Lecture on Girls’ Development

Rowden Fullen (2004)

Training programme

Women – key issues

Girls’ seminar

Girls groups – key aspects

Practical exercises for girls

Ready position, serve and receive tactics. Are these changing?


Programme Development

  1. Regular work on theory.
  2. Individual attention — direction, each girl should know how she individually will develop and how she is most effective.
  3. Each girl should know how to train and what constitutes good training.
  4. Mental training — develop and work on this in every session.
  5. Materials — develop understanding on how girls should cope with differing rubbers and playing styles.
  6. Each individual player should start to take responsibility for her own development, not just to rely on coaches/trainers/ psychologists etc.

Areas to work in.

  1. Eliminating or minimizing existing technical and tactical problems - in basics, with technique and movement patterns, against materials and certain playing styles.
  2. Eliminating or minimizing existing mental problems — rigidity of play, rigidity of thought (prepared to consider new ideas, new methods).
  3. Understanding of the women’s game.
  4. Understanding that any development means change (if she is not prepared to change, then she cannot progress).
  5. Understanding of own personal style and how each girl is effective and wins points.
  6. Understanding of best playing distance from the table.
  7. Understanding of F.H. and B.H split.
  8. Ensuring that movement patterns are appropriate to girl’s own playing style.
  9. Understanding the right way to train for her style and how to keep progressing in the right direction.
  10. Understanding that training in mental techniques is particularly important if she is to reach the higher levels in her sport.
  11. Understanding that to reach the higher levels she must be prepared to train in the more advanced techniques used by the world’s top women.

Typical session layout

  1. Regular exercises (trying to minimize problem areas) — 15%.
  2. Developing girls’ strength areas and aspects where they are already proficient — 20%.
  3. Working in new areas and developing new skills — 15%.
  4. Working in mental areas – 15/20%.
  5. Working on theory – 5 /10%.
  6. Working on serve/receive and 2nd/3rd/4th ball and/or match play — 25%.
  7. After session – evaluating and assessing performance (How she performed and how she felt during training).

Ground rules.

  1. No negative talking (or thinking) during group training — if a player is negative this has an effect on the others in the group and brings down the level of confidence in the whole group.
  2. Have your notebook with you at the table so you can take notes in the session and evaluate your performance afterwards.
  3. Be ready at start time, racket glued and water bottle with you, don’t let others in the group down.
  4. If you can’t be at training for one reason or another, ring as early as possible.
  5. Bring the ‘right’ attitude to the training hall, if you don’t want to train this affects the whole group and brings down the quality of training. It also slows down and hinders your own development.
  6. Be ready to control your own development. ‘Educate’ your coaches and trainers, think about your training, always be ready to question. If coaches can’t explain why a particular exercise is good for you and how it benefits your game, then perhaps they are not that knowledgeable and you shouldn’t listen to them. It’s your life, your development, value these — others may not.


Quite simply women cannot hit the ball as hard as men so they will achieve less topspin

With less topspin women have less on-the-table control

It is crucial in the women’s game that the loop is either very short or very long. good length is critical

In the women’s game the behaviour of the ball after the bounce is more unpredictable

It is expedient in the women’s game that the players’ attention is directed towards the value of the shorter stroke

Timing is vital in the women’s game. The timing ‘window’ in drive-play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 – 2 centimetres before.

It is essential too that women can convert – change from topspin to drive and vice versa at will. The ability to loop several balls in a row is not a prime requirement in the women’s game.

In the women’s game the vital importance of spin on the first opening ball (and good length) cannot be over-estimated. This creates openings.

The ability to open hard against the first backspin ball and not just spin all the time is a vital asset in the women’s game.

Never stop girl/women players receiving with the BH from the middle (or even the FH) it’s done at the very highest level.

From an early age girls should learn to open and play positively on the BH side

In the early years girls should train till they are at ease in the short play situation, aware of the various possibilities and able to gain advantage in this area.

Strong serve and 3rd ball are essential elements if women are to reach the highest levels.

Receive tactics are of prime importance in the women’s game.


