Coaching the young (Chinese Style)

Jerzy Grycan (2010)

A) The initial stages
B) Technical preparation
C) Understanding technical quality

Table tennis is a highly technical sport and because of this acquiring the correct movement patterns which are appropriate to the player’s end style is the basis for future growth. Science also shows that to become an outstanding athlete, we must practise from an early age and therefore the initial stages of training are absolutely vital.

A) The initial stages

It’s important that the young player learns the right things from the start as follows:

1. About the differing areas on the ball and racket angles. It is useful to demonstrate these areas on the ball during ball-racket contact using the right side of the clock (from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock) and showing the racket angle required to hit the correct part of the ball.
• Top part of the ball is at 12 o'clock position, the angle of the racket faces down (is 'closed')
• Upper part of the ball is at 1-2 o'clock position, the angle of the racket faces forward (still quite closed)
• Middle-upper part of the ball is at 2-3 o'clock position, the angle of the racket faces slightly forward (slightly 'closed')
• The middle part of the ball is at 3 o'clock position, the racket is in a vertical position
• The middle-lower part of the ball is at 3-4 o'clock position, the racket angle faces slightly back (is slightly 'open')
• The lower-middle part of the ball is at 4-5 o'clock position, the racket is facing back (almost 'open')
• The bottom part of the ball is at 6 o'clock position, the racket faces upward (is ‘open’)

2. About the timing. You can hit the ball:
• in the early ascending phase
• in the late ascending phase
• at the top of the bounce
• in the early dropping phase
• in the late dropping phase

3. About table tennis basic ready positions:
• close to the table position 15—50 cm suitable for fast attack players
• medium-close to the table position 50—70 cm suitable for fast attack and topspin players
• medium-far from the table position 70-100 cm suitable for defensive players and counter-hitters
• far from the table, retrievers and pure defenders

4. About table tennis power:
• If in the hitting movement the swing is bigger, the power is also bigger
• If in the hitting movement you use more power from the waist and legs, then the stroke is also stronger and faster
• If you hit the ball too early or too late, the power of the stroke is reduced
• We can say that the increase in explosive power is based on the shortest possible time to achieve the fastest speed with the racket touching the ball at the right moment and with the fastest swing

5. About blocking. The characteristics of the block are as follows:
• stance very close to the table
• ball often taken very early
• stroke movement very short
• good placement with lots of variety
• as fast as possible
• able to control the rally and put extra pressure on the opponent
• able to create opportunities for spin, drive or pivot attack

6. About how to absorb the power. In table tennis there occurs in most situations:
• using one’s own power
• absorbing the power of the in-coming ball which is the key to creating short-long ball variation
• absorbing the power requires at the moment of ball-racket contact a slight movement back (of the racket and /or softening of the wrist) and relaxing the body to absorb the power of the in-coming ball in order to get the effect of the drop-shot or ‘stop’ ball

7. About rotation in table tennis:
• Examine rotation of the hips, this is in the centre of gravity area of the body and of vital import in the control of the stroke production and also in the recovery
• There should also be rotation of the shoulders and the impetus of the striking shoulder is vital but there should not be over-rotation
• The prime objective, which should never be overlooked, is to recover facing the opponent and to be ready to play the next ball

8. About side-spin. Looking at the table tennis ball from the top:
• there is clockwise rotation for the left spin
• counter-clockwise rotation for the right spin
• it is important to bear in mind that rarely will there be pure spin on the ball. Topspin will often contain some sidespin etc

9. About pen-hold grip reverse-side strokes:
• The pen-hold grip player, having rubber on the reverse of the racket can serve, attack and loop with that side

10. About differences between spin and no-spin. The ball:
• over 20 revolutions per second is called a ‘spin ball’
• less than 20 revolutions per second is called a ‘no-spin ball’
• a backspin serve can have around 50-60 revolutions per second
• maximum revolutions with the big ball are 132.8 per second

11. About table tennis skills. Every table tennis skill development goes through 3 phases:
• The first phase is the general phase, with rough, badly formed action, accompanied by many unnecessary elements
• The second phase is the developmental phase, the movement is becoming gradually more economical, accurate and natural
• The third phase is the automation phase, the technical skill has been formed
So we have to learn these essentials through hard practice, step by step going through these three stages gradually, to finally develop a strong and effective skill.

