The Vital Role of the District in Girls’ Training

Rowden Fullen (2003)

The few girls in Sweden who have had the opportunity to train overseas in high quality centres, especially in Asia, have had their eyes very much opened as to what proper training should be like. Working with high level female sparring, training against a wide spectrum of styles (defenders, short pimple players, penholders etc.), being advised and guided by world class women players or coaches who know immediately in which direction the player’s individual style should progress and which methods and training exercises need to be used to help them reach their end goal — all these are aspects very much lacking in Sweden and to the extent that national training for women often operates at a lower level than club training in Asian countries.

Training in Sweden operates at a low technical level and at low intensity. Many girls get so little help that they don’t really know how to play (they have no personal style projection, so they have no idea what they are aiming to be) and if they do have some idea of where they are going, they have little or no idea how to get there. Because they only ever work at 40 – 50% effort most of them have no conception of just what is involved in hard training or what it should be like.

Many parents, leaders and trainers too have little real understanding of what good training for girls actually consists of! There seems to be inertia in many districts and little initiative in making any attempt to provide the sort of training which could develop young girls and take them to international levels. Even with those few districts which are interested in working a little with training often this is a low budget, low priority approach, with poor facilities and perhaps one trainer to 19 players! How can we ever hope to achieve any progress with methods like this? This is just window-dressing!

Also at national level some trainers either do not understand what is required or are not prepared to work to change anything. They are content to run large camps and to operate at 40 – 50% efficiency because they take the attitude — ‘Whatever we do on camps won’t change anything, the girls will go back to their own clubs and will return next year with the same faults and problems, so why bother?’

In other words not only does training become totally unprofessional but it is really only a publicity exercise. The associations whether national, regional or district can sit back and say — ‘Yes we’ve had two or three camps for girls this season so we are actually doing something’. The girls can say –‘Yes I’m being noticed now, I’ve been to a couple of regional/national camps so I’m moving up in the system.’ So in fact it all looks very good. But what does it actually mean when it comes down to looking after and taking care of our up and coming talent. Absolutely nothing! Players in fact who play for Sweden in the European Juniors one year are totally ignored the following year and are not even invited to one national training camp. Does this show organization and progress, good enough to represent your country one year and thrown on the scrap-heap the next?

If a country is to be successful at any sport then the Administration must also be progressive and forward-looking. Methods of assessment, selection, ranking and national centres and training must be constantly monitored and up-graded. It is important that more and more countries throughout Europe demand not just some ‘movement’ from national, regional and district organizations, but real progress. If the people at the top can’t do the job then it’s quite simple, they shouldn’t be there!

In sport we unfortunately often tolerate much lower levels of efficiency than we would ever do in the top jobs in industry for example. It is also no excuse to say that we have many part-timers in our sport who have full time jobs and are only able to give a few hours to help in training or organizing. The majority of those who work in a semi-professional capacity in table tennis are after money, very few people in Sweden will do anything for free. We should therefore expect value for money and not just accept low levels and low quality.

In any large group with many players at varying levels, the chances of new innovative styles of play or new lines of thought emerging are extremely remote. With large training groups and few coaches, development becomes stereotyped and rigid, systems take over and the individual emphasis and personal touch are lost. There is neither the time nor the 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 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 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?

What is required at district level is regular training (around once a month) for smaller groups of girls of a similar level (not a similar age). There should be no more than 10 – 12 in each training group so that there is time and opportunity to give more individual attention to the players. Ideally we should be looking at a staffing level of at least three coaches and two sparring.

In terms of method we should be looking at a number of differing aspects.

  • Theory — We should look first to upgrade the girls’ theoretical knowledge with seminars and lectures. Most of them don’t know how to play women’s table tennis or what is effective in the women’s game!
  • Individual attention – Not only is more personal attention required in the areas of the players’ technique and movement patterns but also advice and discussion on direction. Most girls have little or no idea how they should play, where they are going or how to get there. Each player is different and should develop in a different way.
  • Training — Most girls don’t understand how to train or what good training is! They must be educated so they have some idea of intensity levels, be able to work with various training methods and above all be aware of how they should train to get the best out of their own individual playing style.
  • Material — Girl players must have a complete game. They must be trained to play against pimples, defenders etc. and to know both the theory and the practice.

In terms of aims we should be looking to make a difference and to show the way so that other districts can follow. In Sweden you can’t develop girls to a high level in the clubs because in most you don’t have the necessary expertise. Also a few good girls are often spread over a large number of clubs with little opportunity to train against other good girl players. The initiative therefore needs to come more from district or regional level — there are some camps at regional and national levels but in most cases these are just social or publicity exercises. Usually the camps are too large with not enough trainers and these often have limited knowledge on women’s training or on how to develop girl players. There is little or no sparring and often of the wrong kind and the parents pay a premium price, with the extra money going to the Association to subsidise other activities. Most parents seem to be totally unaware that they are getting second rate coaching and development for their daughters and paying elite rate costs for this!

Often thinking in Sweden seems a little too traditional, too many administrators and organizers set in their ways and very reluctant to even consider new ideas. Do they really think that in these changing times they are going to produce the players of the future with the methods of the past?

My suggestion is that we establish a model in one or more districts, with high level aims — to have the best district girls’ squad in Sweden, with the top girls training together at least once a month in two differing quality groups. Girls, parents and clubs must be made aware that such ‘elite streaming’ will mean that they should plan their tournaments accordingly. They cannot develop by competition alone and they should understand that high level training and development must have priority if the players are to progress to the top.

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