Technical 2

Just how Should Women Play?

Rowden Fullen (2001)

How many times has Sweden been to World Championships finals in Women’s singles? Never!

How many times to Worlds final in Women’s Team? Never!

When did Sweden first play Worlds women’s team? 1947.

How many times has Sweden won Europeans Women’s singles? M. Svensson 1994

Silver A.C.Hellman. 1974

How many World Championship gold has Sweden won? 14

Country M Team W Team M S M D M D W D TOTAL
Sweden 5 4 5 14
Britain 1 2 6 1 0.5 4.5 15

In addition Britain have been in 4 singles finals for women over the years.

You may say that this is all very well, but that the last British woman to play in a world final was back in 1957 (Ann. Haydon). However we must also consider that the last European to win the Worlds was the legendary A. Roseanu in Utrecht, 1955. Since then we have had total Asian domination. Only 4 European players since Haydon have reached a World Singles final, 1961 E. Koczian (Hun), 1963 M. Alexandru (Rom), 1969 G. Geissler (Ger) and 1973 A. Grofova (Czech). None won!

Sweden develop good women players up to a level, Marita Carlsson (Neidert, Swedish Closed winner 8 times) July 1961 in the final of Junior Europeans lost to Zoya Rudnova (who also won doubles and team) the outstanding Russian penhold player, who played in the last European team to win the women’s team championships, in Munich 1969.

In 1999 Linda Nordenberg lost in the semi-finals of the Junior E.C. to the Austrian girl Liu Jia in three sets — not that big a difference in levels. Now two years later Liu Jia has been as high as 14 in the world rankings in women, she has continued to progress and with the right training and development her level keeps going up and up! Swedish girls do not seem to have access to the right type of guidance at top level!

The prime skill of table tennis is to be able to adapt in an ever changing situation. 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.

TIMING and the understanding of timing is the major problem when coaching girls. They fail to understand that to hit hard when the ball is below table height is impossible without topspin! If they only want to hit or counter then ‘peak’ (or 2 – 3 centimetres before) is not just nice to use it’s an absolute necessity.

1) Physical chains

To get to the top you first need to get rid of the physical chains which hold you back, until you unlock them you are going nowhere. Aspects for example such as –

  • Problems with basics.
  • Poor technique.
  • Inadequate movement patterns.
  • Little understanding of materials.
  • Poor tactics against certain styles of play.

2) Mental chains

Many girls in Sweden also have mental chains which limit their development. Chains such as

  • Rigidity of play, rather than flexible and adaptable.
  • Rigidity of thought, not prepared to consider new ideas, new methods.
  • The understanding that development means change! To play the same means stagnation — you don’t move forward. Becoming bigger and stronger and hitting the ball harder and moving faster is not development.
  • The understanding of how to play the women’s game. Aspects such as;
    • Control of speed.
    • Opening.
    • Converting.
    • Short play.
    • Serve and receive.
    • Variation.
    • Use of table.
    • Equipment.
    • Stronger BH.
    • Positive attitude.
    • Winning weapon.
    • Not being afraid to be different.

3) Understanding own style

Each individual is unique and should develop their own unique style and do what they ‘do best’. It’s of vital importance that players –

  • Understand their own style.
  • Know their best playing distance from the table.
  • Are aware of their backhand and forehand split.
  • Have movement patterns appropriate to their style.
  • Know what is effective for them and how and where they win points.
  • Train in the right way to accentuate the growth of their own personal style.

4) Advanced techniques

It is of particular importance that in Europe women have access to the advanced techniques of the world’s best women players, such as –

  • Short play.
  • Use of angles.
  • Change of speed.
  • Killing through loop.
  • Slow loop (short and long).
  • Sidespin loop.
  • Dummy loop.
  • Early ball topspin.
  • Early ball push.
  • Early ball smash.
  • Various chop and stop-blocks.
  • Sidespin push/block.
  • Late timed push/block/flick strokes and their application.
  • Short drop balls (against defenders).
  • Loop and drive play (alternating).
  • Loop and block play (alternating).
  • Block play (especially on the forehand side).

Women should of course also be aware of how these techniques should be carried out and of the finer points of execution (whether the wrist should be used and when, exact timing to get the best results etc).

Many trainers in Europe at the moment seem to be of the opinion that the girls are getting nearer the boys and playing a more similar game. However more often than not this is talked about in general terms and we seem to get very little detailed information. If you in fact go to the ‘experts’ on girls’ training, the top European coaches who have players winning individual and team events in the European Junior Championships and ask them why girls can’t be successful playing strong topspin like the boys, the answer is quick and to the point — strength, speed and balance, (especially under pressure). To these I would add one more quality, the ability to understand technical matters fully and quickly and to translate these readily into physical actions. Many girls do not easily grasp mechanical and practical aspects and need much guidance on technique, much more than boys.

If you also go to the other ‘experts’, the small group of women in Europe who are ranked in the top dozen in the world and ask them how often they train with men, you also get a pointed answer — ‘ Men, only if I have to, the one or two times I’ve had to train with men, my results against women have gone down quickly.’

On a purely practical level if you ask the best junior girls to loop for loop against the best boys, or the top table elite women against the bottom table elite men, just what percentage of the points do you think the female of the species is going to win? And to take practicalities a stage further when girls play against girls and one topspins just how is the ball returned? With topspin all the time? Very rarely in fact. Rather with flat counter, blocking of one kind or another, defence or with some combination of material. There would therefore appear to be little or no logical reason for girls to train against topspin. Playing men is largely a matter of coping with spin, playing women of coping with speed.

Over the last 15 – 20 years in Europe we have had some very strong, athletic women topspin players. None of them have succeeded in winning the worlds or have ever been in the number one ranking spot. I also hear the argument that because our women in Europe are much bigger, they are too slow to compete in terms of speed with the smaller Asian girls and must play power from further back to create more time! Since when did big mean slow! I thought the American football stars and the New Zealand rugby players had demolished that theory when they produced guys of 120 kilos who could run the 100 metres in 10.1 or 10.2 seconds. Do we really think that now playing with the big ball which takes less spin, the predictable fast, hard topspin game is suddenly going to come into its own and topple the Asian players?

Debate on Girls’ Training

Rowden Fullen (2003)

Henry Ford was once accused of not being very well informed, his reply was – ‘ I use my brain for solving problems not storing facts, if I need information I go to the library or the expert.’

If you in fact go to the ‘experts’ on girls’ training, the top European coaches who have players winning individual and team events in the European Junior Championships and ask them why girls can’t be successful playing strong topspin like the boys the answer is quick and to the point — strength, speed and balance, (especially under pressure). To these I would add one more quality, the ability to understand technical matters fully and quickly and to translate these readily into physical actions. Many girls do not easily grasp mechanical and practical aspects and need much guidance on technique, much more than boys.

If you also go to the other ‘experts’, the small group of women in Europe who are ranked in the top dozen in the world and ask them how often they train with men, you also get a pointed answer — ‘Men, only if I have to, the one or two times I’ve had to train with men, my results against women have gone down quickly.’

On a purely practical level if you ask the best junior girls to loop for loop against the best boys, or the top table elite women against the bottom table elite men, just what percentage of points do you think the female of the species is going to win? And to take practicalities a stage further when girls play against girls and one topspins just how is the ball returned? With topspin all the time? Very rarely in fact. Rather with flat counter, blocking of one kind or another, defence or with some combination of material. There would therefore appear to be little or no logical reason for girls to train against topspin. Playing men is largely a matter of coping with spin, playing women of coping with speed.

It would be all too easy to go on at great length about the large variety of styles in women’s table tennis and the significance of this, the critical nature of guidance on style, the variety of rubbers, even how multi-ball should be different and why, but surely there are more pressing matters to discuss. If in Sweden you are to produce girl players who can make a real impact in Europe, there are three vital areas in which you must concentrate your resources.