B) Technical preparation

Technical preparation is probably the most critical element for achieving mastery in table tennis. It includes:
• specific coordination – the structure of specific movements both in time and space
• the quality of the table tennis strokes characterised by an amalgam of consistency, speed, spin, power and placement.
Technical quality is a fundamental for tactical areas such as:
• variety
• adaptability

Specific coordination is the main task in the initial table tennis training stage. To develop the right technical skills we need to follow the basic stroke principles such as:

1. Move naturally and economically:
• The movement in table tennis should be aligned to the requirements of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, psychology
• The movement of every stroke should be natural, rational, effective and economical, without unnecessary elements
• The movement should be specifically in tune with the style of the individual

2. Use your whole body when playing table tennis:
To achieve quality in the table tennis stroke requires skilful utilisation of the whole body. The role of different parts of the body in stroke movement are as follows:
• The trunk can initiate the swing, is important for power, but can’t create high speed, has low agility
• The arm has the main role in creating power in the stroke, is more agile than the trunk and can create high speed on the ball
• The forearm with its fast and agile movement can create high dynamic power and speed/spin on the ball
• The wrist is the most agile link, the smallest part and can create high acceleration. However it has only low power and over-utilisation of the wrist can easily cause injury

3. Organize your stroke in a ‘whip-like’ manner:
To achieve the maximum speed of the bat (in a perfect world) you have to use all parts of the body in sequence. Bio-mechanically the human body is a chain and to achieve the maximum speed of swing the stroke has to be ‘whip-like’:
• the bigger link should precede the smaller link (first legs and trunk, then shoulder, arm, forearm, wrist) in a co-ordinated sequence
• the movement should progress from the less agile part (trunk) to the most agile part (wrist)
• the movement should progress from the part ‘closest to the body’ to the part ‘furthest from the body’

4. Maintain balance between back-swing and follow-through:
• Every table tennis stroke includes basic ready position, back swing, forward swing, contact, follow-through, recovery
• It is important to create the necessary length of backswing to produce the required power of the stroke and to make the follow-through as short as necessary to maintain the balance of the stroke

5. Concentrate on ball-bat contact to ‘brush’ or to ‘hit’ the ball:
• The most important phase of the stroke is the bat-ball contact phase which lasts a fraction of second. The bat-ball contact can have different approach (spin or flat) phases, placement, duration of contact, angle of the bat, direction of power etc
• In practice almost every table tennis stroke is a combination of spin or flat hit
• For instance the flat (fast attack or block) strokes usually have some spin
• Also spin strokes have a flat stroke component
• Accordingly there is an emphasis on one or the other component

6. Choose the right ‘phase of ball-bat contact’ for the right stroke:
• The in-coming ball after bouncing on your side of the table goes through a phase where it rises, peaks then falls

Values of the rising, falling and highest phases:
• If you hit the ball in the rising phase you can shorten the length of ball trajectory (and increase the speed) and utilise the power of the in-coming ball
• If you hit the ball at the highest point you can use you own power
• If you hit the ball in the falling phase, when the ball has already lost its speed, spin and power you can increase the consistency of your stroke

According to your purpose and the kind of stroke you should be able to hit the ball in different phases. Not only should you should be able to hit the ball in different phases, but also according to your individual playing style master the skills close to the table (in fast attack), at medium distance (topspin attack) or at far distance (in defence). You should master the different phases but always bear in mind your predominant phase (the phase in which you primarily operate) which will depend on your individual style.

7. Strike the right part of the ball:
• Speed, spin and placement depend on which part of the ball is hit. For different results (speed, topspin, left-side-back-spin etc) you have to contact different parts of the ball. For example for fast attack you would hit the middle part of the ball in an upwards and forwards direction

8. Use the right type of stroke according to the nature of the in-coming ball:
During the bat-ball contact phase the relationship between the movement of the ball and movement of the body with the bat is especially important. There are three situations:
• Using the power – this occurs when the speed of the body-bat movement is faster than the speed of the in-coming ball for example ‘smash’, ‘loop’ or ‘powerful block’; these movements require necessary back-swing
• Utilising the power – this occurs when the speed of the body-bat movement is equal or slower than the speed of the in-coming ball for example ‘fast block’; these movements do not require back-swing but good timing and the right muscle tension
• Absorbing the power – this occurs when the speed of body-bat movement is slower and in the same direction as the speed of the in-coming ball, for example ‘passive block’, this movement requires good timing and muscle relaxation when hitting the ball

9. Control amount of power, direction, angle etc. according to the nature of the in-coming ball:
• The interaction between the opponent’s and one’s own stroke is very important. The ball trajectory depends on two main forces: (1) the force developed by the opponent (A) through his/her stroke and (2) the force developed by your own stroke (B). Both forces interact giving the resultant force C
• By understanding what was the force of the opponent’s stroke (and how the ball will behave after the bounce on your half of the table) and controlling your own stroke – the amount of power (back-swing, utilisation of the body etc), its direction (direction of used power, the angle of bat etc) you can control the resulting force C

