Coaching Development Course 1

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

1. Introduction.
2. Table Tennis Association — structure.
3. The grip.
4. The four basic strokes.
5. Stroke correction techniques — the nine reference points.
6. The demonstration.
7. Basic strokes — chart.
8. Practical.


Table tennis coaching is very like climbing a high mountain. On the lower slopes there are grasses, streams, bushes and trees — the start of sound basic training, you must get things right here or you will encounter problems or even fall off higher up! On the mid-slopes you meet other difficulties and different terrain, rock faces, chimneys, use of ropes, pitons just as with table tennis you must look to better technique, better movement and more physical work and to develop your own personal style of play. At the very top level you meet other challenges, ice, snow, crevasses, avalanches and must utilize other equipment, crampons, ice axes, breathing equipment — with table tennis you must look more into psychology, tactics, advanced techniques, you must indeed know yourself and what you are capable of to reach the highest peaks.

Coaches face different problems at various levels. Success at the top goes back to self-sufficiency development en route but primarily to sound basic training. We see players in many countries in Europe even well on their way to the top who will have difficulty in making the grade, due to weaknesses carried over from early training. You can compensate for a weak stroke or bad movement patterns at a lower level but at the highest levels there is no hiding place. Top players will find a weakness extraordinarily quickly!

Basics are vital — this is the only time you have a clean sheet situation. The responsibility is enormous, how and what you write on this sheet can have very far reaching effects. In fact many national trainers think that only the very best coaches should handle beginners, as only coaches with great experience are able to understand the implications of what they see. Coaches and leaders at even the lowest levels should appreciate the importance of their work. If our sport does not have a stream of good beginners flowing into the base of the mountain, correctly taught and prepared, then coaches at the top will wait in vain! Not only is the introduction of basics vital but many leaders are talent scouts, in the position to be the first to encounter a unique talent, the next Waldner or Deng Yaping. Even if they are not capable of developing that potential, they should be able to recognize it and pass on the player to someone who can.

Compared to other ball sports table tennis is a multi-skills game. It has not only fast speed over a short distance but also the type of spin involvement you don’t find in other ball sports. Bear in mind with the young player that table tennis is not an easy sport to learn and to be highly proficient takes years rather than months. With the young beginner reactions and coordination may still be underdeveloped, but often you get some indication of a rare talent when you see early natural use of advanced strokes or early spatial awareness.

Above all when coaching players you must understand that there is not and never can be a ‘national style’ of play, which we should all aim towards. Each player is an individual and different and should be directed towards his or her own individual style of play. And even when we have stressed the importance of basics, we should perhaps emphasize even more that none of us can ever be dogmatic about technique. It is not how the player plays the stroke that is vital but whether he or she observes the underlying principles and whether it is effective! There is absolutely no use in having a stroke that looks nice, is technically perfect, but has no effect.

Take for example three of the world’s best players, Gatien, Waldner and Saive. They all play their topspin differently. Gatien has fast rotation with the elbow close to the body, Waldner has slow rotation but with a fast wrist and Saive uses his legs much more than the other two. But the underlying principles still apply — they all use the arm, legs and rotate the bodies, even if in a different way and at different speeds.

The concept of individual flair, the idea that players can have different techniques within the underlying principle is one of crucial importance in allowing them to arrive at and to create their own personal style. You cannot force a player into a style of your choosing — if you insist that your player is going to be another Waldner it is unlikely he will develop as well as he could have done. It is important that you allow each player’s own natural idiosyncrasies and abilities to have a proper place in his or her development.

It is vital also that all coaches look to maintain the interest of players at all levels. We are in competition with many other sports and activities in this modern world and we must all develop the skills and coaching techniques both to develop players and to keep their interest. Make sure they are enjoying themselves, use fun games and competition, players love to compete, try to harness the competitive instinct, which is so important if you are going to be a successful player.


How is the Association managed, who are the officers, who does what and what are their areas of responsibility?

Coaching and selection, who is in charge?

Developing coaches and trainer education, who is in charge? Where, when and how often are courses and follow up seminars or work-shops? How does one progress?

Training camps — National, Regional, District. Who organizes and who is in charge of liaison between the various levels?

National Centre — How does one get in? Are the players compelled to attend perhaps under threat of being left out of the National squad? Once in are the players restricted in activities (which tournaments they can attend etc)? Are players still catered for if they have good coaching and development outside of the centre?

Player training — what is the pyramidal system up to the National centre? Do we have regional training, county training groups? Do we have specialized squads, 11 and 13 years or all girls so we can concentrate on specific areas of development? Do we have bigger clubs which act as a focal point for a large area and run camps for that area?

Tournaments/Leagues — Do we have competition at differing levels? Tournaments and even leagues for non-ranked players, regular events for very young players, 7, 8 and 9 years old?


Almost all players are biased however slightly in favour of one wing or the other because of the grip and are correspondingly weaker in certain table areas.

Basically there are 4 grips but there can be a number of variations in each category, high or low on the handle for example.

