Debate on Girls’ Training

Rowden Fullen (2003)

Henry Ford was once accused of not being very well informed, his reply was – ‘ I use my brain for solving problems not storing facts, if I need information I go to the library or the expert.’

If you in fact go to the ‘experts’ on girls’ training, the top European coaches who have players winning individual and team events in the European Junior Championships and ask them why girls can’t be successful playing strong topspin like the boys the answer is quick and to the point — strength, speed and balance, (especially under pressure). To these I would add one more quality, the ability to understand technical matters fully and quickly and to translate these readily into physical actions. Many girls do not easily grasp mechanical and practical aspects and need much guidance on technique, much more than boys.

If you also go to the other ‘experts’, the small group of women in Europe who are ranked in the top dozen in the world and ask them how often they train with men, you also get a pointed answer — ‘Men, only if I have to, the one or two times I’ve had to train with men, my results against women have gone down quickly.’

On a purely practical level if you ask the best junior girls to loop for loop against the best boys, or the top table elite women against the bottom table elite men, just what percentage of points do you think the female of the species is going to win? And to take practicalities a stage further when girls play against girls and one topspins just how is the ball returned? With topspin all the time? Very rarely in fact. Rather with flat counter, blocking of one kind or another, defence or with some combination of material. There would therefore appear to be little or no logical reason for girls to train against topspin. Playing men is largely a matter of coping with spin, playing women of coping with speed.

It would be all too easy to go on at great length about the large variety of styles in women’s table tennis and the significance of this, the critical nature of guidance on style, the variety of rubbers, even how multi-ball should be different and why, but surely there are more pressing matters to discuss. If in Sweden you are to produce girl players who can make a real impact in Europe, there are three vital areas in which you must concentrate your resources.

Firstly the age group between 9 – 14 years, it is here that a sound basis must be laid down for future development. It is obvious that even from a young age there is not enough emphasis on good movement and technique. You develop players with built-in defects which will have a limiting effect on their ultimate level of play and in many cases you produce girls who have very little understanding of what is effective in women’s table tennis. It is certainly not a question of talent, you have players with remarkable potential but potential without guidance or direction is often a recipe for self-destruction. It is self-evident that the clubs in general are not able on their own to produce high quality girls. Any initiative must be at district or regional level.

The second area is in the dissemination and growth of knowledge among coaches and trainers, especially in the training of women, play against the various styles and tactics and uses of equipment. Every opportunity should be taken to hold lectures and seminars and above all to introduce these subjects on all coaching courses from stage one upwards.

The final area of concern and the most serious is in the age group from 15 –20 years. A number of girls in this group were very impressive 2/3 years ago but have never really developed their full potential. In comparison look at Liu Jia from Austria who beat Linda Nordenberg only in three sets in the semi-final of the Junior Europeans in 1999. She has shown just what she can do with good basic technique, the right tactics and continuing style development. A little over two years later she is among the top women in Europe and has been as high as 14 in the world’s ranking! In Sweden it would appear that after the age of 14/15 years girls do not have access to the sort of guidance necessary to take them to the next level. Instead of developing they stagnate.

So just what do these girls need to keep moving forward? First they need to throw off the physical chains that still partially hold them back — the chains of inadequate technical development, poor movement patterns, insufficient understanding of materials (both how to play with and against), inadequate grasp of which tactics to use against certain styles of play (defence and long pimple blockers/attackers for instance). Second they need to loose the mental chains that restrict their thinking — they must understand that without change, without new things in their game, there is no progress, no development, they are going nowhere. Third they must find direction in their own individual style, they must come to an understanding of how they play, how they cope with different situations and just what is effective in their style of play. Finally they must have access to the advanced techniques of the word’s best players — the short play, the use of angles, speed variation, killing through loop, sidespin loop, early ball push and early ball smash, chop-block, sidespin block, short drop against defence players. At the moment the older girls in Sweden are too rigid in their way of play in all aspects, to progress there must be flexibility in style, tactics and above all in thinking.

Many of you reading this may think I am too negative or paint too black a picture. The unfortunate reality is that when there is a problem, the powers that be often don’t admit it, act too late or do nothing or indeed take the wrong action. At best it is often too little, too late. If you read the old ‘Table Tennis’ magazines as far back as the 1980’s top coaches and players have been complaining about the lack of trainers and leaders, the need to build up the strength of our young players and above all to do something for the women’s game. But just what has actually happened over the last fifteen years? And are there for example real indications that we are really going somewhere with our top young girl players in terms of world class or even European level performance? I rest my case!

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