10. The Basics:
• In learning table tennis many students focus on the movement of the racket, but at the same time ignore the basic ready position and footwork training. This has a very negative influence for further technical development, and leads to learning incorrect stroke habits. The basic ready position and footwork play a significant and leading role in table tennis, this is the most basic skill and a crucial part in preparing to hit any ball. Therefore, the table tennis beginners should do a lot of footwork training. A good basic ready position and good footwork enable the player to assume the proper hitting position and together with good stroke skills enable improvement of the quality of strokes and long-term technical development

11. The importance of the basic ready position and footwork:
• The basic ready position must be developed according to the idea of the player’s playing style and the specific basic playing position and body posture
• The body position should enable the athlete to hit the ball while maintaining the most reasonable position for the body. The basic ready position is the foundation for all table tennis techniques and it directly impacts on the development of all technical skills in table tennis, it is also an important factor in winning competitions
• The basic ready position enables the player to have good footwork, enables him/her to get into the best position for high quality strokes and enables rational coordination of the whole body - arm, waist, legs and other parts all combine to achieve the intended purpose
• Footwork includes the basic ready position, situation evaluation and reaction, the power of the legs, the economical transfer of the body weight with balance at all times and footwork methods
• But no matter what steps the player uses the footwork should be fast, accurate, practical and smooth in order to achieve the result of as high as possible quality of stroke-play

12. Let the player first observe, then think, then do:
• In technical training we need to be especially careful with the key components of every skill. There are many table tennis skills and they are very subtle
• In every technical skill the waist has an especially important function, for correct utilization of the waist is a key element in the coordination of every stroke, this enables fast footwork, increases the power of attacking and the spin of looping strokes
• For example, when learning movement of the forehand fast attack you need to learn using your waist first, so than you can assume the right position for the stroke
• After learning the twisting movement of the waist, we can start learning the proper stroke swing, first the position of the backswing using the arm, the forearm and the wrist, then starting the proper forward swing with arm and forearm, making sure that your arm is relaxed enough in the elbow area (beginners very often keep the elbow too stiff) and that the whole arm creates a 'whip-like-movement'
• To prevent the elbow stiffness problem, you need to make sure your fingers don't hold the racket too tightly and you don't use too much power and also make sure that in the backswing phase you forearm is stretched (helps with elastic energy)
• It is useful to learn the backswing and the forward swing as separate units. For example: Firstly do the imitation of forearm swing forward - from a relaxed and stretched forearm do accelerated and relatively short swing forward exercise with forearm. Make sure that your swing is relaxed. On the basis of that do the next step of the exercise imitating the forward swing with arm and forearm together. Make sure that the exercise is done strongly. Finally do the full stroke imitation – backswing and forward swing together

C) Understanding Technical Quality

There are five elements of technical quality: consistency, speed, spin, power and accuracy. The more of these elements you have in your stroke, the more difficult it will be to return and the higher quality stroke it will be. In every technical quality training exercise you can focus on the development of some aspect of technical quality separately or on some combinations. According to your individual style you can emphasise speed and placement (fast attack), spin and power (topspin attack), spin and consistency (chopping). Make sure that your main, ‘winning’ stroke(s) have the highest quality

1. Consistency:
Consistency is the ability to Influence the ball in such a way that you have control over the ball trajectory after your stroke to ‘keep the ball on the table’. It is extremely important in table tennis since every stroke can win or lose a point. However you should avoid practising consistency separately. You should always practise consistency considering other elements of technical quality- e.g. speed, spin, power or accuracy

2. How to develop consistency in your strokes?
To achieve a high level of consistency in your strokes you need:
• correct assessment of the in-coming ball -- long or short, high or low, topspin, back spin, side spin or no spin etc
• control which part of the ball you hit -- middle, middle top, middle low etc
• control the direction of power of your stroke -- forward, forward up, forward down etc
• control the amount of power in your stroke -- weak, powerful etc
• control the angle of your bat when hitting the ball -- ‘open’, ‘closed’ etc
• control the spin in your stroke

