Ideas Base (for new articles)

Rowden Fullen (2008)

Most people are frozen in the mind and fixed in their way of thinking. To be innovative you must be prepared to let the mind flow like a mountain stream, this way and that. Above all you cannot be traditional, you must be ready to ‘think round corners’.

In the big clubs 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?

It is in the areas of the mind, the mental approach and the development of style where the coach cannot force the player into a mould. In the final analysis it is only the player who can choose to play safe or to take risks, to assess the percentages, to judge the value of being positive or negative. Equally it is the player’s own mind which will prompt him in the direction of his own personal style. The player’s own instincts will tell him if he is most comfortable playing fast or slow, close to the table or away, attack or defence, loop or drive, (if only the player will heed his/her own instincts).

Each of you at whatever level you play, will only progress and develop if you change and if you are prepared to accept in your own mind that such change is necessary. And by change we do not just mean getting bigger and stronger and faster! If all you are doing is moving faster and hitting the ball harder than you did 2/3 years ago, then there is a good chance your game is starting to stagnate and progress has stopped!

The problem of more individual attention is by no means without solution, there are a number of alternatives, especially if you are prepared to ‘think around corners’. However the main problem would be whether solutions would be politically acceptable to the clubs. In the majority of cases an acceptable level of technical and tactical guidance along with individual style development cannot be provided at club level, especially if you are talking about European top twenty standards. Times are changing and we will almost certainly not produce the players of the future, with the methods of the past.

Traditions are important, however there is one inescapable fact of life, everything changes. Progress, development mean change. Resist change and try and stay as you are and stagnation sets in.

Of course if you think in traditional ways and you remain isolated in your own club, then there is perhaps less flexibility of thought and less willingness to consider new ideas. That things happen is in fact largely a matter of ideas and the ability and energy to translate ideas into reality.

It is all too easy to drift, to procrastinate, to accept lesser levels of achievement. It’s very human to take the easy road. Many players don’t seem to question where they are going — they just drift. After a while the mind becomes frozen and they don’t even think any more. It’s also all too easy to be limited by those around you, both coaches and players. How often do I hear the phrase — ‘But you must face up to reality!’ But what is reality? Ten players in your club will tell you it’s impossible to become a world champion. But if you talk to one or two world champions, they won’t laugh at you for thinking and aiming big, because they have already done it!

It’s all a matter of perception — if you set limits in your own mind on what you expect to achieve, then you will indeed never exceed these limits. Just what is your reality!

There appears to be developing in Europe a sameness of play, a universality of style, strong, efficient and workmanlike but without the personal, unique touches that differentiate the really special performers from the run of the mill players. If our European style of play is changing, the first question to ask is why. What has changed over the last twenty years since the older players were in their formative period? Is it the coaches, the players or the system or some combination of all three? Or is it with more interaction between European countries, more joint training ventures, more mass media, magazines, internet, that there is now a standardization of coaching, less invention and fewer ideas? Is it perhaps that in many countries we now have more top players being involved in coaching, especially in the national centres, who as a result of their own background look at the development of style in a rather different light, or even consider certain styles of play more preferable to others?

It becomes perhaps even more essential to devote much more training time to receive, to controlling the opponent’s serve so that he or she is not able to open hard and pressure you on the third ball. If you are able to neutralize the serve you then have the opportunity yourself to try and take advantage of the fourth ball. You should look of course to variation in all its forms, spin, speed, length, timing, angles and tactics and to advanced techniques – very early timed push long and short, with and without spin, flicking at both peak and very late timing, stop and sidespin blocks, dummy loops, playing with and against the spin.

Consciousness – what is the degree of awareness of oneself, one’s own feelings and what is happening around?

Total concentration — table tennis is a switch-on/switch-off game, 100% focus when the ball is in play, relax and switch off when out of play. There is no room for feelings, especially anger. A relaxed calmness will pave the way to being in control, clear-headed and able to think at all times. This does not mean that there is no place for controlled aggression – there is always a time to fight and many of the great players have total unshakeable determination.

Feel one’s strokes, feel the ball at impact — flat and brush strokes are the essence of table tennis.

