Players of the Past : Their Contribution

Rowden Fullen 2009

We have many former international players in the country, some of whom have represented England over many years, in a few cases even decades. Should these older stars be sidelined and ignored and is their experience of little benefit to the current generation? There are no frames of reference as to how much coaches and players should copy or learn from the successes of former top players. Knowledge should be changing and developing all the time and each era will of course have differing advantages and opportunities as well as varying economic factors and styles of leadership.

Also, however previous generations have achieved their successes can be irrelevant in that we can always succeed in new ways and indeed should always be looking to innovate rather than to follow. Much depends on coaches and players having the confidence to try new methods and above all having total belief in what they are doing.

So are there areas in which the experience of these older players can be used and which are relevant and indeed well worth studying? And are there other areas in which their expertise is perhaps not as useful as we may think? Indeed there are.

1 As corner-men at tournaments and major events. These guys have been there and done it, they know what it takes to win at top level. The younger ex-internationals may well even have played against and beaten some of the current opponents of our young players.
2 As sparring partners. Top players don’t lose their skills (Ni Xialan came back after some 15 years without playing to get back in the Top 10 in the world): they can feel the strengths and weaknesses of the young stars and pass on tips and advice.
3 As role models. Those of our older players who are still playing at top level are of value in the team as their experience will ‘rub off’ on their younger team-mates quite quickly. Older players for example recognize immediately when opponents use different tactics and when the game changes – younger players, however good they are, often take time to adapt.
4 As coaches involved in the development of top young players. In this particular area the results of the latest research indicates that the high-level gifted athlete rarely makes a top coach, without extensive re-training and education. The top coach educators recommend care when fast-tracking high-level athletes into top coaching positions.
5 Information from the top players of how they got to the top level. How much they trained, what was relevant in their development. What qualities they had naturally, or needed to develop. And most importantly what they think of the current generation and what the younger players can and should do to get to the top.

Surveys of top players in Europe have turned up several interesting points (these surveys included a number of very successful players in terms of wins in the Worlds, Olympics and Europeans). Most top seniors for example over the last 30 years had success at cadet and/or junior level and most began playing between 5 – 11 years. On average they participated --

1 In Junior Teams at the age of 13.
2 In Senior Teams at the age of 16.

Their weekly training schedule on average at differing ages was as follows –

1 From 8 – 12 = 7 to 8 hours.
2 From 13 – 16 = 11 hours.
3 From 17 – 20 = 16 hours.

Physical training on average per week was as follows –

1 From 8 – 12 = 2 hours.
2 From 13 – 16 = 3 hours.
3 From 17 – 20 = 3 to 4 hours.

Why and how did these older players achieve their success and what did they feel were the main factors contributing towards their results?

1 25% Their own motivation and the will to win and be the best.
2 25% Good relationship with a knowledgeable coach especially in the early years.
3 22% Good work-rate and the willingness to put in the effort needed to reach the top.
4 15% To be a member of a good club with a variety of players and good sparring.
5 13% Good family support especially in the early years.

What do these older players feel are the keys to the future when looking at the table tennis of today and the current players?

1 25% A programme to develop high-level, knowledgeable coaches.
2 12% Better financial rewards for top players and coaches.
3 12% A higher profile for our sport.
4 10% A much closer relationship between the Association, the Regions and the Clubs and the willingness to work together.
5 10% Today’s players must increase training levels both in quantity and especially in intensity. Our game is more professional than it’s ever been and competition from the Asian countries is at a higher level.
6 10% Better possibilities in terms of economy to combine technical development and high-level commitment.
7 07% Develop the clubs to a higher level.
8 07% Create a good system of training camps at different levels.
9 07% Train more on condition, speed and flexibility.

It appears that most top players emphasize the importance not of raw talent but of willpower and the capability of working hard at all times. Opportunity is of course vital too and those players who have access to experienced coaches and good club training will have a big advantage.

It may be that this information provides useful guidelines as to what we should be researching with our top young players of today. It could also be relevant to investigate whether these findings tie in with the opinions and thoughts of our own top former internationals. The situation in other countries in Europe may well differ from the UK.