Girls and Boys: Coaching Development

Rowden Fullen (2009)

Multi-ball

Multi-ball is an important tool not only in the advanced areas but also in the initial stages. Obviously at beginner level it is almost impossible for two learners to keep the ball on the table and to have meaningful practice. Not all clubs have the advantage either of having parents and feeders eager to join in and to help in this situation. It is however quite productive to have half a dozen beginners rotating and playing say 5 shots each at one end of the table, while the coach/trainer controls from the other.

However even in these early learning stages (or certainly as soon as the player can play two or three strokes in a row from a static position) it is important to emphasise the differences between girls’ and boys’ development.

Multi-ball Girls

When performing multi-ball with girls it’s important that you contact the ball close to the net or at most half-way down the table on your side. Also important that you hit the ball from below net height or at most at the same height. In this way you give the girls less time, feed them a natural ball and don’t give them too much spin. Bear in mind that the women’s game is about controlling speed and it’s vital that girls hone their reflexes and come to terms with the best way for each of them as an individual to deal with the fast ball.

You will soon see that whereas some girls want to stay in and block or counter, others will naturally go back and want to take the ball later. You will then be in a position as a coach to help them develop their own individual style and to pinpoint even within the general style type, which specialties the player should work on (for example some defenders may be good at chop and float, others at chop and topspin counter, some attackers good at fast counter-hitting, others at varying the pace or using spin). You will also be in a position to assess which rubbers will be of most benefit to your developing player.

Multi-ball Boys

In the case of boys’ multi-ball (when starting with beginners) you should look to contact the ball at the end of the table. Contact the ball from between net height to below table level. In this way you give boys more time, a natural ball for them and more spin (although in the real beginner stages obviously don’t give them too much). As the player progresses, you build up and vary the spin from slow loop to fast loop-drive helping the boys to come to terms with the spin game they will meet at senior level.

There will be variations in style development with the boys too (not however as many or as varied as with the girls) and you should be alert to these. With the boys the most important aspect in the modern game is play from the ‘mid-area’, this being the position from which you can win points. Holding and occupying the mid-area and playing power and spin from here is vital – if men drift too far back they are under more pressure, lose control of the table (angles and change of pace are against them and they have to move more) and it’s difficult if not impossible to win the point. Even however with the boys you will come across the odd defender or close-to-table player and not all players will play the same from the mid-distance, some will play with more spin, some more slowly or with better angles etc. The ultimate aim of course is to help players find their strengths and to play to these.

Multi-ball boys and girls

One of the single most important aspects in the development of both sexes (and one which can be done together, especially in the intermediate and advanced stages) is the capability to open up against the backspin ball and on both wings. Far too many coaches leave opening on the BH till it’s too late and many top girls/women still have a weakness in this area. The earlier you start, the sooner this will be completely natural to the player.

Bear in mind too that girls will often open in a different way to boys and if they are using pimples it will be necessary to explore differing racket angles and timing points. Boys will usually open with more spin but need to be able to drive too (especially on the next ball). Girls will often just drive to open (usually at ‘peak’ timing or a little (2 – 3 centimetres) before) and as a result the trajectory of the ball will be flatter and slower after the bounce on the opponent’s side of the table. A very small percentage of girls are able to spin well, if you encounter one of these help her to develop the ‘spin’ game.

Backspin feeding is better done from the close to net position for both sexes, as it is then easier to bring in the short drop-shot and to develop short play.

Material

This is a minefield – there are over 100 long pimple and anti rubbers on the market with differing frictions and sponge thicknesses. In the area of short pimples there are around 150, some almost as grippy as reverse, others with very limited friction, plus of course variation in sponge thicknesses.

If you think one of your players would benefit by using pimples, the first question for him/her to ask is not — ‘Which material should I now use?’ Instead it must be – ‘Where am I going now in terms of my playing style? How do I want to play?’ I would suggest you then contact an expert in the use of material with some salient details of the player and their style.

Thinking points on differences – boys and girls development

We must consider time and the implications of the time element in men’s and women’s table tennis. Men more often than not play from further back, with more spin and a more pronounced arc. Because of these factors although they hit the ball harder it takes fractionally longer to reach the opponent on the other side of the table. Women take the ball earlier and play flatter with less spin. There is a big time difference between attacking close to the table and executing similar strokes say three metres back. This is because of all the racket sports, table tennis is the one where the ball slows most dramatically through the air and where spin most affects the trajectory of the ball.