3. How to increase the consistency of your attacking strokes?
• If the ball is short and high hit the middle top part the ball; use your power in a forward downward or downward forward direction
• If the ball is long and high hit the middle top part of the ball; use the power in a forward (sometimes forward and a bit downward) direction or play the ball with a bit of topspin
• If the ball is short and low hit the middle (sometimes middle and top) part of the ball; use the power in an upward and forward direction; use weak power to shorten and heighten the ball trajectory or use a bit of topspin on the ball
• If the ball is long and low hit the middle (middle top) part of the ball; use the power in a forward and upward direction and use more power to lengthen the ball trajectory
• If the ball is a strong topspin create a low and short ball trajectory; hit the middle top (or even top) part of the ball; use your power in a forward or forward and downward direction; the more the spin on the in-coming ball use accordingly a more closed angle and less power so the ball won’t go off the table
• If the ball is a strong backspin create a high and a long ball trajectory; hit the middle or middle lower part of the ball. Use your power in a forward and upward direction; the more spin there is on the in-coming ball the more power you will need to use so the ball isn’t drawn down into the net

4. How to increase the consistency of your push and chopping strokes?
• If the ball is short and high brush the middle (middle and low) part of the ball and use the power in a downward and forward direction
• If the ball is long and high create a low ball trajectory; hit the middle and lower part of the ball and use the power in a forward and downward direction so the ball doesn’t fly off the table
• If the ball is long and low create a long and high ball trajectory; brush the middle low or almost the lowest part of the ball; use the power in a forward direction
• If the ball is short and low create a high and short ball trajectory by brushing the lower part of the ball and use the power in a forward direction. Use the amount of power carefully to slow down the speed of the ball
• If the ball is a strong topspin create a low and short ball trajectory. Use a very small ‘open’ angle of the bat and brush the middle or the middle and lower part of the ball using the power in a downward direction. Use more power if required (the more topspin, the more powerful the chop should be)
• It the ball is a strong backspin create a long and high ball trajectory, brushing the ball with an ‘open’ bat angle. Brush almost the bottom part of the ball and use the power in a forward direction

In table tennis every stroke can result in winning or losing the point, so consistency of the stroke is extremely important. You should avoid however practising consistency separately, but do this together with speed, spin, power or placement.

5. Speed:
Speed is another very important aspect of the technical quality of table tennis.
• The faster your stroke the less time your opponent will have to prepare a counter. A faster topspin will be (generally) more dangerous to your opponent than a slow topspin. If your strokes are faster than your opponent’s, you will have a better chance to gain and maintain the initiative and you will have more opportunities to attack
• Find the best relationship between the speed and consistency of your strokes

6. How to increase the speed of your strokes?
• Stay close to the table so that you can hit the ball early, shortening and lowering the ball trajectory
• According to the power of the in-coming ball make your swing shorter and utilise the power of the coming ball. Use the ‘small power’ of your forearm and wrist
• With the same length of the ball trajectory, hit the ball harder (use more power) to shorten the time of the ball trajectory
• Increase the ‘hitting component’ of your stroke and decrease the ‘friction component’ of your stroke
• In your physical preparation emphasise the development of speed (reaction time, playing arm, footwork etc.) agility and coordination. The faster your swing and the bat movement, the faster the speed (or spin) on the ball
• In your whole technical-tactical, physical and mental training develop anticipation ability and adaptive intelligence when playing table tennis

7. Spin:
• Spinning the ball is the next important method to create difficulty for your opponent. The more spin you can produce in your service, push, chop or topspin, the more difficult your strokes will be to return and the better chance you will have to create spin variety
• Most table tennis strokes have spin. For example a loop can have around 130 revolutions per second, chop around 105, push 50, fast attack 30 etc
• If you hit the ball with an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ angle of the bat you will create spin. The force of the stroke can be divided into two components: -- hitting - causing movement of the ball forward; and --friction - causing spinning of the ball. The amount of spin depends on the friction component of your stroke and the spin on the in-coming ball
• When producing the spin we can have two situations: -- reversing the spin- e.g. looping the loop or pushing the push – or adding to the spin- e.g. .looping the backspin ball or chopping the topspin
• In case of adding to the spin, the direction of spin of the in-coming and returning ball is the same. In case of reversing the spin, the direction of spin of the in-coming and out-going ball is opposite. You can add spin only if the friction component of your stroke is more than the in-coming spin level. If the in-coming chop has spin of 30 revolutions per second and your topspin is equal to 30 revolutions per second or less the ball won’t have extra spin
• In the case of reversing spin you can return a similar ball with a different spin. If the in-coming ball has backspin and your stroke achieves more revolutions than the incoming spin, you will return the ball with backspin. If your spin is equal to the in-coming spin, you will return a no-spin ball. But if your spin is less than the in-coming spin, you will return a topspin ball. If the in-coming ball is topspin and your spin exceeds the in-coming spin, then your return will be also topspin. If you create less than the in-coming spin, then your return will be backspin
• If you understand and apply these principles in the game you can create more consistent strokes but also a variety of spins in your game and you will know why some counter-topspins fall into the net and some others fly off the table