A player’s consciousness is more important than his technical proficiency. Skills can be learned but the quality of consciousness is difficult to improve. The cultivation of table tennis consciousness should be an obligatory theoretical course for all players.

Cultivate consciousness in seeking the optimal point of impact when striking the ball or in combining ‘drive’ and ‘brush’ strokes during play (such a combination constitutes the very essence of table tennis skills), even in getting the feel of the movement of one’s racket during each stroke (being mindful of each stroke you play so that you are aware of the why and wherefore of its success or failure).

To produce good spin it is vital that the racket accelerates just before the moment of impact with the ball. To control the speed of the swing the player must fully relax the muscles before hitting the ball. Only at the moment of impact should he suddenly contract his arm muscles to produce an explosive force.

A drive or even a topspin drive becomes a loop when the spin content is intended to have more effect than the forward speed content. This concept of intention is useful when analysing many strokes in the game. Intention is also a useful criterion for another reason. Five players starting off with the same intention will probably end up with five different types of performance. The effort to impart extra spin may well result in an important element of sidespin or an increased degree of forward speed or even equalizing the proportions so that we end up with merely a very strong and sure drive. If these accidental effects can be made intentional, then the loop practice has indeed been worthwhile.

As well as intention one must remember purpose. Many players continue spinning long after they have achieved the goal of getting the ball up high enough to kill. Surely the idea when playing table tennis is to win the point – the loop should not necessarily be regarded as a point-winner, but rather as another weapon in your arsenal, another tool to create openings.

Other effective winners are produced by unpredictability, by irregular changes of direction. On the whole the more pronounced the directional change, the more careful the player must be with the power input.

The gyroscopic effect of the spin in loop gives strong directional control and as a result more on-the-table accuracy. This is nothing to do with specific placement accuracy! The two are very different.

Due to the nature of the execution of the loop stroke in comparison with the drive (more lift) it is easy to use many more timing points and thus much more variation.

How many players really know how to get the best out of their own game, what is effective with their own personal style of play? If you ask players how they win points, what is their winning weapon, they may well know this. But if you go into their style in more detail you get fewer and fewer answers and often little understanding of several important areas. Many players do not seem to be aware of their most effective playing distance from the table or how much of the table they would cover with the forehand or the backhand for example. If you start to explore in depth, which serve and receive is most effective with their style of play against designated opponents, how they change against defence or pimples, ask if they can take advantage knowledgeably of return spin on the third or fourth ball and use elastic energy or the Magnus effect against defence players, often you only get blank looks in reply. Even if you become involved with players who have been in their national squads for some years and have played in European and World Championships, often they are still not aware how to get the best out of their own game (especially women players). It would appear that a thorough understanding of the relationship of tactics to technique and the intricacies of personal style development are not considered necessary at national level.

How many players even know how to train properly and to train in the right way for their type of game? How many have the right attitude and the optimal level of nervous excitement in the training hall to get the best out of the session? So often training operates at a lower and less intense level than it should because the players bring the wrong attitude to the hall. At a personal level how many players actually know that they are training in the right way for them, with the right content and the right methods? How many even know where they are going and more important, how to get there!

The marriage of block and fast backhand loop drive is innovative. It becomes even more effective when you target the opponent’s backhand immediately after a hard attack to his forehand side. But just what strokes do you include in this backhand arsenal (stop-block, drive, topspin, loop) and how is the change from one to the other to be executed and which switches are most effective? What is your finishing stroke, a fast drive or a topspin?

Deng Dasong (Deng Yaping’s father) — ‘There are 3 things required of an accomplished table tennis player in China, strong fortés, all-round skills and no obvious chinks in his or her armour. But how are these to be applied to a child? I reckon that of all the three requirements, the first one is primary while the other two are only secondary. If a child is able to develop very strong fortés at an early age, he or she can easily cultivate all-round skills and overcome his or her weak points at a later stage. But if you start out trying to be good all around so that you become something like a jack of all trades, you can hardly expect to develop any strong fortés later on’.

Explore the writing out of a programme to introduce mental development within your usual training syllabus, so that mental and physical and on-the-table exercises all take place and progress at the same time.