Observations on Top Table Tennis Centres for Young Players
Rowden Fullen (2007)
- In the total package of education/sport how much time will be given to table tennis –
- during school hours?
- Is there any restructuring or flexibility in the educational side to make more time available during the day for sport?
- Are there provisions for the children to be looked after/monitored when they are not in the school?
- Do the players travel as a group to tournaments at weekends together with the coaches?
- What are the ultimate aims of the centre and what level is it expected the players will attain?
- What plans are there for the player’s mental development? Are there sports psychologists among the team?
- Will players be taught to be flexible in the mind?
- Is training in the centre the same for male and female players? Are there different training methods for girl players?
- How many table tennis theory sessions are there each week?
- Do the players have their own representative to channel complaints and problems through to the head coach?
- How often do players and coaches meet to evaluate technical problems or is this only done in the training sessions?
- How many times a month do coaches discuss with players how they personally are going to develop, where they are going and how they are going to get there?
- In which areas of style development does the coach have the final say and in which are the player’s views of more importance?
- How much time is spent on the cultivation of table tennis consciousness?
- How much time is spent training against differing materials or playing styles?
- How many and how often are outside sparring players available for training with centre players?
- Does the centre have connections with centres in other countries in Europe/Asia and regular exchange visits etc?
- Do seniors, juniors and cadets train together or are they segregated?
- How many hours of multi-ball are there each day?
- Will there be coach supervised serve training?
- Are training sessions and multi-ball geared towards the individual needs of the player?
- Is physical training geared towards the player’s personal style requirements?
- Does the centre have access to experts in physical training, experienced physiotherapists, chiropractors etc? (Of course these should be specialists who know about our sport and what is required for table tennis players!) This is important as children are still growing and developing.
- Are the coaches in the centre capable of relating to young teenagers at their level (children can often be ‘difficult’ at this stage of their development) without the use of the ‘big stick’.
- Are there any political or traditional limitations to the player’s development? In other words at national level are certain styles more favoured than others because the coaches understand them better or feel these are more suited to our culture?
- Is it part of the coaches’ job in the centre to deliberately change the style of the player if they think this style will not be effective internationally? Do they liaise with the parents and the player’s own trainer if they are thinking along these lines? Do the coaches involved have the knowledge and the insight to do this?
- How many times a year do parents and the player’s own trainers get reports from the centre?
- Will players be introduced to the advanced playing techniques suitable to their type of game?
- How much time is spent on serve/receive exercises during each training session?
Often at national centres training is allowed to become too rigid and inflexible and there is a lack of innovation and ideas. With large training groups and few coaches, development becomes stereotyped with the same exercises and methods, systems take over and the individual emphasis and personal touch are lost. Coaches do not make or take the time and opportunity to focus on what is individual in style to each particular player. The group as a whole drifts without guidance into a general style of play and development of new and different aspects and personal style specialties is slowed down or lost.
Equally training itself, the process of training becomes devalued – players work within the group and often work very hard indeed but in many cases without ever knowing exactly why! They train because they want to be better – how can they achieve any destination when they don’t know where they are going or how to get there? In this sort of situation it’s only the one or two very best players who benefit. It’s very easy for the rest of the group to drift and become merely a support element, expendable cannon-fodder!
On the other hand if the group is too small you lose the stimulus of variety and it’s too easy for training to become boring and stereotyped, with the same players and sparring day in and day out. As in all things there must be a balance, a balance between individual attention and group training.
Equally if there are too many coaches involved, all promoting their own ideas and without any overall liaison, then the players will become confused and motivation and attitude will suffer.
Above all parents and coaches should ask the right questions, especially in the case of younger girls starting in table tennis centres (they require more technical help, more style development advice and different training) and should keep on asking until they get the right answers.
After this the next stage is to monitor development so that you are sure it is proceeding as planned. If you can’t get answers then be suspicious, if things don’t happen as planned be even more suspicious! Over the whole of Europe there are many of the best individual players who don’t go to their national centres and have refused to do so even in the face of threats of expulsion from their national team. These players and their coaches must have very good reasons for such a stand. In those countries where many top players do go to national centres results at world level have hardly been encouraging, especially in the case of the women.
Unfortunately in a number of countries in Europe the tendency is to isolate top young players from their own coaches, presumably on the premise that only the National Team Trainers have the required knowledge for further development. Yet strangely enough when you talk to top coaches in Europe and discuss the way forward in terms of developing top talent and trying to compete with the Asians, more often than not the coaches stress the vital importance of individual development and that players should come to select high level training camps in Europe not with their National Trainers but in fact with their own personal coaches. They stress the importance, if we are ever to have real results, of having the coaches on hand who are actually working on a day to day basis with the players.
Over the whole of Europe High Performance Directors are coming to understand that table tennis coaching is much more complex in these modern times. Manuals are often written only after reference to between 15 – 20 specialists in the varying fields, experts in areas as diverse as nutrition, psychology and bat and rubber technologies. Even at national level coaches need access to a specialist back-up team to compliment/reinforce their own knowledge (and it goes without saying that the backup team should not only be experts in their own field but also in how their expertise is applied to our sport of table tennis).
Does your centre have the right team behind you?