Making of a Great Woman Player
Rowden Fullen 2009
Is there one of these aspects which is of paramount importance and without which no player can ever reach the top? Or are all of these equally important and does there need to be a blend before a player can attain the heights?
Many young players seem to think that this is the only important thing and that without high-level practice you are not going anywhere. Long years ago Peter Hirst, a former National Coach, who in a number of areas was decades ahead of his time used to say – ‘To advance you need to train at 3 levels: against worse players so that you can develop and learn how to use your tactics to win, against players of the same or a similar level so you can sharpen your weapons under pressure and try to come out on top and against players of a much higher level so that you can see just what is possible.’ If you only train against far superior players all the time, you never learn to win because they control the game. (Also this can lead to mental problems and loss of confidence).
This is particularly important in the modern women’s game. Due to the increased speed of our sport over the last few years and the fact that women almost always stay closer to the table and have less time, technique is much more critical than in the men’s game. It is vital for example that women have shorter stroke movements, stay squarer (especially on completion of the shot) and use women’s techniques such as BH serves and receives to retain control of the table. As women often have less time to play and are rarely as explosively fast as the men, recovery (preparation for the next ball) and reading of the game are much more critical.
Technique is the basis for tactics, therefore it is vital that women have the right basic techniques to allow for the capability of executing the tactics that are appropriate to their individual style of play. It’s of little use for a woman to serve short all the time for example if she is poor in short play. Equally if she is a defender who needs to attack regularly she can’t afford to retrieve too far back from the table nor can she afford to push sideways on when close. In both cases she is not in a position to get in on the attack when she wants to.
4/5.Physical and Mental
It is particularly important that the physical and mental areas are focused on at an early age. Many girls are often less ready to work hard at physical aspects and need to learn good habits from the outset. Girls too usually need more support on the mental side as they often lack self-confidence and can lapse into negative attitudes more easily than their male counterparts. They also often need help in developing a coherent mental approach to the game.
However usually the single most vital factor in maximising potential with the young girl’s development and rather more important than with the male is ‘direction’. Girls need to know where they are going and how to get there. It is important to them to understand how they play now and will play in the future. Winning is often not the overriding priority but continual progress and a clearly defined career path are fundamental to their development. Far too often even in National Centres the girls do not get the required individual attention.
There are many more ways of playing in the women’s game — we only need to look at world champions over the last twenty years to see the variety of styles. The evaluation of, guidance towards and development of an individual playing style are particularly necessary in the case of young girls and should be introduced at an early stage in the player’s career. In many cases this will require from the coach, specialist knowledge of rubbers, sponges and techniques/tactics and a detailed and on-going analysis of how the top women are playing and also often some experimentation from the player. After all in the final analysis it is the player herself who must feel comfortable with her ‘weapons’ and with the tactics these weapons will facilitate.
At least once a fortnight the coach and player should have an assessment meeting to talk about direction and to ensure the player is satisfied with progress. If a number of coaches are involved with the same player (as unfortunately occurs in many national setups) then each should update information daily on the computer so that other coaches and the player are all equally aware of progress and changes. It goes without saying that the player should have complete access to the information at all times and be allowed to add her own updates as often as she wants. The schedule should not only cover technique and tactics but also mental and physical programmes even if these are handled by outside experts.
From the coaching point of view it’s vital that coaches appreciate that they are not important, it’s the player who is important. Coaches should be ready to listen to, not to dictate to players. Often even quite young players who have a big talent have strong ideas as to how they should play, where they want to go and how to get there.