Firstly the age group between 9 – 14 years, it is here that a sound basis must be laid down for future development. It is obvious that even from a young age there is not enough emphasis on good movement and technique. You develop players with built-in defects which will have a limiting effect on their ultimate level of play and in many cases you produce girls who have very little understanding of what is effective in women’s table tennis. It is certainly not a question of talent, you have players with remarkable potential but potential without guidance or direction is often a recipe for self-destruction. It is self-evident that the clubs in general are not able on their own to produce high quality girls. Any initiative must be at district or regional level.

The second area is in the dissemination and growth of knowledge among coaches and trainers, especially in the training of women, play against the various styles and tactics and uses of equipment. Every opportunity should be taken to hold lectures and seminars and above all to introduce these subjects on all coaching courses from stage one upwards.

The final area of concern and the most serious is in the age group from 15 –20 years. A number of girls in this group were very impressive 2/3 years ago but have never really developed their full potential. In comparison look at Liu Jia from Austria who beat Linda Nordenberg only in three sets in the semi-final of the Junior Europeans in 1999. She has shown just what she can do with good basic technique, the right tactics and continuing style development. A little over two years later she is among the top women in Europe and has been as high as 14 in the world’s ranking! In Sweden it would appear that after the age of 14/15 years girls do not have access to the sort of guidance necessary to take them to the next level. Instead of developing they stagnate.

So just what do these girls need to keep moving forward? First they need to throw off the physical chains that still partially hold them back — the chains of inadequate technical development, poor movement patterns, insufficient understanding of materials (both how to play with and against), inadequate grasp of which tactics to use against certain styles of play (defence and long pimple blockers/attackers for instance). Second they need to loose the mental chains that restrict their thinking — they must understand that without change, without new things in their game, there is no progress, no development, they are going nowhere. Third they must find direction in their own individual style, they must come to an understanding of how they play, how they cope with different situations and just what is effective in their style of play. Finally they must have access to the advanced techniques of the word’s best players — the short play, the use of angles, speed variation, killing through loop, sidespin loop, early ball push and early ball smash, chop-block, sidespin block, short drop against defence players. At the moment the older girls in Sweden are too rigid in their way of play in all aspects, to progress there must be flexibility in style, tactics and above all in thinking.

Many of you reading this may think I am too negative or paint too black a picture. The unfortunate reality is that when there is a problem, the powers that be often don’t admit it, act too late or do nothing or indeed take the wrong action. At best it is often too little, too late. If you read the old ‘Table Tennis’ magazines as far back as the 1980’s top coaches and players have been complaining about the lack of trainers and leaders, the need to build up the strength of our young players and above all to do something for the women’s game. But just what has actually happened over the last fifteen years? And are there for example real indications that we are really going somewhere with our top young girl players in terms of world class or even European level performance? I rest my case!

Making of a Great Woman Player

Rowden Fullen 2009

Sparring

Technique

Tactics

Physical

Mental

Direction

Is there one of these aspects which is of paramount importance and without which no player can ever reach the top? Or are all of these equally important and does there need to be a blend before a player can attain the heights?

1. Sparring

Many young players seem to think that this is the only important thing and that without high-level practice you are not going anywhere. Long years ago Peter Hirst, a former National Coach, who in a number of areas was decades ahead of his time used to say – ‘To advance you need to train at 3 levels: against worse players so that you can develop and learn how to use your tactics to win, against players of the same or a similar level so you can sharpen your weapons under pressure and try to come out on top and against players of a much higher level so that you can see just what is possible.’ If you only train against far superior players all the time, you never learn to win because they control the game. (Also this can lead to mental problems and loss of confidence).

2. Technique

This is particularly important in the modern women’s game. Due to the increased speed of our sport over the last few years and the fact that women almost always stay closer to the table and have less time, technique is much more critical than in the men’s game. It is vital for example that women have shorter stroke movements, stay squarer (especially on completion of the shot) and use women’s techniques such as BH serves and receives to retain control of the table. As women often have less time to play and are rarely as explosively fast as the men, recovery (preparation for the next ball) and reading of the game are much more critical.

3. Tactics

Technique is the basis for tactics, therefore it is vital that women have the right basic techniques to allow for the capability of executing the tactics that are appropriate to their individual style of play. It’s of little use for a woman to serve short all the time for example if she is poor in short play. Equally if she is a defender who needs to attack regularly she can’t afford to retrieve too far back from the table nor can she afford to push sideways on when close. In both cases she is not in a position to get in on the attack when she wants to.

4/5.Physical and Mental

It is particularly important that the physical and mental areas are focused on at an early age. Many girls are often less ready to work hard at physical aspects and need to learn good habits from the outset. Girls too usually need more support on the mental side as they often lack self-confidence and can lapse into negative attitudes more easily than their male counterparts. They also often need help in developing a coherent mental approach to the game.

6. Direction

However usually the single most vital factor in maximising potential with the young girl’s development and rather more important than with the male is ‘direction’. Girls need to know where they are going and how to get there. It is important to them to understand how they play now and will play in the future. Winning is often not the overriding priority but continual progress and a clearly defined career path are fundamental to their development. Far too often even in National Centres the girls do not get the required individual attention.

There are many more ways of playing in the women’s game — we only need to look at world champions over the last twenty years to see the variety of styles. The evaluation of, guidance towards and development of an individual playing style are particularly necessary in the case of young girls and should be introduced at an early stage in the player’s career. In many cases this will require from the coach, specialist knowledge of rubbers, sponges and techniques/tactics and a detailed and on-going analysis of how the top women are playing and also often some experimentation from the player. After all in the final analysis it is the player herself who must feel comfortable with her ‘weapons’ and with the tactics these weapons will facilitate.

At least once a fortnight the coach and player should have an assessment meeting to talk about direction and to ensure the player is satisfied with progress. If a number of coaches are involved with the same player (as unfortunately occurs in many national setups) then each should update information daily on the computer so that other coaches and the player are all equally aware of progress and changes. It goes without saying that the player should have complete access to the information at all times and be allowed to add her own updates as often as she wants. The schedule should not only cover technique and tactics but also mental and physical programmes even if these are handled by outside experts.

From the coaching point of view it’s vital that coaches appreciate that they are not important, it’s the player who is important. Coaches should be ready to listen to, not to dictate to players. Often even quite young players who have a big talent have strong ideas as to how they should play, where they want to go and how to get there.

Top 30 Women 2009

Rowden Fullen 2009

Personal or National Coach? There should be cooperation but who should be in charge of the player’s development and why? On the one hand being a top player and aiming to achieve your maximum potential or on the other hand playing for your country are not necessarily compatible.

  • Cooperation and a readiness to work together must come from the top.

Mario Amizic (His thoughts, Worlds 2009)

  • Training in Europe leaves much to be desired.
  • Most Associations are unprofessional.
  • Lack of cooperation between Euro countries.

Dirk Schimmelpfennig/Leszek Kucharsky (Their thoughts, Coaching Conference 2009)

  • Should be much higher involvement by personal coaches in any European development programme for top players. Training should be more intense, more complex and more individualised. (See Appendix 1)

Michel Gadal (His thoughts, European Youths 2009)

  • You do not make a top player on training camps, you create a player on the basis of day to day training. This is the weak point of European table tennis. Only very few players have the opportunity of good development on a daily basis.

Peter Sartz (His thoughts, Worlds 2009)

  • Even in women’s table tennis some younger players showed that with the right type of game and adequate fighting qualities it is possible to compete with the Asian women.’

