of girls’ table tennis. Or you have a younger male player who has been injured and can’t continue his career so again he becomes a women’s trainer. Very few women players of course in the West would ever want to be a top coach — a woman may sacrifice having a life to be a top player but not to be a top trainer. In many countries in Europe there is also still strong discrimination against women trainers.

Nobody ever seems to raise the question whether a man who has been a player and who has been totally focused on playing and developing his skills in this area in the men’s game, is the one best qualified firstly to be a coach, secondly qualified at all to be a women’s coach! In too many countries it’s the ‘old boy system’ that operates, where top players and administrators stick together – it often appears that it’s not a priority to get the best people in the job or even to get the best possible results. The people at the top like the ‘status quo’, they don’t want newcomers with ideas, they don’t want things to change, above all they don’t want someone rocking the boat and upsetting their carefully preserved positions.

Let me give you an example that will perhaps demonstrate to many of you the difference between the men’s and women’s games. Not so long ago at a tournament I was sitting next to the coach of a man player who has held a top ten world ranking. The coach said to the player - ‘Be careful against your next opponent, he’s a long pimple blocker, plays like the women do and many good players have problems when they meet him’. The player wasn’t interested and his answer was - ‘However good he is, basically he’s only a local league player. He has no chance against the professionals’. He almost lost the first game! His comment when coming over to the coach - ‘ I was wrong, I’ve never met anyone who puts so much spin on the ball, but now I know how I have to play in the next game.’ The coach replied - ‘You know what you have to do only because you’re at a level where you’re able to adapt your game to almost any situation. However you really understand very little, the other guy is not putting any spin at all on the ball.’

The same can be true of men players trying to make a sudden transition to being women’s trainers, they often really understand very little. The career path of a top player is very different from that of a top coach, they may both start out by playing but go their separate ways very quickly. How many top players understand the theory of table tennis, how many understand the method of stroke correction techniques? Many can’t even organize their own game so that they play to near full potential all the time! How can they then do it for others, especially in an environment where different physical and mental approaches are required and where even the tactics can be totally different because of the much larger variety of playing styles?

It is interesting to note for example that out of all the good table tennis nations in Europe only Romania and Czechoslovakia have ever won World Championship gold in both women’s team and individual events and only Romania in relatively recent times. Countries such as Germany and Russia have never won the women’s singles, France, Italy, Holland, Poland even Sweden have never competed in a women’s team final! Perhaps it is just possible that in the not too distant future someone may make the connection that the achieving of success depends in no small measure on the right direction, the right training methods and informed guidance. If you don’t know where you’re going then it’s not easy to get there, in fact you may never arrive!

Coaching Summary: Women’s Development

Rowden Fullen (2002)

  • The prime skill of table tennis is to be able to adapt in an ever changing situation. Cultivate adaptive intelligence
  • Training is repetition in the right environment and with the right attitude.
  • To be a top player your development must be in the right direction for you.


Most women drive much more than the men and closer to the table. Timing is more critical than in men's play.

Care with the aspects that can restrict women's development

  1. PHYSICAL CHAINS – the right basics, techniques, tactics and movement. Materials. Play against other styles from an early age. Women’s play — speed control, opening and converting, serve and receive, use of table and equipment, stronger BH, a winning weapon.
  2. MENTAL CHAINS — rigidity in play and thinking. Innovation and feeling, positive attitude, be different. Development means always moving forward.
  3. OWN STYLE – understand this, best distance from the table, know BH and FH split, right movement patterns for your style, how to win points, right training for you.
  4. ADVANCED TECHNIQUES – short play, pace variation, slow loop both short and long, early ball push, chop/stop blocks, late-timed pushes, blocks and flicks, block play on the FH, use of angles, killing through loop, sidespin loop, dummy loop, early ball smash and hit v topspin, sidespin push and block, short drop balls, alternating topspin and drive, alternating topspin/block.

A theme for girls’ groups

Rowden Fullen (2002)

 Girls' Groups

Women: Key Issues

Rowden Fullen (2004)

Quite simply women cannot hit the ball as hard as men so they will achieve less topspin

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

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

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

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

Timing is vital in the women’s game. The timing ‘window’ in drive-play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 – 2 centimetres before.

It is essential too that women can convert – change from topspin to drive and vice versa at will. The ability to loop several balls in a row is not a prime requirement in the women’s game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls’ Seminar

Rowden Fullen (2004)

  • Men play well back from the table with power and strong topspin. Women play closer to the table and counter more with speed than topspin. This means that very different timing points are used in male and female table tennis.
  • Men hit the ball harder and are capable of achieving more topspin than women do. The harder you hit the ball with a closed racket, the more topspin you create and the more on-the-table control you have.
  • As a result the men have more control and face a more predictable ball. Many women play with lesser power and differing materials, which also adds to the unpredictability after the bounce in the women’s game.
  • The unpredictability in the women’s game directly affects the stroke technique especially on the forehand side.
  • Because of the lesser spin and power in the women’s game length becomes much more significant.
  • Women generally have a much squarer stance than men do (60% to around 25 – 30%).
  • Women receive much less with the forehand than the men do (53% to around 80%).
  • Women receive much more with the backhand (47% to 19%). Many receive with the backhand from the middle.
  • Women in general serve more with the backhand (20% to around 5%)
  • Women use more long serves than men do (16/17% as opposed to about 10%, but European women serve long much more than Asian women, 30% to around 13%).
  • Asian women serve more short serves than European women do (65% to 50%).
  • Counter-play is still the main tactic in the women’s game and timing is vital. The ‘timing window’ in drive-play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 – 2 centimetres before. It is just not possible to ‘hit’ the ball hard from a late timing point WITHOUT TOPSPIN.
  • The ability to open hard against the first backspin ball and not just spin all the time is a vital asset in the woman’s game.
  • From an early age it’s vital that girls learn to open and to play positively on the backhand side.
  • It’s also important that girls are at ease in the ‘short play’ situation and able to gain advantage in this area.
  • Strong serve and third ball and good receive tactics are of prime importance if girls are to reach high levels.