8. How to increase the spin in your strokes?
• Brush the ball with the maximal ‘friction component’ and minimum ‘hitting component’ of your strokes and as far from the centre of the ball’s mass as possible. Brush the ball with a ‘closed angle’ (topspin) or ‘open angle’ (back spin) etc
• Increase the power of your stroke and/or the speed of the bat during the moment of bat to ball contact to increase the ‘friction component’ of your stroke
• Use rubbers that produce extra spin (smooth pimples-in rubbers).
• To increase the spin of your stroke, especially the spin of your service, contact the ball on the furthest part of your bat
• To increase the spin of your stroke -- push, chop or topspin, brush the ball with an inward curving swing

9. How to increase the power of your strokes?
• With fast and accurate footwork you take the optimal position for a powerful stroke. In other words you come to the ball quicker and are better placed to play a strong shot. This position should enable you to utilise your whole body (legs, hips, trunk, arms etc.) to produce the complete whip-like movement. The distance between your playing shoulder and the ball at the moment of bat to ball contact should be as far as possible. (In women’s play strokes are often shorter thus creating less pressure on the back. Most women also play closer to the table use the ‘total’ body less and develop less power than the men.)
• Before you play the stroke stretch the muscles so they can contract faster and your stroke can be more powerful (elastic energy)
• To achieve full power in your stroke find the right angle between the trunk, arm and shoulder. When you are playing forehand strokes hit the ball in front of the right side of the body (right-hander). When you are playing backhand strokes hit the ball in front of the left side of body (if you are right-handed)
• To produce the maximum power in your stroke, your bat should be at its fastest at the moment of bat-ball contact. To ensure that your stroke movement is ‘whip-like’- the legs should lead the hips, hips should lead the trunk, the trunk should lead the arm, the arm should lead the forearm and the forearm should lead the wrist. In the case of weaker strokes the movement can be shorter and the centre of gravity can shift only a little. To produce the maximum power in your stroke make sure that the accelerative phase of the swing is long enough
• After the stroke relax your muscles immediately and returned quickly to the basic ready position so you are prepared for the next stroke. To be ready for the following stroke make sure that the follow-through phase is not too long (as short as possible without losing balance)
• In your physical preparation emphasise the development of coordination of whole body movements and dynamic power

10. How to increase your ability to control the placement of the ball?
• Every time you play table tennis, in every table tennis technical and tactical exercise be aware of where you are placing the ball. Develop precise placement of your every stroke, increase the difference between long and short balls, between the ball played to wide backhand and the ball played to wide forehand
• If you practise ‘one to one’ exercises be accurate in hitting the ball to a set spot. For example if you practise cross court (backhand or forehand) master sending the ball long but also to a very wide angle
• If you practise ‘one on two’ exercises (set routine or random), work on widening the distance between ‘down-the-line’ and ‘cross-court’ strokes
• If you practise ‘two on one’ you have a great opportunity to practise the ability to control the placement together with footwork.
• If you practise ‘two on two’ exercises (set routine or random, left and right, short and long etc.), work at widening the distance between the short and along ball, the wide to backhand and wide to forehand balls. This is an excellent opportunity to develop your ability to control the placement and the ability to control variety of placement and at the same time improve your footwork flexibility and agility for you and your playing partner

11. Creating individual playing styles:
Creating the individual playing style of the table tennis player starts from learning the grip, therefore the scientific selection and determination of the individual playing style is not only the first problem to be solved in initial training, but is also intimately related to the athlete’s future technical development and improvement.
The scientific selection and determination of playing style should consider the following factors and constraints:
• The athlete’s individual characteristics, personal interests, personality and body type, temperament etc table tennis developmental factors, the technical characteristics of various styles of play, trends in development, the proportion of some aspects over others. One of these aspects is the selection of the right playing equipment
• The experience of long-term development of many elite athletes shows that selection and determination of playing style is the result of all the above mentioned various factors, of which the athlete is the main component. Personal interest seems to be the most important factor
• To achieve the highest possible level in table tennis, it is especially important to do a good job in the initial training stages, to design good long-term development plans with ambitious goals and to strive to find future talented professionals. Also it is important to have in mind the requirements of the next stages, the quality and quantity, and making sure that the highest standards are met etc

12. Specific fitness training
• According to Chinese studies about specific fitness for table tennis this is mainly based on aerobic metabolism with moderate intensity in table tennis specific training and the order of importance of physical qualities is: agility, speed, and power
• In table tennis endurance training should also be combined with agility, speed and power training