Motivation or Methods

Rowden 2011

Many countries and Associations in Europe have the desire and motivation to produce world class players, sadly a good proportion just don’t have the right systems in place or the methods to realise their ambitions. Just what do we mean by this?

First there has to be the understanding of what is required to actually reach top level. Far too often there is the emphasis on large groups of young players of similar experience levels, styles and abilities who are expected to train together and somehow magically improve to reach the top 30 or so in the world! This of course will never happen. Why not? Quite simply because the right ingredients are not in place. Far too often players in Europe reach between 100 to 300 on the world ranking but never get any higher.

Above all we need to develop winners, players who know how to play table tennis at a high level. Too often in training sessions we spend an inordinate amount of time in developing ‘nice to look at’ flowing strokes. But what happens when these players play games? They never get the chance to use their flowing strokes because they can’t get past the serve/receive and short game scenario. To get players to higher levels we need to train in the right areas from the early days.

We don’t only need to examine the top players of today and look at what they do and how they play, we need to forecast how the game will develop and progress and to innovate for the future. Many of the ‘signs’ showing what will happen in the future are already visible today if only we look hard enough.

For example serve/receive and effective short play are more and more important at top level and must be introduced in the early stages of the player’s career. Equally the first 5 or 6 balls must be worked on in the developing phases at the time when the young player is most receptive. Many players also have little understanding of the efficient use of power and of the value of the differing responses.

There are too, signs in the movement patterns being used at top level (especially with the women) that the game will become more symmetrical and that the stance will remain more central. Economy in movement will be crucial, in and out movement with balance vital and it will be more and more important to sustain offensive play at a level to keep the opponent off balance, until the player can win the point.

Most important of all however are the methods of and approach to training. Table tennis is a game of adaptation and from the earliest age we should be looking not only to develop the ‘whole’ player, but to help adaptive intelligence to grow and flower and to cultivate the ability to assess the quality of each ball. This should be done throughout training both during exercises and also with multi-ball.

To develop the whole player is vital from the start. This means technical, physical and mental strengths growing together. Too often we train players to win cadet and mini-cadet events and forget the bigger picture. All players should be guided towards the senior game, this is the end product! We don’t have time to backtrack with junior players to prepare them for play at senior level.

To cultivate adaptive intelligence and quality assessment we need to work with exercises and multi-ball, which offer multiple choices. Players must be able to recognise the quality of the incoming ball and make a value judgment as to the most efficient response. This kind of ‘situational’ training should form the major part of the young player’s development and should be brought in right from the first 5/6 balls. In addition all players should train against variety, topspin, backspin, drive players, plus lefthanders and pimpled players.

The ultimate aim of course with all players is that they fully understand themselves how they should play to be most effective. Many players unfortunately go through their whole playing career without ever realising this. If we are to produce players to match the Asians there has to be a much greater emphasis on individual development throughout Europe and of course there has to be time to train and to practise.

Far too often the competition calendar is so intense that the players have no time to develop and to understand how they should play! The job of the coach is to guide the player towards this understanding and to appreciate himself that there are areas, where it is the player who must decide whether he/she feels comfortable playing in a certain way or not. It is not always up to the coach to dictate.