Girls’ Groups: Key Aspects

Rowden Fullen (2003)

  • Take and create 3rd ball opportunities (to push 2 or 3 then to open is not so effective, it gives the opponent time to think, to plan and to open first).
  • Work out how your own serves are returned and how to move into position to attack the 3rd ball and which type of attack to use.
  • Use the F.H. from the B.H. corner especially after the serve and on the diagonal. Often you will win the point direct.
  • If you can’t open on the B.H. side get round with the F.H.
  • The ball after the first topspin is of vital importance – be ready to get in and drive attack but judge the power input carefully.
  • You can often even win by thinking differently, blocking short for instance.
  • Training to block v topspin and to even hit through loop is vital in the women’s game.
  • Control with feeling is important against topspin and if you can force the opponent’s loop then you give them no time to loop again.
  • The slower ball and change of pace often win points in women’s play.
  • Are you able to return a fast serve with a slow ball?
  • Can you create real backspin when pushing on the B.H. and hit hard on the return ball?
  • The hard push ball is more often than not returned with a float or slight topspin and is therefore easy to hit hard.

Practical Exercises for Girls

Rowden Fullen (2005)

I sometimes wonder if coaches really give a great deal of thought to the nature of the exercises they will use when they have girls’ training camps and just how they will use these exercises. I have seen a number of camps where the prime emphasis has been on continuous topspin even though less than 13 – 14% of the players had anything like a topspin weapon. I have seen girls instructed to loop on the backhand when more than 20% had pimples and some even long pimples! And to make it even more confusing players are often told to play hard on the backhand diagonal and switch with power into their partner’s forehand – the partner is of course expected to loop. This obviously gives the poor partner rather limited time to play anything like a loop stroke but she is criticized if she counters or smashes! Indeed she is criticized for playing a woman’s game!

It is obvious if coaches watch the top women in competition that counter-play is still the basic norm in the women’s game. We rarely if ever see the loop-to-loop rallies that we see in men’s play with both players well back from the table. Instead the first opening spin ball is blocked or hit and there is little or no time for the looper to spin again. Rather the top women come in after their first topspin so that they are in a better position to counter fast, over or close to the table. After the first opening spin ball, the next is usually taken at an earlier timing point to pressure the opponent. It is essential in fact that women can convert — change from topspin to drive and vice-versa at will — rather than loop three or four balls in succession. THE ABILITY TO LOOP SEVERAL BALLS IN A ROW IS NOT A PRIME REQUIREMENT IN THE WOMEN’S GAME.

It should be obvious too that it’s very easy to encounter and even cause major problems especially with girls at a younger age when trying to combine spin and speed exercises. What happens more often than not is that they will retreat on the wing where they are expected to topspin to give themselves time thus causing an imbalance in their own game – good close with speed on one wing good back with spin on the other! (To play at top level imbalances have to be strictly controlled or when they exist, utilized by the player, who must understand precisely how this is achieved). One of the prime aspects of the women’s game is the ability to control speed. Surely it makes more sense to research methods of doing this closer to the table on both wings or deeper on both wings depending on the individual characteristics of the player.

And here we have the crux of the matter – players are individuals and different. In the women’s game with many more different styles and differing paths to the top, coaches should not be looking to create a uniform playing style and then try to ‘squeeze’ the girls into this framework! Rather they should be looking at what characteristics are natural to the player and how to develop these.

Where we have large groups of girls it makes rather more sense to explain an exercise – e.g. ‘between 2 to 4 fast drives on the backhand diagonal then fast straight to the forehand, one player controlling, one working’ – then to add the proviso that the ‘working’ player make her own decision as to how she should play the fast ball to the forehand, depending on her style of play. She then has the choice of using her own strongest stroke, loop, drive, smash, chop, stop-block etc.

Of course from an early age girls should learn to open from a pushing situation and especially on the backhand side – it is indeed important that they can create spin or speed on this first opening ball as this will open up further attacking opportunities. Although at a lower standard and at a younger age girls/women are less positive than men are on the backhand side, at the very highest levels you rarely see women pushing more than one ball. They have the capability to flick over the table or to open from further back on this wing.

It is what happens after the first opening ball that is radically different in the women’s game to the men’s and something that coaches must understand and develop in their training exercises with girl players.

Seminar on Girls’ Coaching

Rowden Fullen (2001)




1. The coach’s job is to unlock the capabilities of his player so that she can reach her full potential.

  • Coaches and trainers.
  • Women a completely different ballgame.
  • More women’s styles and more often changing.
  • With less informed guidance women must control own direction more.
  • TIME in relation to depth and predictability.
  • SPIN Men face power and spin, women speed and flatter ball.
  • TIMING Almost always earlier in women's play.

2. Ready position and stance.

  • Backhand from middle.
  • Movement patterns.
  • Opening and ‘converting’.
  • Short play.
  • Serve and receive.
  • Change of speed.
  • Use of table and equipment.
  • Winning weapon.
  • UNDERSTAND OWN STYLE. Direction and right training.

3. Top women's tactics.

  • Angles.
  • Kill loop, vary spin.
  • Early ball push and smash.
  • Sidespin push and block.
  • Block play.

4. Women and material.

  • Adaptation capability in early training
  • Pimples control spin and speed.
  • Pimples vary spin and speed.

5. Ready position and receive tactics changing. The modern game over the last four or five years is much faster.