Alternatives

Rowden June 2018

Power is not only what you have, it’s also a matter of what the opponent thinks you have!

This makes your own confidence, positive thinking and outward behaviour crucial in any sporting encounter. In addition you will meet many differing opponents who will cause you differing problems so it’s crucial too that you have alternatives to cope with new/strange/unforeseen situations.
Placement – This is the first and one of the most common alternatives. It’s important that you can play to various areas of the table, diagonal, out to the angles, straight and to the crossover. Of course this should be trained too so that you can play on the diagonal then out to the wide, short angle, or on the diagonal then straight, or straight then into the crossover, or target the crossover then out to the wings etc.
Change of Pace – This is also an important alternative, the ability to play hard and soft, long and short and to be capable of moving the opponent in and out. This can be achieved of course with a variety of strokes, soft, chop or sidespin blocks with or without differing levels of spin etc. Or drive, forcing blocks or topspin.
Change of Spin – Although less spin is created with the plastic ball, spin still has its place in the list of alternatives. Sidespin is especially effective with plastic, both on service and within the rallies. And although loop to loop is no longer a prime tactic, especially in the women’s game, the early ball fast topspin can still be effective as can the later timed slow topspin as this can slow rapidly over the table and does not come on to the opponent.
Slow Ball – This can also be very effective with the plastic. The slow roll ball especially if taken early, comes through more slowly than the opponent expects and tends to stop shorter on his/her side of the table.
Effective Mix – Of course it is even more effective if you can mix the above alternatives, for example roll a slow ball return off the opponent’s serve, drive hard to the BH, chop block short to the FH, then flick into the body. The possibilities are endless and with constant change you give the opponents little or no time to settle into their normal rhythm of play.
General – All development must be geared towards success in competition. Your training should not of course be predictable, but should include all aspects of the varied alternatives so that you become well versed in their use and are able to switch easily from one to the other depending on the game situation. Many world class players (such as Boll and Schlager) have in fact gone on record as saying that much of their early training in younger years was wasted or was not directed to the right areas and impacted on their development.
Always bear in mind that many of the top players you meet will train against much more strength and power than you can feed into your shots. It is therefore important that you can bring something different to the match, something that your opponent doesn’t train against often as this reduces the effect of his/her usual automated game. Once your opponent has to start thinking about what is happening and how to change his/her game to cope with this, then he/she is immediately less effective.
The other crucial aspect to consider is your own best distance from the table. Where are you most comfortable, from which distance do you win most points? It’s vital that most of the time, most of your shots are played from within this area; equally it’s important that you are efficient in the two areas either side (closer to the table and further away) so that when forced out of your comfort zone you can still keep the ball in play until you can return to your best position.
Finally you must address the problem of habit in the light of how our game will scientifically develop over the next years. Habit closes the mind. It’s all too easy when you’re young to let yourself drift into playing long strokes, operating too far away from the table, developing the wrong movement patterns for your style, not developing the style that best suits you, not focusing on short play areas etc. Such habits may not impact much on your game now, but just wait five years till the day when you are trying to compete at three or four levels higher. You will likely find that change is next to impossible. Best to understand when you are young that the mind is like a parachute, it works only when it’s open.