1. Western or ‘shakehands’ grip.
2. Hammer.
3. Chinese pen-hold fingers curled.
4. Japanese pen-hold fingers spread.

The grip should be ideal in terms of efficiency. Is it functional, does it work?

* Do not be dogmatic.
* If possible the same grip B.H. and F.H. (explain thumb and forefinger movement and the action on the tendons in the hand and wrist).
* Relaxed (too tight can cause problems with the stall angle and can inhibit use of the wrist).
* Racket should be an extension of the arm (a slightly raised angle is an aid to control on the forehand).
* Fingers not in the way (grip efficient for the individual).


If coaching a player from beginner level it is most important to lay sound foundations from the first. The basic strokes are best taught in the following order.

1. Forehand drive.
2. Backhand drive.
3. Backhand push.
4. Forehand push.

With this order we follow the psychological principle that whatever the player learns first, he or she will fall back on automatically in times of greatest stress. If you learn to drive first for example when the match is close you are much more liable to be positive and to attack.

In each stroke there should be a progression, from long line, to short line, to consistency, to length variation (long and short), to accuracy and target practice. Remember there is a need to achieve control first, it is hard to be satisfied and to enjoy play without some measure of control. If some of your beginners have played a little go back to basics and start again correctly. It is also wise to eliminate advanced techniques which may be natural to the player but which get in the way of learning the basics (late timed topspin for example). These will not be lost but will be much more easily developed once a sound foundation is laid.

Stroke production –

* Uniformity — identical repetition.
* Accuracy — repeat to defined spot or direction.
* Length — to be able to play consistently long.
* Dexterity — to adapt to varied balls, nets, edges.
* Coordination — use of body, legs, arm, wrist, fingers.
* Pace variation — change speed with the same action.

5. STROKE CORRECTION TECHNIQUES (The nine reference points).

Technique is important. If your player has stepped outside the bounds of good technique then it is most unlikely that he or she will reach the highest levels. It is a cruel fact that weakness is always exposed once you arrive at the top.

When working with a young player it is important that you look at stroke production from a scientific viewpoint — only in this way can you pinpoint exactly where the problem lies. It is also useful to have guidelines which are applicable at all levels of stroke play and to each individual stroke.

Stance — Feet should be shoulder width or a little wider, knees bent, back arched, shoulders slightly forward (all important for balance and efficient movement). Always relate stance to the line of play (where the ball is coming from), not to the table or the opponent. Always face the line of play, with both the body and the feet.

Stance should be the best position of advantage with reference to the opponent — start to build in tactics early in the player’s career. The majority of modern players will use a square stance, (facing where the ball is coming from), it saves time, especially close to the table. Once players drop back from the table side-to-square is used a little more as it aids power production particularly on the forehand side.

Body Action — Here we are talking about use of leg power, rotation of the waist and shoulders (sometimes a little rocking action of the shoulders), fast arm movement, especially forearm and forearm fold. Bear in mind the crouch with the head forward extends the range of the stroke and economizes on movement.

Length — This is the distance the bat travels. With beginners a short stroke is the priority and particularly close to the table. (Less to go wrong if the stroke is short). Try to have a little longer pre-swing and limit movement after contact with the ball. Longer strokes with very young players can also lead to injuries.

Timing — ‘Peak’ or 1/2 centimetres before is the most efficient for control. (‘Peak’ is the highest point after the bounce on your side of the table). Many coaches in Europe see peak as being relatively late, later than it in fact is — Asians see peak as being earlier than we do.

Peak gives the biggest target area and allows the player the best chance of hitting the ball down on the other side of the table. If players let the ball drop when small (a natural tendency with the ball coming at the face) this can easily become a habit leading to running away from the table whenever under pressure. This of course gives the opponent a better chance to use the angles. By adopting peak when young the player’s natural tendencies have the opportunity to emerge and he/she will have more options when older.

Table Position — What we are talking about here is the exact contact of the ball in relationship to the table. Is it over the table, at the end of the table or back from the table? For the beginner we must again look at this in terms of control — usually this is best over the table but with the ball coming through (not too short).

Free Arm — This is particularly valuable as an aid to rotation (especially on the forehand side). Lack of use of the free arm limits movement and often leads to a forehand stroke where only one half of the body is used with the risk of subsequent injury. Also the free arm aids balance and orientation. For the beginner this latter is often useful in helping him or her to have some idea of where the ball is in relation to the body.

Bat Arm — The optimum for control is the 90 degree angle at the elbow, with no wrist at first and only a slightly open or closed blade. The elbows should be about a hand’s width from the sides and both hands equally relaxed. The stroke to be initiated from the elbow as well as the shoulder (but with no wrist in the initial stages). Bear in mind at a more advanced level the arm consists of the three joints, shoulder, elbow and wrist — the last two move much faster than the shoulder and will be used much more at top level (e.g. flick, fast forearm fold). Also the 90 degree angle of the elbow can be extended to 120 degrees or even straight to give a longer lever and more power.

These first seven reference points form the machinery by which the player hits the ball and will give the best control. As early as possible the beginner should learn to control the rally as a whole and not just individual shots. This of course involves movement while retaining good balance which is indeed the cornerstone of our sport.

