Material and the Women’s Game

Rowden Fullen (2004)

In Sweden I encounter immediate resistance from most clubs when I mention material and girls’ play. I know that there are clubs which develop pimple players, clubs such as Lyckeby, Tyresö and Lindome for example, but far too often when I am at tournaments I hear coaches and parents only complaining about material and condemning the clubs and coaches who promote such rubbers and playing styles. This is unfortunately an attitude which their players pick up and which will only hinder their future development.

Let’s look at a few facts. Just what is the prime skill of table tennis? It is to be able to adapt quickly in an ever changing situation. Table tennis is all about being able to adjust to and cope with different situations, situations such as players using different tactics, defence and material. And in fact in the women’s game there are many more different paths to the top level than there are in the men’s. Do we really think that any player can reach the heights if they can’t play against pimples, defenders or penholders for example?

I have even had National Coaches in Sweden tell me that some of our best women players do very well in Europe against normal rubbers but ‘have a major problem against material’. This is of course a problem that goes back to early training, to parental attitudes and to the trainers and clubs which introduce the young girl to our sport. There is nothing illegal or underhand about playing with material. We have just had a young girl reach the final of the SOC and knock out several top Chinese on the way, playing with pimples. Her racket was examined every step of the way by referees and umpires – perfectly legal.

Almost every country in Europe has material players in their girls’ and women’s teams right from cadet level, there are many material players amongst the top hundred ranked women in the world and we have even had women world champions playing with pimples. Some of the best young girls in the world, Fukuhara from Japan for instance, play with pimples. If we in Sweden deny our young girls the opportunity to train with and against material at an early age, we are in fact limiting and restricting their future development and placing them at a big disadvantage when competing at European and world level.

I leave you with some rather interesting statistics. In the National rankings for 12 and 13 year olds there are very few pimple players among the girls. This is of course an age where the players are under the control of parents and clubs and don’t have the chance to think for themselves. In the ranking for women’s 20 where the players have escaped from their restrictions and control their own development we have around 50% who play with pimples! The players themselves come to understand eventually what works for them in the women’s game. It’s just a pity they don’t have the opportunity to do this at an earlier age when the learning process would be much more effective.