  • Men play well back from the table with power and strong topspin. Women play closer to the table and counter more with speed than topspin. This means that very different timing points are used in male and female table tennis. Women too generally have less time.
  • Men hit the ball harder and are capable of achieving more topspin than women do. The harder you hit the ball with a closed racket, the more topspin you create and the more on-the-table control you have.
  • As a result the men have more control and face a more predictable ball. Many women play with lesser power and differing materials, which also adds to the unpredictability after the bounce in the women’s game.
  • The unpredictability in the women’s game directly affects the stroke technique especially on the forehand side.
  • Because of the lesser spin and power in the women’s game length becomes much more significant.
  • Women generally have a much squarer stance than men do (60% to around 25 – 30%).
  • Women receive much less with the forehand than the men do (53% to around 80%).
  • Women receive much more with the backhand (47% to 19%). Many receive with the backhand from the middle.
  • Women in general serve more with the backhand (20% to around 5%).
  • Women use more long serves than men do (16/17% as opposed to about 10%, but European women serve long much more than Asian women, 30% to around 13%).
  • Asian women serve more short serves than European women do (65% to 50%).
  • Counter-play is still the main tactic in the women’s game and timing is vital. The ‘timing window’ in drive-play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 – 2 centimetres before. It is just not possible to ‘hit’ the ball hard from a late timing point WITHOUT TOPSPIN.
  • The ability to open hard against the first backspin ball and not just spin all the time is a vital asset in the woman’s game.
  • From an early age it’s vital that girls learn to open and to play positively on the backhand side.
  • It’s also important that girls are at ease in the ‘short play’ situation and able to gain advantage in this area.
  • Strong serve and third ball and good receive tactics are of prime importance if girls are to reach high level.


  • Take and create 3rd ball opportunities — to push 2 or 3 then to open is not so effective, it gives the opponent time to think, to plan and to open first.
  • Work out how your own serves are returned and how to move into position to attack the 3rd ball and which type of attack to use.
  • Use the F.H. from the B.H. corner especially after the serve and on the diagonal. Often you will win the point direct.
  • If you can’t open on the B.H. side get round with the F.H.
  • The ball after the first topspin is of vital importance – be ready to get in and drive attack but judge the power input carefully.
  • You can often even win by thinking differently, blocking short for instance.
  • Training to block v topspin and to even hit through loop is vital in the women’s game.
  • Control with feeling is important against topspin and if you can force the opponent’s loop then you give them no time to loop again.
  • The slower ball and change of pace often win points in women’s play.
  • Are you able to return a fast serve with a slow ball?
  • Can you create real backspin when pushing on the B.H. and hit hard on the return ball?
  • The hard push ball is more often than not returned with a float or slight topspin and is therefore easy to hit hard.


I sometimes wonder if coaches really give a great deal of thought to the nature of the exercises they will use when they have girls’ training camps and just how they will use these exercises. I have seen a number of camps where the prime emphasis has been on continuous topspin even though less than 13 – 14% of the players had anything like a topspin weapon. I have seen girls instructed to loop on the backhand when more than 20% had pimples and some even long pimples! And to make it even more confusing players are often told to play hard on the backhand diagonal and switch with power into their partner’s forehand – the partner is of course expected to loop. This obviously gives the poor partner rather limited time to play anything like a loop stroke but she is criticized if she counters or smashes! Indeed she is criticized for playing a woman’s game!

It is obvious if coaches watch the top women in competition that counter-play is still the basic norm in the women’s game. We rarely if ever see the loop-to-loop rallies that we see in men’s play with both players well back from the table. Instead the first opening spin ball is blocked or hit and there is little or no time for the looper to spin again. Rather the top women come in after their first topspin so that they are in a better position to counter fast, over or close to the table. After the first opening spin ball, the next is usually taken at an earlier timing point to pressure the opponent. It is essential in fact that women can convert — change from topspin to drive and vice-versa at will — rather than loop three or four balls in succession. THE ABILITY TO LOOP SEVERAL BALLS IN A ROW IS NOT A PRIME REQUIREMENT IN THE WOMEN’S GAME.

It should be obvious too that it’s very easy to encounter and even cause major problems especially with girls at a younger age when trying to combine spin and speed exercises. What happens more often than not is that they will retreat on the wing where they are expected to topspin to give themselves time thus causing an imbalance in their own game – good close with speed on one wing good back with spin on the other! (To play at top level imbalances have to be strictly controlled or when they exist, utilized by the player, who must understand precisely how this is achieved). One of the prime aspects of the women’s game is the ability to control speed. Surely it makes more sense to research methods of doing this closer to the table on both wings or deeper on both wings depending on the individual characteristics of the player.

And here we have the crux of the matter – players are individuals and different. In the women’s game with many more different styles and differing paths to the top, coaches should not be looking to create a uniform playing style and then try to ‘squeeze’ the girls into this framework! Rather they should be looking at what characteristics are natural to the player and how to develop these.

Where we have large groups of girls it makes rather more sense to explain an exercise – e.g. ‘between 2 to 4 fast drives on the backhand diagonal then fast straight to the forehand, one player controlling, one working’ – then to add the proviso that the ‘working’ player make her own decision as to how she should play the fast ball to the forehand, depending on her style of play. She then has the choice of using her own strongest stroke, loop, drive, smash, chop, stop-block etc.