The big picture

  • Are our ambitions limited/restricted? Are we aiming to produce top women players only between 70 and 200 on the world rankings in common with most Western European countries? If we adopt restrictive coaching methods this will happen. What do we mean by restrictive coaching methods? Attitudes such – ‘You shouldn’t use this shot, top players don’t’ or ‘Don’t do that, top players will take that easily.’
  • With the banning of glue at the end of 2008 have we assessed in detail the future development of our young girl players and decided which styles have benefited and which girls are now disadvantaged because of the way they play?
  • Do we have a document – ‘General Training Principles’ – detailing new developments in high-performance table tennis and our training principles for 2009 – 2010? If not, why not? Have we defined and formulated the top priorities for future national and regional training?

If we are to operate totally without limitation and aim as high as we can go then we need a different approach. To get players into the top 30 in the world requires different training methods/procedures.

  1. Style research and evaluation. Some styles have a chance of getting into the top 30 but others have little or no chance – defenders, block/counter-hitters, material players, but not back from the table topspinners (especially with the big ball and no glue).
  2. Top women’s techniques – wide stance, square recovery at all times, good early ball play, competent short and half-long play, one-step movement to the FH corner, capability to deliver long, deep balls to the BH corner (to stop Penholders getting FH in from here), strong Serve and Receive with use of high throw, using BH from middle and from FH, especially on receive of serve etc.
  3. Top women’s tactics – the control of speed and the capability to control the rally, before winning the point with change of pace, spin, direction and the use of angles. Use of spin where applicable. Strong serve and 3rd ball, positive receive tactics. More in-depth use of material to control speed.
  4. Individual development (each player is different and needs to use their own strengths) – best handled by players’ personal coaches as per thoughts of Schimmelpfennig, Kucharsky and a number of other top coaches in Europe.
  5. Intensity of training and variety of sparring needs to be much higher. Exercises on the table need to be more ‘complex’ (not one player and one passive feeder, but both players involved).

Method of achieving 1 – 4 = more player opportunities

  • All coaches must be more innovative and forward-looking, ready to accept new ideas.
  • Let the player bloom and develop. More cooperation with individual coaches, more individualisation and working with players individually or in small groups (3 to 5) especially in the early stages.
  • Allowing really talented players to compete at their ability level, NOT at their age level.
  • More cooperation among clubs in the UK and more common camps.
  • Working more too with clubs and National Associations abroad and initiating exchanges. Using all our contacts within the UK.
  • Teaching players to think for themselves and take responsibility from a young age. Listening to the players.
  • Using all our facilities, the expertise of overseas coaches and top players working in the UK etc.
  • Bringing the sparring to the players or the players to the sparring.
  • Avoiding the situation where we have several 'top' setups chasing the same young player -- National Centre, High-Performance Centres, Regional High-Level Sessions. Once the player is representing her country training should progress only with input from the National Centre and the player's own coach.

Appendix 1 Coaches such as Mikola Ulyanchich and Tatyana Kokunina (Ukraine), Dirk Schimmelpfennig (Germany), Dusan Mihalka (Slovak Republic), Hans Thalin (Sweden), Jarek Kolodjejczyk (Austria), Leszek Kucharsky (Poland) and Joze Urh (Italy) are all in favour of much higher involvement by the players’ own coaches in any common European development programme.

Multi-ball and Women’s Training

Rowden Fullen(2000)

When working with girls/women in a multi-ball situation it is vital that the exercises are relevant to the women’s game. There is little value in feeding primarily heavy topspin when your player will more often than not face a faster, flatter ball in competition. Even when women do face spin there is usually a higher level of speed than rotation. The difference is quite evident when some of the top women play against the men in competition – they have great difficulty in controlling the topspin element.

Women must be able to cope with speed even if they don’t use it themselves, so a fair amount of multi-ball time should be spent on fast play. It is also wise to structure exercises so that they aid development in other areas, especially movement, as girls are often weak in this aspect. For instance if you work in series of five balls, backhand corner, middle, backhand corner, middle or forehand corner, backhand corner, you develop a number of different areas –

  • You improve and develop the handling of balls to the crossover area (one-step short or trunk movement), movement long to the forehand (one-step long, two step or cross-step) and long back to the backhand (again one-step long, two step or cross-step).
  • You help to eliminate future problems in the crossover, the body area.
  • By encouraging your player to use the forehand from the middle, you develop better overall control of the table and a better position for the next stroke (in most styles of play).
  • Whether the player moves with attacking or control footwork and also the type of stroke she plays, will give some indications as to how her style should develop.

Once your player has progressed beyond and mastered the basics some topspin multi-ball can be introduced. At a more advanced level she will have to deal with topspin, and this is a good time to start girls on another important aspect of the women’s game, variation. If they are to reach a high level girls must look at different ways to handle spin :

  • Hitting through topspin at an early timing point, or forcing the ball on the block, the object being to return the ball with more speed than it came and a flatter trajectory.
  • Returning with a later timed topspin or roll, the intention being to pressure the opponent with a long, low, kicking and often slower ball.
  • Using the full range of blocking strokes, sidespin, soft block, chop block, the aim being to return the opponent’s spin or change it, often incorporating also a change of pace and length.

Of course it is also vital that girls learn to be positive and to open up early in their table tennis career — to this end backspin multi-ball should be introduced even in the early stages. One difficulty here is that girls especially at a younger age seem to have more problems than boys in assessing length. Backspin multi-ball will usually work much better initially if you play to one spot, rather than changing length. It is also best to start with relatively light spin to allow your pupil to feel the ball.

As your player’s competence level grows you can vary spin and length much more, introducing more advanced balls, the short drop-shot or the half-long ball with the second bounce on the end line or just off the table. The player will of course be looking to use different options —

  • Dropping the ball back short (using early timing), flicking or pushing long and fast.
  • Looping slow or fast depending on the incoming length or spin.
  • Driving back hard.
  • Rolling back a ‘nothing’ ball, long and low.
  • Pushing back fast and long, early-timed with or without spin.
  • Pushing late with extreme spin.
  • This type of varied response multi-ball will help to develop girls’ tactical play to deal with defence players, hit hard, drop short and loop slow, especially if you make it more difficult by using a racket with different rubbers such as long pimple and a tacky surface so that you can play with much spin and completely without spin.

It is also of value with women players that you work with mixed speed/spin multi-ball — two or three backspin balls, one or two flat or topspin. This becomes very like a game situation where the opponent counters sometimes hard and sometimes with spin.

A logical step forward from the basic multi-ball is to extend the exercise to the next one or two balls played. An obvious example would be for the coach to feed backspin — the girl opens, the coach blocks or counters, the player then drives or spins. This puts the multi-ball into an exact game scenario — the girl opens up, ball driven or blocked back, girl counter-hits. This type of multi-ball has a number of important advantages-

  • It helps the player to understand the differing stance and technique requirements to be used against alternating backspin or drive/block strokes – lower centre of gravity, use legs, drop racket, play up and forward : come in, keep racket up, play through the ball.
  • It helps the player to understand the difference between the drive return, faster but more predictable and not so spinny, and the block, often slower with at times much return spin and unpredictable bounce.

The next stage is to return your pupil’s opening ball to different table areas – she opens with the backhand, you counter to body or forehand or even back to backhand, she opens with the forehand, you counter to body, backhand or even back to the forehand. This sort of exercise has the value of opening up other areas to assess your player. If she opens with the backhand, where is she weakest/strongest against the fast return, backhand, forehand or body? Equally you must look at the same when she opens with the forehand.

When working with opening at a more advanced level, the trainer should be concentrating more on change of spin and length — push with heavy spin, float, drop short in a variety of sequences. In this way your player will learn to watch the racket and the ball and to recognize spin and lack of spin. She will also come to an understanding of when it is best to roll, spin slow or fast and when to flat hit or drive and to develop an appreciation of the importance of a lower centre of gravity in spin play, especially when she opens against chop.

Equally there should be exercises involving quick changes of length and speed/spin at higher levels — short push to forehand, player drops back short or flicks, long push to backhand with heavy spin, player opens, fast drive to forehand, player counters or loops. As you work more individually with your player you should look to devise your own exercises, based on her needs and her personal style.

