Table Tennis of Tomorrow Part 2

Rowden May 2014

It is up to the coaches to design playing styles and to study the finer elements of the techniques and tactics of the game at the higher levels and we must continually be alert to new possibilities and different things which can benefit our players. Coaches must at all times look to be involved in the future evolution of our game and even more than the players be ready to be innovative and creative. With this approach they can improve the quality of play and be open to ways of enriching their players’ game. The pursuit of excellence becomes a way of life and is crucial to the future of our sport and its growth.

We have already looked at the 2 prime elements or our sport, speed and change. In the study and development of players and playing styles coaches must also be aware of the 3 supporting elements, which provide the methods to win points or control the game: these are power, spin and trajectory. It is also vital that coaches understand the science behind these elements as this knowledge will be specifically relevant at the higher levels of involvement with world class players.

Power can be used in basically 4 distinct forms and ways.
• 90% use, when smashing for example. There is no need to use 100% as this would involve more body action, with the danger of slower recovery or loss of balance.
• 55 – 70% medium usage, as in drive play or topspin. This is more difficult than it appears as many players find it harder to limit their power, but it has the advantage of maintaining a consistent pressure on the opponent, while manoeuvering for opportunities to finish the point.
• Utilising the opponent’s force, by feeding in 30 to 40% of your own power in order to get 60 –75% effect. This harnessing of opposing force can be a safer way to be aggressive, especially for players whose comfort zone is closer to the table.
• Absorbing the opponent’s power by playing a softer or shorter return.

Spin has over the history of table tennis, had a tendency to continually increase. However there have been limiting factors and will be more. For example the Chinese National Team researched the maximum spin rotation of the 38 and 40mm balls in 1999 – 2000. Their findings were that the maximum revolutions per second diminished from 150ps to 132.8 and that the larger ball lost considerable spin through the air. This meant that top players had to come in and stay closer to the table to be effective. When the plastic ball is introduced further reductions in spin will occur. Also the banning of speed glue resulted in further loss of spin and the need for more physical input from players (which initially resulted in a number of injuries).

Spin can of course give us an advantage against and cause problems for opponents; it also adds stability to our own game and gives us more control in the rallies. Without the topspin intention for example players would strive for faster and flatter drives (which some players would in fact be better advised to do). 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; topspin should not necessarily be regarded only as a point-winner, but rather as another weapon in your arsenal, another tool to create openings.

The combination of speed with spin was almost certainly the way table tennis would have evolved in the next few years, had it not been decided to limit the amount of spin by changing the ball and banning the use of speed glues. What will occur next will be up to the ingenuity of coaches worldwide and what happens with bats and material coverings in the near future.

Trajectory or the flight of the ball is also of vital importance. With a proper trajectory the consistency, accuracy and the percentage of shots on table are confirmed. Trajectory together with spin provides means for controlling the rally until you are in a position to change something, get an advantage and win the point.

The 5 elements are not isolated items but interlinked and will affect the development of our players. Each player must understand how he/she plays best and the importance of each element within the individual style development. According to studies of world-class players, to achieve real success it is necessary to be good at 3 of the 5. Otherwise it is unlikely performers will succeed at the highest levels. Coaches must not only be aware of the scientific background and technical/tactical requirements to produce top players, but also alert to the need for their own flexibility in thought and attitude.

Unfortunately many coaching systems throughout Europe are too rigid in their application, certainly in the initial stages and result in coaches being inflexible in their handling and development of young players. Sadly too many coaches never get past this stage in their own development, they keep working ‘by the book’ and their attitudes remain unchanged as they proceed up the coaching ladder. As Mario Amizic, one of the most respected coaches in the world, has stated; ‘We have lost our way, we are not adapting to new trends and our model is no longer up-to-date. The older coaches in Europe will tell you we are not educating our coaches and trainers properly or indeed in the right way.’
If we are to produce top 10 world-ranked players in Europe again, we need a total rethink on the coaching front.

Coaches need to be able to ‘think outside the box’ and to be creative and innovative, they need to constantly be looking for new things or they will stagnate. For example who invented/discovered the reverse penhold backhand now used by many top Asian players? Not a top player but an older coach working in the Provincial Centre in Harbin.

Above all however coaches must treat players as individuals and the relationship must be a two way process. Each player is unique and individual and if the coach forces players into a pattern of his/her own choosing, they are unlikely ever to find real success, in fact their own personal qualities are suppressed. Only by getting players to ‘buy in’ to their own development and to fully understand how they perform, can we achieve world-class results, because only in this way is the full range of their talents allowed to grow, blossom and to come to full fruition.