Be particularly aware of the theory of conservation of angular momentum . The centre of gravity of the arm (elbow area) will cover a certain distance in a given time period. Because the distance is a constant, if the arm is shortened, it must move at a higher speed to cover the same length. This principle is of vital importance in the short arm loop.

Recovery Positions — Play the ball and recover always is one of the most important principles in table tennis. Every time you and your opponent strike the ball, the angles of play will alter. After you have played your stroke there must be a continuing, on-going assessment from you of the total angle available to the opponent — you must then move into the most advantageous position to cover this angle. Do not forget also recovery of the racket after each shot. Recovery fastens the first seven reference points together and gives control of the table.

Anticipation — This gives control of your opponent. After you have played the ball focus on the opponent. Watch him or her moving into position, look at the body, the stance, above all watch the racket at the point in time when the other player is committed, 4/5 centimetres before contact with the ball. This should give you enough edge that you are already moving before the ball even crosses the net. The ability to read what your opponent is going to do will give you a big advantage. If you train your young players from the very start to play their own stroke and then to watch what the opponent is doing they will soon learn to anticipate without thinking.


Demonstration (showing the stroke) is part of the coach’s everyday work and something you should make every effort to get right. Look at yourself sometimes (mirror or video), what do you look like when you show a stroke? Is your technique satisfactory? Also consider the pitfalls of showing a stroke to a group of youngsters.

* Are the players on the correct side of the demonstration — can they see all the action?
* Are they on the correct side in terms of distractions? (There may be other activities going on in the hall).
* Shadow the stroke first. (So the group watches the action and not the ball).
* Be professional yourself (image).
* Be enthusiastic (manner).
* Emphasize at the most three points — too much will only confuse, you can always stop the group and stress other aspects in 5/10 minutes. Not too much at one time.
* Make the exercise clear (line, diagonal etc.) Cater for left-handers, pen-hold players etc.
* Have some progression in the exercise (short, long, target, alternatives).
* Care with language. (Do they understand technical words?)
* Introduce competition regularly.
* Give the same time to each player in the group, sort out problems of incompatibility (between players, or between self and players).
* Consider different types of guidance a) verbal b) visual c) mechanical (hold and do it).


FH Drive BH Drive BH Push FH Push FHTopspin FHBlock BHBlock BHTopspin
Stance Side toSquare Square Square Side toSquare Side toSquare Square Square Side toSquare
BodyAction Rotation None None Rotation Slight Rotation Lift Rotation Slight None Rotation Lift
Length Short Short Short Short Medium


Short Short Medium


Timing Peak Peak Peak Peak Peak or bit after Early Early Peak or bit after
TablePosition Over Over Over Over End Over Over End
FreeArm Rotation Balance Balance Rotation Rotation Rotation Slight Balance Rotation Balance
BatArm Closed

Up 90°


Up 90°





Closed Up90/120° Closed
Closed Up90/120°

LINE OF PLAY = Where the ball is coming from


1. Demonstrate the ‘shakehands’ grip. Start

with off the table exercises.

2. Bouncing the ball on the racket — F.H.,

B.H., and alternating.

3) Same as 2) but walking around the table.

4) Hitting a ball against a wall (about one

metre high) and allowing one bounce

before the next hit. Use F.H., B.H. and

then alternating.

5) Introduce a stroke. (No serving, drop the ball on the table to start).

* Start long line diagonal (more time).
* introduce consistency (how many).
* introduce accuracy (hit a target).
* introduce variation with control ( differing length).
* introduce competition (round the table, cricket).
* introduce multi-ball.
* introduce simple serving.
* introduce match play and scoring. (winning table).

OBJECTIVES 2/3 Familiarisation with the bat and ball. Acquiring feel.
OBJECTIVE 4 Positioning, sense of movement, ball sense.
OBJECTIVE 5 Correct stroke, control, consistency, accuracy, concept of mobility, competition.


Basic Strokes Chart

— Look back to the chart. Certain factors are common to all strokes. Feet shoulder-width or a little wider, knees slightly bent, shoulders down and level and head a little forward and the whole body facing the line of play. Strokes should be played with a 90 degree elbow angle and partially initiated from the elbow, both elbows a hand’s span from the sides, with the bat-arm wrist and elbow around the same height or the elbow a little lower, (not higher). There should be no wrist action initially and the ball should be played with little speed and spin.

The objective

— should be optimum ball control, while maintaining good balance and a readiness to move.

Topspin and Block

— Note the bent knees in blocking and use of the legs, the rotation with topspin and the way the legs are used to bring up the centre of gravity as you contact the ball. A 90 degree angle at the elbow for blocking control (and a little movement, if you block with a completely ‘dead’ racket the ball tends to kick up for the opponent to hit). This angle will increase for topspinning as the player drops the racket lower to play the stroke. Work in initial stages on technique and control, not spin or speed. As players get better emphasize good ball control while retaining balance and the ability to move quickly in any direction. Good movement is the key to the future.

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