Another area where it is of value to use many balls is in the serve and receive training and the development of third and fourth ball. For example your player serves short, or half-long backspin, you push fast and long to the corners (early timed), sometimes backspin, sometimes float, she opens. Variations in your return can be short drop back, early timed or late timed heavy spin push short or long. Another example could involve you serving short and the player pushing long — you loop, she kills through the spin on an early timing point (a technique we could work more on in Europe), or soft blocks taking the pace off the ball.

Working one to one in this manner is ideal for teaching and understanding which spin remains on the third and fourth ball, why this is so and how you can take advantage of it. From the start of course you should be aware when your opponent serves which way the ball is spinning, without knowing this it’s hard to be positive! A number of alternatives are open to you, play with the spin or against it, add to it, take away from it, use it (let the ball just kick back from your racket) or play to the axis, the dead spot on the ball and return the spin to the server. The end result and how many strokes the spin remains on the ball can be very different if one or both players use pimples or antiloop rubbers.

If you work in a scientific manner with multi-ball it can be a very potent weapon in the development of your player. It will indeed have an impact in many diverse areas – footwork, easier recognition of spin and float, development of touch and better assessment of which stroke is appropriate to a particular situation.

Diversity in Technique and Tactics, Men’s and Women’s Game

Rowden Fullen (2003)

Many trainers in Europe seem to be of the opinion that girls at the moment are getting nearer to the boys and playing a more similar game. However more often than not this is talked about in general terms and we seem to get very little detailed information. If in fact you go to the ‘experts’ on girls’ training, the top European coaches who have players winning individual and team events in the European Junior Championships and ask them why girls can’t be successful playing strong topspin like the boys the answer is quick and to the point — strength, speed and balance, (especially under pressure). To these I would add one more quality, the ability to understand technical matters fully and quickly and to translate these readily into physical actions. Many girls do not easily grasp mechanical and practical aspects and need much guidance on technique, much more than boys.

Unfortunately in a large number of European countries we are not really professional enough, from a coaching point of view, in isolating the important areas in technique and movement when our girl players are at a young and formative age. Many coaches too do not really seem to grasp the essential differences between the men’s and the women’s game. If you examine the basic topspin techniques for example you find that in the case of the men the racket usually starts further back and has a much more ‘closed’ bat angle. Quite simply the men have a longer stroke. Are there reasons for this and surely women can play the same?

It is not quite as simple as it may first appear. Men are generally much stronger than women and are able to feed considerable power into the stroke by starting with the racket well back and even holding this position prior to initiating the stroke. Women however usually need the ‘assist’ of elastic energy in stroke play to achieve real power which denotes directly that they must complete the whole stroke sequence as rapidly as possible.

In addition men and women face totally different incoming balls with very different bounce factors. Men almost always face a much higher level of topspin and power than the women do. If you have ever watched women playing in men’s tournaments at the higher levels, they have great difficulty in coping with the increased degree of spin and power on the ball. This higher degree of rotation means that men almost always face a significantly more predictable ball than women do in their play against other women. Because they face a more predictable ball it is of course understandable that men use their strength and start the stroke from rather further back. If they were to face a much bigger variation in ball movement after the bounce as occurs in the women’s game, men would find it rather more difficult to play in this fashion.

If you think about this at some length the potential problems become quite obvious. The further back you start the stroke, the more difficult it is to change the trajectory if you have a bad bounce. You are fully committed from the moment you commence the forward swing. If you use a shorter stroke and start nearer to the bounce it’s then much easier to change direction and to do different things.

In the women’s game you face less topspin, more drive and block play and a much larger proliferation of ‘funny’ rubbers. The element of strong topspin, which gives control and predictability to the returns, is often no longer present. As a result because your own spin is often returned in unexpected ways and also because the ball is being returned from a variety of pimpled rubbers, women players more often than not face more unpredictable returns. You often have balls stopping short, bouncing low and kicking up or even sideways after the bounce. It thus becomes rather less appropriate to use the man’s long loop stroke with a very ‘closed’ racket even if you have a woman player who has the strength to do this.

We must also of course consider the time element and what happens after the serve and 2nd ball. In the case of the world’s top men we usually see power with spin from a deeper position, two to three metres back from the table — the men give themselves more time to play and to use their superior power. In contrast in the women’s game the first opening ball is returned from a much closer position. It can be blocked, forced, countered or even smashed from an early timing point. The women have little or no time to topspin two or three balls in a row. What happens more often than not at top level is that after looping the first ball, the woman comes in and blocks or drives the next one. She tries to keep the initiative with a closer-to-table position.

All these aspects are of course ones which should be considered in the formative period of the player’s evolution, when you are looking at the stroke development and planning for the future. In a sport such as ours where the aim is to automate actions as quickly as possible, it is difficult if not impossible to make major changes at a later date. Too many trainers look at the boys’ or the men’s style as giving the ultimate answers to growth in the women’s game.

Coaches too encourage girls for example to have the same ready position as the men and to take the serve as the men do with the forehand wing wherever possible. Many men of course do this so that they can control the table with the forehand on the next ball. They also often stand with the right foot a little further back so that they can get in with the forehand right from the word go.

However this is changing even with some of the top men, especially the younger players. Players such as Kreanga, Boll and Chuan Chih-Yuan stand much squarer than was usual three to four years ago. In addition they are just as liable to open with the backhand from the middle as they are with the forehand. If you have a strong backhand then of course you should play to your own strengths. But perhaps there are other reasons too. Opening with the backhand adds a measure of variety and unpredictability to the play. Often too it is a little more difficult for the opponent to tell exactly where you are going to play the ball.

If you examine top-level women’s play in some detail, the women quite simply play more backhands than the men do in the receive situation. They push receive more than the men with the backhand and they open more than the men with the backhand from the middle. They stand more square than the men but with less wide a stance and are in a better position to move in to the centre of the table to play backhands from the middle. Top European players such as Steff and Struse and the junior Pota all fall into this category. You see exactly the same with the Chinese players Zhang Yining, Niu Jianfeng and their top junior Peng Luyang, Lin Ling from Hongkong and Li Jia Wei and Jing Jun Hong from Singapore. The men on the other hand both push receive and open more than the women do with the forehand wing from the middle area.

The female players use the long serve more than the men, but there is not such a great difference in the short and half-long serves at the very top level in the men’s and women’s game. Perhaps the most informative factor is in the difference between the junior and senior players of both sexes. Both the boys and girls use the half-long serve more than the senior players do. At senior level the service game becomes noticeably tighter.

There is a considerable difference between the European and Asian women in the percentage of long serves. Generally the Asian players serve a much higher proportion of short and half-long serves and are rather better in the short game and at getting in on the attack from this position. European players use more long serves and particularly to the backhand side. Asian players on the other hand are very quick to come round and kill this type of serve with the forehand from their backhand corner. It would appear that there is much to be said for working quite extensively in the area of ’short play’ with our European girls and from an early age.

Women: the Simple Facts

Rowden Fullen (2003)

With the modern racket the characteristics of the sponge and rubber allow the bat to be swung in a different, flatter arc, giving more forward speed to the ball and because of the spin this produces, permitting much more energy to be fed into the shot. In effect the ball sinks into the bat, is grabbed by it and as the bat is moving up and forward, the ball is projected upwards and forwards too. The surface of the rubber is very tacky so it grips the ball and imparts a great deal of topspin. It is this topspin which causes the ball to dip down on to the table. Another fundamental point is that for the same bat path, the faster the racket moves, the more spin it puts on the ball. A fast hit with a flat, forward arc will contain more topspin than a slow hit. How much spin you produce is seen most readily when you play against long pimples and your hard hit comes back with very much more backspin than your slow hit.