Of course from an early age girls should learn to open from a pushing situation and especially on the backhand side – it is indeed important that they can create spin or speed on this first opening ball as this will open up further attacking opportunities. Although at a lower standard and at a younger age girls/women are less positive than men are on the backhand side, at the very highest levels you rarely see women pushing more than one ball. They have the capability to flick over the table or to open from further back on this wing.

It is what happens after the first opening ball that is radically different in the women’s game to the men’s and something that coaches must understand and develop in their training exercises with girl players.


If we look at the top men, women and juniors in the world do we notice any changes in the ready position and in the serve and receive tactics? Obviously there are individual style factors which affect the issue — some top stars such as Kreanga and Steff use the backhand side to open much more from the middle of the table and especially against the serve or on the third ball. What we are looking for however are more general trends either in the men’s, women’s or the junior game.

It would appear that the ready position in the men’s game is changing. Many of the top junior boys and the younger top men stand more square now so that they have more options in short play (the rear leg is not so far back as it used to be). Players such as Boll, Maze and Chuan Chih-Yuan fall into this category. If you look at the world’s best junior boys many have a relatively square stance – Zwickl, Süss and Asian players too such as Yang Xiaofu and Sakamoto. The main exception is with the Asian penhold players who want to play more forehands and receive with the right foot (for a right-hander) well back.

Even in the case of many players who do stand with the right foot back, often they come in with the right foot against the serve to use the forehand from the middle of the table. In this way they keep control of the table with the forehand on the subsequent ball. The men take over 80% of the opponent’s serves with the forehand wing. If top men can’t open against the serve, the main receive is the short push return with the forehand.

In comparison with the top men over twice as many of the top women stand quite square – almost 60% as opposed to 25 – 30%. The women too use the backhand much more from the middle of the table on the service receives, both to push and to open. They in fact use the backhand receive almost 50% of the time. European players such as Steff and Struse and the junior Pota fall into this category and even Asian players use the tactic. Players such as Guo Yue, Zhang Yining, Niu Jianfeng (Ch), Lin Ling (H.K.), Jing Jun Hong , Li Jia Wei (Sin) and top world juniors such as Peng Luyang (Ch) and Fukuhara (J) all use the backhand from the middle.

In the service area we note a number of differences between the men’s and women’s game. The female players use the long serve more than the men, in a ratio of around 16 – 17% as opposed to 10%, but there is not such a great difference in the short and half-long serves at the very top level. Perhaps the most informative factor is in the difference between the junior and senior players of both sexes. Both the boys and girls use the half-long serve more than the senior players do and the girls use the long serve more than the women. At senior level the service game becomes noticeably tighter. The men almost exclusively use the forehand to serve, with one or two noticeable exceptions such as Primorac. Backhand service is however generally lower than 5% as opposed to nearly 20% in the case of the top women.

There is a noticeable difference in service tactics between the top Asian and the top European women. The Asian women serve more short serves, around 65% in comparison with 50% and significantly less long serves, 13% as opposed to almost 30%. The best girl in the world Guo Yue, number 15 in the women’s rankings at 14 years, serves around 97% short or half-long serves. The Asian women are generally better and much more confident in the ‘short’ game and at opening against a backspin ball even over the table.

The European women usually serve longer as they wish to get their topspin game in at the earliest opportunity. However in many cases it is obvious that the Europeans have neither good enough serves nor a good enough first opening ball to obtain a real advantage. If we look at statistics of rallies between top Asian and European women, the Europeans are struggling to hold their own in drive or counter-play but also they are not really dominant in spin play either. Unless their first opening topspin ball is of exceptionally high quality they almost always lose out when the game accelerates into fast counter-play.

It is obvious too that counter-play is still the basic norm in the women’s game. We rarely if ever see the loop to loop rallies that we see in men’s play with both players well back from the table. Instead the first opening spin ball is blocked or hit and there is no time to spin again. Rather the top women come in so that they are in a better position to counter fast over or close to the table. After the first opening spin ball, the next is usually taken at an earlier timing point to pressure the opponent.

There seems to be little thought at top level to bring in any changes in the forehand service action or position to create a more positive advantage in respect of the new service law. Most top players just try to remove the free arm and serve as they did before. Few have thought to increase the rotation speed of the upper body so that the free arm automatically swings away, or to use a higher throw so as to have more time to rotate the body. Players don’t really seem to appreciate that without rotation the service action is often quite stiff and it can take up to three separate movements to get the body and feet in the right position to play the next ball. Few players too have thought to serve from a squarer stance so as to be more adaptable against the return ball. It is noticeable that the women particularly are sometimes a little slow now to get in the right place for the third ball, especially if this is played hard into the corners.

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