Practical Exercises for Girls
Rowden Fullen (2005)
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.