Quite simply men can hit the ball harder than women so they will achieve more topspin

Most players, especially women, do not understand the importance of the initial power input in achieving spin. Very few women for example are as powerful as men and few ever attempt to play with the same degree of closed racket angle as the men do, so how can they hope to achieve the same level of spin as the men? It is the gyroscopic effect of the spin which gives strong directional control and allows more and more power to be fed into the stroke without greatly reducing on-the-table accuracy. Because women achieve less topspin, they have less on-the-table control than men do. With less topspin the ball has a less downward curving flight path and less directional control.

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

With less topspin on the ball it’s also easier to block or to hit through the spin. Therefore it becomes immediately apparent that length becomes much more important in the women’s game. In the case of the men who are playing much further back and hitting the ball with much more spin and power, whether the ball contacts the opponent’s side of the table in the middle or at the end is relatively unimportant. With the women any topspin ball which bounces in the middle of the table is liable to be smashed back.

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

Another extremely important consideration is predictability. For two reasons the men face a ball which behaves as anticipated. Firstly the higher level of power and spin means that the ball bounces off the table as expected – it dips sharply downwards before the bounce and shoots forwards after hitting the table. Also the men do not face the vast array of differing material surfaces which are common in the women’s game. A loop played against a long pimple blocker will for instance often be returned with backspin and sidespin.

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

This factor tends to have a direct effect on the technical development of the two sexes. The men for example often have a long stroke, especially on the forehand wing, with the racket starting well behind the body. This is of course quite permissible when facing a stable trajectory and a predictable bounce. When facing an unpredictable ball however such a long stroke means that the player is ‘committed’ too early to a particular racket ‘path’. It is then next to impossible to change the stroke if the ball behaves in a totally unexpected way. In addition most women need the ‘assist’ of elastic energy in stroke-play and this is rather easier to achieve with a shorter back-swing and shorter stroke action.

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 obvious 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.

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

The European women usually serve longer as they wish to get their topspin game in at the earliest opportunity. However in many cases it is obvious that the Europeans have neither good enough serves nor a good enough first opening ball to obtain a real advantage. If we look at statistics of rallies between top Asian and European women, the Europeans are struggling to hold their own in drive or counter-play but also they are not really dominant in spin play either. Unless their first opening topspin ball is of exceptionally high quality they almost always lose out when the game accelerates into fast counter-play.

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

European women should bear in mind that there are other alternatives when opening up against a backspin ball. The Asians often demonstrate the hard first-ball hit against backspin, which we would do well to work with more often. As women usually play closer to the table this is a viable alternative to the loop. It is feasible to either use the incoming spin or to create your own, but the most important factor is to take the ball at an early timing point.

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

In the men’s game over 80% of receives are with the forehand so that they control the table with the forehand on the next ball. Many women players push or open with the backhand from the middle of the table on the 2nd ball. This is easier for them and involves less movement. Most of them stand closer to the table too so this is a viable option.

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

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.

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

There is a noticeable difference in service tactics between the top Asian and the top European women. The Asian women serve more short serves, around 65% in comparison with 50% and significantly less long serves, 13% as opposed to almost 30%. The best girl in the world Guo Yue, number 5 in the women’s rankings at 15 years, serves around 97% short or half-long serves. The Asian women are generally better and much more confident in the ‘short’ game and at opening against a backspin ball even over the table. Europeans must analyse the possibilities in this area and upgrade their technique and tactics.

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

Examine top-level matches between the best European women and you see the play is often one pace and predictable, pre-planned and leisurely. By the way they play it looks as if many Europeans train far too much control play, loop-to-loop or loop-to-block, they don’t train to win the point! The result is that against the top Asians they just don’t have the time or the opportunity to utilize the stronger technical aspects of their game. Instead of playing further back from the table, perhaps the European women’s development should be directed more towards the importance of serve, receive and the first four balls and also towards methods of more effective and active play over the table. In this way they would have rather more opportunities to create attacking positions and earlier in the rally.

Rarely if ever are the Asians afraid of the European serves and follow up ball. They consider that the European women have too few serves, are predictable in the way they use them and therefore usually limited with what they can do with the first attack ball. Often at the highest level against the Asians, European players aren’t allowed the opportunity to get their strengths in and are not able to use strong spin early enough in the rally. With their serve and third ball and receive and fourth, the Asians deny them the time. Not enough European women are able to impose their game on the Asians.

The importance of the receive cannot be underestimated in the women’s game. It is important that they are able to control the short serve, drop short, push long, flick and deceive and from differing timing points and with differing spins. It is of particular importance that they master the early-timed return. In the case of the long serve it’s vital that women are both safe and positive on receive. There are just too many mistakes against this serve even at the highest levels.

If European women are to match the Asian players and to make the same sort of breakthrough as the men have made over the last 15 – 20 years then we need to be much stronger in depth. Players such as Boros and Steff have already demonstrated that it is possible to challenge the Asians and get up into the top few places in the world rankings. But we just don’t have enough players doing this. Often the top women in Europe don’t even have a suitable level of sparring or coaching in their own country and must travel abroad to train and develop.

To play at top level in the women's game requires a 'high adaptation' capability. It is vital that girls train in the right way to develop this in the formative years.

Generally the European women have a lesser number of good players to train against and a lesser variety of sparring styles. This latter is more vital than many coaches appreciate. It’s necessary that their girl players, right from the early years, have the opportunity to train and play against all styles of play and combinations of material. In this way the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that the player has to work so hard to build up, cover a much larger series of actions and it is rather easier for her to adapt to new situations. In other words the content and method of training of girl players assume rather more importance than we may initially have thought, especially in the formative years. Why ‘of girl players’? Quite simply because there are many more playing styles and a much larger variety of differing ‘materials’ in the women’s game.

European women’s table tennis

Eva JELER (2010) All about Women’s TT in Europe

Eva Jeler, German National Coach, won the bronze medal at the European Championships in 1976. In 1983 she became German national coach, from 1989 up to 1996 she was German head coach and after that became coordinator for cadet and youth teams. She is currently also coaching the girls’ national team.

Q: How good are European women, what can Europe look forward to in the future?

We have to compare Europe with the best and the best are Asian women, in particular the Chinese. It is not difficult to detect why European women are behind the Chinese and Asians in general. We have the same problems in all categories – cadet girls, junior girls and women. We in Europe do not practise enough. Concerning technique Asian women are significantly better than our girls. It is my experience that we in Europe have a special problem when we talk about women. In Europe, as soon as a really talented young girl appears somewhere there are suddenly many people around her. Instead of practising hard and focusing on their athletic development such girls have to deal with too many conflicting opinions regarding how they should progress. So despite having very good training and competitive conditions in some federations within Europe, such as Germany, we still have many obstacles to overcome on our way to the top, which to the same extent do not exist in Asia.

But even disregarding this issue, there still remain the factors of not having enough practice and not as good a technique as we should have and last but not least that we start to work seriously much too late. We also have a more basic problem with women’s table tennis in Europe. There is significantly less money in women’s than in men’s table tennis and today money is essential to top sport.

Women’s table tennis in Europe appears to be less attractive – the spectators want to see emotions in top sport and it seems that in Europe the only emotions women are supposed to show without being unfeminine are negative ones. So our girls show that they are not satisfied with their performance instead of showing fighting spirit and so making their game more attractive to spectators by offering more of a show. Our women will not try to produce such a show and so they must not be surprised that spectators are not watching their matches. At big tournaments spectators often go out to have a rest or a drink when the women’s rounds start - the women must do more to interest the spectators so they stay and watch! The girls must see that society is not always in tune with what is feminine and what is not. In sport a girl can show positive emotions without appearing unfeminine. Some people will always think that women do not belong in sport, but all girls have to accept that these people’s opinions do not have to concern a successful female athlete.