If we have two women both playing at the end of the table the time from contact to contact can be as little as 0.2 of a second or less. If one player is 3 metres back both will have around 0.5 of a second to react and to play the ball. If however two men are 3 metres back they will have a second or slightly more to play shots, which at top level is a long time. What we have to bear in mind too is that the limit of human reaction time is on average around 0.25 seconds so that women playing at the end or over the table are at the upper limits of or outside normal reaction time.

Just what are the implications of this difference in the time element? It has for a start a direct influence on technique for players who stay close to the table. When you have less time technical considerations such as stroke length and playing the FH across the face assume rather more importance – or for example playing the BH with the right foot or right shoulder a little forward. If the technique is sloppy you deny yourself recovery time for the next ball.

Equally movement patterns are vital – it is critical that women have the correct patterns for their style of play and can execute them with good balance. Above all retained squareness is vital – because they are closer to the table, women need to be ready at all times to play either FH or BH without a moment’s hesitation. A number of the world’s top women not only stay very square but they step in to the FH corner to cut off the wide ball early thus increasing their options in close-to-table play.

Having a stance with the right foot back when close to the table has several major drawbacks –

  • It limits strong rotation of the hips (centre of gravity) and ultimate power development within the time frame.
  • It leaves weaknesses in the body and crossover areas.
  • If players bring the right foot through to square up this takes too long.
  • It encourages players to move back as they play wide forehands and militates against taking the ball early on the forehand side.

On the other hand using the square or over-square stance while close aids recovery and there is no lack in power input provided rotation is good. The most common fault is that players take the ball too late; if the square or over-square stance is to be used then early timing is vital and participants must be ready to contact the ball well in front of the body.

From the above you can easily conclude that in the women’s game because of the greater pressure of time, your development and refining of the players’ technique is crucial. Girls need to be square when close to the table, need above all to finish each stroke square (facing the opponent) and with the racket in the central recovery position (ready for the next stroke wherever the ball may come). They must use movement patterns which help them remain square and help them retain and utilise the larger number of alternatives which exist in the close-to-table game. They should use short strokes with good hip rotation to maintain power on the FH. Economy of stroke and movement is more often than not the key.

Tactical considerations also become crucial. Not only do almost all women stand closer to the table, they also stand squarer, use more BH serves, receive more with the BH from the middle and play more BH shots from the middle. Nor are these tactics accidental as almost all the top women both Asian and European utilize them and many women so doing, such as Boros and Guo Yan, have in fact extremely strong FH strokes. These tactics are used because they work and because they save time.

Boys and girls – exercises, points to consider

A common tactic in the boys’ game is counter-loop against loop. This never happens in the women’s game and should not be practised by them. There is a difference between men and women in the main purpose of topspin – men spin to win the point, women spin to make an opening to kill the ball. In the women’s game the counter to a topspin ball varies depending on the style of the player and can be a counter-hit, a block or a chop. Boys should train to re-loop, girls to spin one and drive the next. Boys should also bear in mind the importance of occupying the critical mid-distance area.

Girls should work at varying pace, length and placement and also using the angles more – it’s much easier to do this from a close-to-table position. Boys should work at varying spin and speed with spin (also using sidespin). Many male players have problems for instance in forcing the slower, low and long topspin ball.

The majority of top women even those with very strong FH’s, use BH receive of serve regularly often from the middle or even the FH side and girls should train at this. (This is often safer and enables them to recover quicker to the 4th ball). Girls are often weaker against short serves to their FH side. Boys should train more to receive the serve with the FH and to play 4th ball FH – because they are faster round the table this presents fewer problems for them.

Women use more BH serves than men as this enables quicker recovery for the third ball and 3rd ball attack. Men more often use the FH serves and try to get in with the FH on the 3rd ball even from the BH corner.

For the boys devise exercises where control of spin and power is important, for the girls control of speed and placement.

Always pay more attention to the ready position and stroke technique with girls playing close to the table. With the boys a ready position with the right foot back is not as critical as they are faster round the table, want to get their FH in more and will often drop back to topspin so that a partially sideways stance here means they still have time to recover. Also if you watch in detail how the top men execute the FH strokes you will perceive that many of them square up as they play the shot so as to be ready for the next ball.

Common exercises for both boys and girls

  • Variation in pace, spin, length and placement.
  • Pushing and short play. Use mainly early timing on the push and use of spin and float balls. Cultivate ability to push long, drop short and flick.
  • Opening against backspin balls.
  • Training against defenders and/or ‘funny’ bat players.
  • Training against penholders.