Small Gains and Alternatives

Rowden September 2019

The success of Sir David Brailsford in British cycling is truly legendary. One of the main planks of his success is ‘marginal gains’, the idea that if you break down a big goal into small parts and improve on each of them, you will deliver a huge increase when you put them all together.

So what does this philosophy actually mean in practice and particularly for our sport of table tennis?

Basically it means breaking down the way we play into specific units and then working to develop and improve these individual items. Aspects such as:
• Serve short
• Serve long
• Receive short
• Receive long
• Push
• Backhand drive
• Backhand spin
• Backhand blocks
• Forehand drive
• Forehand spin
• Forehand blocks
• Footwork in/out
• Footwork side to side
• Smashing
• Off the table
• Reaction times
• Physical fitness
• Work rate
• Mental strength and willpower
+ The right racket and rubbers for you

Just think how much your overall game could improve if you were only able to make marginal gains in each of the 20 areas listed above. The total improvement could be phenomenal!

But let’s take this whole concept a stage further to a yet higher level. If we don’t just create a marginal gain in each of these 20 individual areas, but also diversify, producing several alternatives within each of the 20 areas, we are then in the position of being able to work with over 60/70 varying possibilities. This then takes the total overall improvement levels right off the map!

So for example 4 different short receives, drop short, flick, push long with backspin or float. Or more than half a dozen long, fast serves; topspin, backspin and sidespin or any combination and with both FH and BH. On blocking for example, forcing block, soft or stop block and sidespin block. In the case of topspin, early and fast, later and slow or introducing sidespin elements. The possibilities are endless.

It is really up to each of us to examine our own game and make the decision which alternatives suit our individual style of play and to build on these. First however we should decide how far we want to go in our sport and how we’re going to get there.