Q: In Europe Romania is at the top in cadet girls, in junior girls, in women. Still Romania has no chance in all in these age groups when playing against the best Asian players in their respective categories. Why not?

Despite being undisputedly the best in Europe, I think the Romanians still make too many errors in their play compared to Asian players. Because of these errors they are unable to develop their play to a level matching that of the top Asian players, even though they are dominating the rest of the non-Asian world. I have never seen them train, so I cannot sufficiently comment on their particular ‘school and style’, but they probably have to deal with the same issue as the rest of Europe: a decisively smaller amount of training than the Asian women that begins much too late in their development.

Q: Considering this, what would be your recommendation in dealing with the issues of European women?

There are several ideas about the ideal solutions to these problems and I can only hope that my idea will turn out to be the right one in the long run. In my opinion it is a mistake to think that it is enough to adapt the men’s style of practice to the women’s and assume that this will do. The result of such training methods can only be men’s table tennis on a lesser level. As I see it we need to find different solutions to the method of how to win points - normally with girls you cannot rely on power to win the point, so you have to accentuate placement, speed and safety in the rallies. In comparison, boys try to win points with powerful forehand topspins and everything in the rally is subordinated to the attempt of coming into the right position to use this main weapon.

Such a pattern does not work in women’s table tennis, points have to be won with adequate placement, speed, rotation and change of rotation. An ability to play a fast and secure backhand and to have an adequate answer when the opponent is changing from backhand into forehand is essential. This means that when working with girls we must spend most of the time playing different strokes and combinations near the table. Another problem in Europe is the lack of good foot-work techniques. The foot-work needs to complement all the other elements of play instead of being an obstacle to perfecting the different strokes.

Q: You have explained the problems with European women but your recommendations are going in the direction of Romanian table tennis – fast counterattack near the table - and Romanian girls are not good enough to compete on even terms with Asian opponents. What is your answer to this?

There is an important difference - I am not talking about the fast counterattack and blocking over the table without spin that the Romanians are mostly doing. I would like to see us develop a fast game on both wings but with a dominating forehand and with rotation. When we speak about this rotation I don’t have the rotation produced by strokes which begin with a very low racket position in mind, but I’m talking about the rotation produced with fast strokes near the table. When you look back on the last decade you see that the only European women who were able to endanger the Asian dominance did not play "the Romanian style" of fast counterattack without spin, but played a powerful topspin attack fast and near the table.

When you watch the girls beginning to learn, for example, a backhand topspin, then you mostly see them being taught to play a backhand topspin with a starting racket position at knee height instead of trying to begin to rotate the ball with a short stroke produced from the forearm and the wrist, whilst hitting the ball not much later then when blocking!

Q: Today we have in Europe quite a different situation than we had one or two generations ago when young girls came fast to the top in Europe, like Nemes, Steff and others. Now our young talents are for example Dodean and Samara who are already 22 years of age - in China they would be almost veterans! What is the reason?

We simply start too late to work seriously with girls. In reality we should start to work with them even earlier than with boys, they mature faster than boys and should be ready to climb to the top sooner! It is very important for girls to develop their technical abilities fully before puberty - after that it is quite difficult to change anything. The problem is that the girls start late to practise hard, and then they mostly have to correct their technique and conception of the game first. They are 16 or 17 then and instead of being at the top they are at the beginning! We are here again and again coming to the "mother of all reasons" - the girls start to have adequate training too late.

Another problem is that we at first begin to prepare girls for winning cadet championships, then to win junior championships and only then do we begin to think how to survive in senior competition. Instead of such an approach we should have the aim of forming a successful adult player in mind from the beginning.

Q: Can you please comment on the European cadet and youth championships and World team championships. What about European women, are there any who we could expect to see in due time at the top in the world?

In women’s sport it is especially difficult to predict the development of young players. There are so many elements that could direct their development in quite different directions. Mentality and the psyche in general are even more important with regard to girls than to boys. Girls are more sensitive, much more self-critical and can in that way often be self-destroying. If I had to judge the European girls’ potential, without knowing them and without judging their mental strengths, I would rate the Polish teams very highly. Also Szocs from Romania has in my opinion a chance to become good, even though there might be a thing or two to change in her game. Madarasz and Ambrus from Hungary also have potential. Samara, Dodean from Romania and Pesocka from Ukraine were very successful young players, but at the moment it looks as if they are not living up to their potential. We in Germany have two very promising talents, Sabine Winter and Petrissa Sӧlja - they are talented and we have all the possibilities to provide them with the best conditions for their development; it is only up to their own will and to the people supporting them to determine if they will become top world-class players.

Q: What do you think about Chinese women players playing in European teams - is it positive or negative for the development of European women’s table tennis?

It depends on how you treat them - if you use them to learn and to have stronger competition for our women, then it can be very positive, but if you take them only to win a medal, then it is of no use to us. In Germany we often had former Chinese players playing for the national team, but we learned from them. Our girls had to try to win against them and not complain about tough competition. It would be of course completely wrong to take several Chinese players and then neglect to work with the native players. China is world champion, we have to learn from them and when their players play in Europe we have to use this for our benefit. In the future they will be able to play only for clubs, no new Chinese will be eligible for European national teams, but we can continue to learn from them, we can even learn how to beat them! It is so simple - they are better then we are, we have to measure up to them, we have to learn from them, we have to try to reach their level and to beat them one day.

Girls/Women Players -- Development in Own Hands

Rowden October 2017

Change is the one certainty in life and table tennis. But although change is happening all the time we humans like to resist and keep our immediate environment ‘steady’! Not only people resist change but institutions and governing bodies are exactly the same.
However as far as development in sport is concerned resistance to change is the one thing which is guaranteed to limit potential. For you to progress and develop you must be embracing new things constantly, the alternative is quite simple – stagnation!

