Development and Training
To develop full potential the prime criterion is that the player has an understanding of his/her own style of play as early as possible in his/her career. Bear in mind that tactical development is based crucially on technical abilities. If the player doesn’t have the technical weapons to play his/her own game most effectively then the performer never reaches full potential. Throughout Europe there has to be a great deal more attention payed by coaches to the individual development of the player and to maximising his/her own personal style of play.
However there is much more to coaching and developing potential than just focusing on the individual characteristics. It is the responsibility of the coach to address 3 prime areas in the training and evolution of the player:
1. Pointing the way to develop adaptive intelligence and use multi-choice exercises, which require assessment of the opponent’s shots and decision making from the player.
Because table tennis is such an extremely fast reaction sport it is of crucial importance that players, right from the early developmental stages learn to be adaptable and not to think in predictable patterns or to play in predictable ways. Essentially reactions should be automatic because subconscious reactions are much faster than ‘thinking’ reactions. But essentially the mind has to be trained to be adaptable and flexible. Therefore the reaction base must be as large as possible, so that the player reacts automatically and effectively to more and more diverse situations. Training must reflect this. Equally the player must as much as possible learn to think quickly in tactical and strategic situations and exercises should exhibit the requirement for rapid decision-making and for accurate assessment of the opponent’s shots and tactics to ensure the best possible responses.
2. Directing the player to train in the right way for him/her as a male or female. Training and development will almost always be radically different.
Training and development for the two sexes will be different and this should be reflected from the early developmental stages not only in shot production and tactics (the type of strokes most commonly used and the way in which they are used), but also in the ready position, movement patterns and the distance from the table. Not only the technical areas will differ but also the physical and mental requirements and this should be understood by the coach from the beginning.
3. Helping the player to fully understand that training in the right way for him/her as an individual is crucial to the realisation of full potential and that the training regime should be such that it is most beneficial to the growth and eventual blossoming of individual style.
Many players reach senior level (and some even go through their whole career in table tennis) without ever really understanding in detail just how they should play as an individual to achieve the most successful results and to reach full potential. The coach has a real responsibility in this area to guide the player towards an in-depth and complete understanding of his/her own strengths and how the style should ultimately evolve. Even more fundamental is the understanding from the player’s side of the training methods and regimes required to reach full potential. Especially when the player attends sessions run by other coaches (at County, Regional or National levels) he/she should be alert as to whether the training program is even beneficial to his/her personal style development or whether it could be counter-productive or actually harmful !
In general terms players succeed by refining their strengths and making these stronger. The aim of the coach should not be to make the player outstanding in areas where he/she will only ever be mediocre.
Many of the top coaches and coach educators throughout Europe are now becoming increasingly aware of the importance of this individual emphasis in producing top performers, who have some chance of matching the Asians and especially the Chinese. Even more so they are becoming aware that the comprehensive understanding by the player not only of how he/she is going to play most effectively but also of how he/she is going to achieve this, are pivotal in attaining full potential. As we in Europe train less in quantity and less professionally, we must use each and every advantage we can to raise our levels if we are to compete on the world stage. Certainly we must aim at the ideal of all our players achieving and performing at as near as possible to full potential.
In all of this we must bear in mind when coaching young players that the brain is not fully developed till the mid-twenties. Recent research has shown that the frontal part of the brain is the last to develop. This area deals with decision making and the assessment of possible consequences. This of course is why so many young people between the ages of 15 and 25 often make such bad decisions which impact seriously on their lives. They look at results and what they can achieve in a different light to adults. The coach must also be very aware of this when dealing with player development at a younger age. Young players do need guidance and it is up to the coach to ensure that this is in the right direction for them.