Early in our sporting career we develop habits, but what is crucial is that we develop the ‘right’ habits. Equally important is that we regularly re-evaluate where we are going and how we are going to get there, that we are aware at all times that we are on track, proceeding in the right direction for us as individuals and able to cope with differing situations and scenarios. This process of evolution also requires that from as early an age as possible we, the player, assume responsibility for our own progress. If we continue to rely on the instruction of others, whether parents, coaches or trainers, we do not then take control of our destiny. We do not develop the insight and instinct to sift through all the conflicting information that is thrown at us and decide on what is relevant.
Always bear in mind that the great players are great because they have over the years come to an understanding of exactly what works for them and what they need to change to cope with differing challenges. They are flexible in their approach to opponents and reliant on their own store of experience. The earlier one assumes personal responsibility, the quicker one can move forward.
Waldner and Lindh from Sweden went to China at around fourteen years of age to grow and develop; such early exposure was important later on in their careers. Ni Xialan first played for China in 1979 and won Gold Medals in Individual and Team in the Worlds 1983. After years out of table tennis she represented Luxembourg and returned very quickly to a Top 10 World Ranking and even now at 54 is a force on the world stage. Such a comeback was only possible because of the solid grounding of her early technical training. But also she recognized that the game had changed in her time away from the sport and was able to completely restructure her style to be effective in the modern era.
Every player is an individual and must in the long run rely on herself: the sooner this happens the better the player will be. It is of little use to rely solely on parents, trainers and coaches. You must be able to sift out the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and make your own decisions. After all you, the player, are the one on court, you are the only one who can feel the speed, power and spin of the opponent’s strokes and are in a position to be the first to identify changes in the opponent’s tactics. The ability to think and evaluate the alternatives and select the most effective response is one which should be nurtured and developed, not repressed by over-coaching.
As well as being self-reliant and responsible for our actions, there must be a regular re-assessment of our progress. We must constantly question where we win and lose points, which opponents cause us problems, when we play well and why. If there is not progress, there will be stagnation! The great players are always changing and bringing new things into their game.
If change is crucial to progress exactly what do we need, in order to be able to make successful and effective changes in our game? Quite simply we need to be flexible and we need alternatives. We need alternatives in receive and service, alternatives in the strokes and alternatives in our strategies to cope with the differing opponents and situations we meet. However good we are, one response will not cater for all the various styles we will meet.
Receive of serve is probably the single most important stroke in the game; if serve is short we require several alternatives:
● Short touch return, early timed to give the opponent limited opportunity
● Flick from just before peak timing, hard and slower
● Flick from later timing, this can look deceptive if you start with an open racket
● Push half-long or long and fast, with both float and heavy backspin
If the serves are long and fast again we require alternatives:
● Drive return to varying table areas
● Topspin to varying areas
● The varying blocks, forcing, soft, sidespin and stop balls. Many opponents serve fast to get a fast return. The ability to return a fast serve short or slow will change the dynamic
● Chop, backspin return; even once or twice in a game this can make a big difference and change the dynamic
The service is also important giving you the chance to control the play. Short or half-long serves will still play a part even though it’s easier for the receiver to attack against the plastic ball:
● Use BH serves short and wide to the right hander’s FH (more from the middle) with sidespin/backspin or sidespin/topspin. A higher throw with good sidespin can give a pronounced outward ‘kick’.
● FH service from your BH corner with sidespin/backspin or sidespin/topspin can kick away short and wide to the right hander’s BH wing
● Some short serves to the middle, more with sidespin/backspin, but beware opponent attacking with BH over the table
● Half-long backspin serves to BH or FH wings. Backspin slows quite rapidly with the plastic and can catch opponents out
Variation is also needed with the long serves:
● Long, fast float can be effective, baseline to baseline, to wings or at opponent’s body; the same type of serve can be executed long and fast with slight backspin
● Long fast sidespin/backspin serves bouncing deep can be very effective, either with the FH or BH wing
● Long fast sidespin/topspin serves can equally give rise to an advantage. Bear in mind that the same serve can spin away from the opponent if directed on the diagonal but into the opponent down the line or vice versa
● Do not neglect the tomahawk serve (this achieves the most spin with the plastic ball) or the reverse serves
● Always be on the lookout for new and different serves. Anything unusual will be effective as opponents will not have trained against this
Equally you must have alternatives in the rally in stroke-play:
● Speed is crucial in the women’s game and priority should be given to drive play and especially at an earlier timing. Women have never been able to create as much spin as men and with the plastic ball trying to create more spin is counter productive
● When you do try to spin with plastic the ball does not come through low and fast after the bounce, rather it tends to kick up and is easy to drive or smash
● Topspin or even slow roll should be used on the first opening ball against backspin (slower balls tend to stop rapidly with the plastic) but equally the next stroke is vital and it is important to be able to convert from spin into drive
● It’s also critical to have a solid ‘middle’ game, to be able to push (with heavy backspin and float) and to be able to use good varied blocking to create openings and attacking opportunities. Change of pace is vital in women’s table tennis
● Baseline length is crucial at the higher levels in women’s play
● Sidespin is the most important spin with the plastic ball and extremely effective, do not neglect experimenting with the hooked and inside out strokes
● Change is of course the single most important aspect of the modern game whether this is in speed, spin, placement, direction or angles. To be predictable is to give the advantage to the opponent, avoid playing successive shots to the same place
Alternatives are of course also required in the areas of tactics and strategies:
● Speed and table position are important. Few women have the real power to be successful off the table and there have always been many good blockers and control players in female table tennis
● Change of length and pace are vital, short and long, slow and fast
● Variation in placement, together with use of straight balls, shots to the body and angles are all point winners or create opportunities
● Do not neglect slow play, the slow ball is effective with plastic
● Use the opponent’s speed and power, this saves creating your own and is energy efficient
● Sidespin can be particularly effective with plastic and ‘hooked’ shots or inside out strokes should not be neglected. Bear in mind that sidespin can be used in both push and block strokes too
Finally three other aspects are important and must not be overlooked:
● Playing distance from the table is of consequence to each individual. We all have our own best distance at which we are most effective. It’s up to us to identify this early and build on it (although as we grow taller and stronger distances may be modified). It’s also important that we can perform in the two areas either side of our comfort zone, so that when we are forced out of position we can still keep the ball in play till we can get back. Equally all players must be competent close to table especially in service/receive areas
● With speed being a priority in modern table tennis, it’s of real importance to have the correct footwork patterns which suit our style of play. Topspin attackers, drive players, blockers and defenders will all have differing patterns and it’s up to us to research what is most suitable and efficient for our particular style of play. In general terms in modern table tennis, a wider stance and one big step rather than many small ones are more prevalent
● The final area is of course the mental side. We will react differently to pressure situations depending on our style of play. Some of us will be ultra-positive, others less positive, some even negative. However we face these situations, the most important aspect is that we get to know our capabilities and trust our responses and training. To know ourselves, our capabilities and to know how to adapt to very different opponents are essential if we are to reach top levels. In a world of constant change we too have to adapt. What we must also take on board is that such adaptation entails risk – in our fast moving sport only one person can decide when and how much to take.

Prime areas in the Development of Women

Rowden October 2012

Speed

Speed, which is the most important of the 5 basic elements (speed, power, spin, flight trajectory, change) covers all aspects and is the central core and the prime factor of development; it doesn’t just cover the ability to play fast and to control speed, but to think and to react swiftly, to adapt quickly, to move rapidly and with the right footwork patterns. It also covers the aspect of combining the other four elements at differing speeds.

Quickness is speed. It is always the most important factor of any style. Pure speed however and simple spin are things of the past. The combination of speed and spin is how this sport is going to develop. In the case of the women, spin is used to open up the game and to create an opportunity to win the point with drive or smash. Spin over the table is a more controversial point, some women do this well and it can be beneficial, most don’t and the drive is preferable. Also speed must again come into the equation, speed will always give the opponent less time than spin.

Individualisation

Long Term Athlete Development is a sports framework that is based on human growth and development. At all times it should be appreciated that LTAD is an approach to athlete development that puts the athlete, rather than the system, at its centre. The individual strengths of the athlete should be promoted and her game ‘tailored’ to these. The athlete should do what she does best and all training should be aimed at this. The athlete should NEVER be forced into a mould where she has to develop aspects of the game in which she has no natural inclination or capability. This is not only counterproductive but wastes time and energy best used elsewhere. This even applies if the athlete plays a game which will never succeed at the highest level. To move the athlete away from what she does best and into an area where she will only ever be mediocre will never ensure success.

Looking Forward with Women

If the plastic ball is introduced the importance of spin will diminish and speed will be prioritised. In any case because of the lesser spin in the women’s game speed will always be the crucial factor. Spin in the women’s game is used to create openings to win the point with drive or smash NOT to carry on spinning. The men win like this, with spin supported by power, the women don’t.
Why not? Basically because women lack the power and dynamic speed of movement and the further they move away from the table, the more noticeable this becomes. The men back off the table and use their speed of foot and upper body strength to feed power and spin into the ball. However even the men have complained, that with the bigger ball and no glue the stresses on the body are much greater. A number of the top men in Europe were injured as soon as glue was banned and they had to adapt their game. For women to play in this way requires strength and speed they don’t have.
In addition there are many more good blockers and counter-hitters in the women’s game which means that an off-the-table topspin game is tactically much less effective. Close-to-table players just play short/long or out to the angles and the topspin player cannot create either enough pace or spin to win points.
The back-from-table topspin player has never been really effective at world level in the women’s game and is less so with the bigger ball and no glue. If the European women want to play a strong topspin game from further back with the bigger 40mm ball which of course takes less spin, then it would appear logical that their chances of defeating the Asians become even more remote. They give their oriental counterparts more time to play and they give up the chance to control the over-the-table and short play and to gain advantage in this area.

Girls Training Needs: a Method

Rowden Fullen (2000)

Let us take a close look into the training of the female player and which areas of technique, tactics and development are of vital importance in producing players who can make a real impact. Particularly let us always bear in mind the value of early programming which is so significant in a fast reaction sport such as ours.

MOVEMENT

The establishing of sound movement patterns is one of the single most important factors in determining just how far a young girl can go in her career. Generally the top women move in four different ways (depending on how you categorize these), the men often have additional patterns. What you must appreciate however is that in a match situation there is often a combination of one or more patterns at the same time. That is why it is so important to train movement in a multi-choice manner and at advanced level in a random fashion. But what is most vital of all is that you the coach are aware that you are laying the right ground patterns — that you establish the patterns that are appropriate to the player’s end style and which can grow with the player.

Diagonal play for instance wide to the backhand followed by switches to middle or forehand results in one-step short or one-step long in the case of a block/drive player or one-step and cross-step in the case of a looper (or a very small player). Variation between the short and long Falkenberg will involve the pivot step followed by one-step long or the cross-step (preceded perhaps by the jump-step small, the most common of all movements). Strong attacking play especially if combined with spin is usually characterized by the cross-step, jump-step and the pivot step, while control/block players more commonly use the one-step short, long or back.

One other aspect well worth looking at for young girls is the knee angle of top women in play — ready position 110 degrees, one-step long to forehand 104 degrees, left leg braking after long cross-step 91 degrees. Playing with straight legs and being a top player are just not compatible!

CONTROL OF SPEED

Many women play fast and flat — it is not essential that girls play fast, what is essential is that they are able to control speed, without this it’s hard to progress in a women’s table tennis world. Each girl must find her own method and work in areas most suited to her own individual style — drive play, blocking of one kind or another, topspin, defence, rolling ‘nothing’ balls, using different rubbers, variation in placement, speed or angles.

But above all it’s important to look at the psychology of speed and power. Women who play ultra fast like to have speed back right from their own long serve. Often their effectiveness is greatly reduced if they are faced with a return of little pace. Also they are often less comfortable against short play or slow spin.

OPENING

It is of particular importance that girls learn to open from a pushing situation as early as possible in their development. It is all too easy to win at a young age by being negative but the long-term development is slowed down. Focusing on winning in the 9 – 11 age groups should not really be an over-riding priority. The earlier the young player becomes confident in opening the quicker the next stages in development can proceed.

Coaches will be aware that there are a varying number of ways to open — drive, punch, sidespin, fast topspin or slow loop or even the roll ball. However they and their players should be alert to the fact that with women power is rarely the answer. Female opponents usually respond more easily to the fast ball, it is the slower one that more often than not causes problems. It is vital that girls learn to open with a slower ball, slow loop or roll, the main thing being that this first opening ball be to a good length, either very short or very long (and of course girls should be able to open on both wings).

CONVERTING

Just as important as opening is the ability to do something with the next ball. After the first opening spin it is vital that girls can be positive and if at all possible put the next ball away and win the point. Not spin and spin again till the rally degenerates into a control situation, but spin and drive or kill. Regard spin as a means to create openings, not as an end in itself. In this way the opponent receives two very different balls in quick succession and is unable to find a rhythm.

SHORT PLAY

At a higher level girls must be able to cope with short play, both the serve and the next ball. It is therefore important that they become comfortable in this area at an early age, and explore methods of being positive and creating advantage from this situation. We are not only talking about flicking or top-spinning over the table, but pushing also in a positive manner so as to make openings to create attacking opportunities, using very early timing and playing back a short, dead ball, or even long and fast to the corners or body with heavy backspin or no spin. This early-timed, deep ball especially with spin gives the opponent very little time to act positively. (To open with spin or power the centre of gravity starts from a lower position, so this entails moving, turning and lowering the body all at the same time, before playing the return ball.)

However it is not enough just to be able to deal with short play, the next stage is to cope with the opponent’s first opening ball. Again at high level it is not sufficient only to control the first drive or topspin — against the top players just being safe is inadequate. Girls should train to force the return with either power or spin or even to kill through the topspin from a close position, a technique not worked on enough in Europe. Other alternatives would be to return a different ball, stop-block or slow roll.

SERVICE

Girls with good serves invariably go far and the time to work on the different grips and actions is at a young age. Usually they have a little more difficulty than boys in achieving spin, especially good back and sidespin so it is important that they persevere. Girls also often need more help and individual training time before they fully understand the techniques involved, the stance, body action, grips, where they hit the ball on the racket, where the racket starts and stops, the contact angle, which part of the ball they hit and at what height they should make contact. It is important that they achieve a variety of different spins and speeds with the same or very similar actions. Also the young player should fully understand the differing ways in which her service may be returned and should always look to be positive on the third ball.

RECEIVE

Return of the short serve has largely been covered under ‘short play’ but of course variation in all aspects is vital, in spin, speed, placement and angles. The long serve often causes problems in the girls’ game usually because they return with too much power. It is well worthwhile looking at a variety of receives — drives, blocks, (soft, forcing, sidespin, stop and chop), spin, punch, slow roll and even chop and float. A different method of return may well prove effective against differing players.

VARIATION

Too many girls are predictable in the way they play. To be effective at top level requires much more thought to variation — change of spin and speed, length and placement, not just to hit harder and harder. Girls should be encouraged to be unpredictable in the way they play, often straight or to the body instead of diagonal, with regular change of pace and use of the slower ball.

USE OF THE TABLE

There are a number of things we can combine under this heading — better length, (too many girls play mid-table balls instead of up to the white line), more short and long play, more angled balls off the side of the table, more straight shots and balls directed at the body or between 15 – 20 centimetres either side of the racket. Force the opponent to move to play the return.

USE OF EQUIPMENT

Girls should seek advice on and explore the possibilities of the many differing rubbers on the market. It is not a coincidence that around 60% or more of top women players use something different on one side of the racket or the other. They are successful because they are different and unusual — nothing wrong in this!

STRONGER/ DIFFERENT BACKHAND

With many girls the backhand is used in a supporting role to the forehand and as a control stroke rather than a point-winner. At top level it must be remembered that any weakness will be very quickly exploited. It is important that even from an early age girls work at strengthening this wing, so they have the capability to accelerate from mere blocking into drive play or spin. The other path is to use a different rubber to achieve a different effect, making it difficult for the opponent to win points here.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Girls are always much more negative than their male counterparts. Throughout early development strong support should be given by parents and coaches and every effort made to strengthen positive aspects. Indeed girl players should be urged to attack at the earliest opportunity, to be alert for that first opening, to try to develop a sense of aggression, to cultivate the attitude that to let an attacking opportunity go by is failure.

A WINNING WEAPON

Every player must have a strength, a way to win points. It is up to the coach and player to find this strength and to build on it. Sometimes it may be a combination, loop and kill, serve and third ball. Whatever it may be the player should be aware of her strength and how to use it to best effect.

BE DIFFERENT

Above all girls should look to be different in style. Throughout Europe there are thousands who play the fast, flat, ‘typical women’s game’ – only the very best one or two will get anywhere. Even these are unlikely to succeed against the Asian players who play this type of game even better and put much more practice time in at it!

Not only should girls be encouraged to develop their own personal strengths and characteristics so that a unique individual style emerges, but also they should be prepared to be flexible in thinking. The effects of mass media and the many cultural and sporting interactions in Europe tend if anything to standardize training methods and style and to inhibit forward thinking.

HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARDS CHANGE

Progress and development entails change. If your game remains the same or your mind refuses to accept change then you don’t go forward, you remain as you are. This is the one great lesson that every player must absorb at as early an age as possible. Be receptive to new ideas, prepared to test new theories and methods, alert to new techniques and tactics, ready to keep your game fresh and alive and moving forward.