5 Steps to Developing Players

Rowden Fullen (2003)

1. Sparring — Why do you train?

You train as preparation for competition therefore sparring is of vital importance. However the strength and intensity of sparring is important and it’s vital too that you have opposition at a variety of levels. Many players seem to think for example that you can only improve by training with much higher level sparring than yourself. If you always play only against much better performers than yourself, how do you ever learn to impose your game on others and to develop your own tactical ploys? The better player is always in control! You need in fact to practise at three levels.

  • With players better than yourself to learn new things and to upgrade your skills.
  • With players of similar standard to work out new tactics and to try to control the play.
  • With players of lesser ability where you can control the game and have more opportunities to use your more powerful strokes.

2. Group interaction

The importance of being in a good group with a variety of playing styles cannot be over-emphasized — this creates the ‘right’ training environment where all the players are ready to work for the others and to contribute to the group development. It is so vital for coaches to ensure that their players, right from the formative years, have the opportunity to train and to play against all styles of play and combinations of material. In this way the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that players have to work so hard to build up, cover a much larger series of actions and it is rather easier for them to adapt to new situations as they develop and progress to higher levels. In other words the content and method of training assume rather more importance than we may have initially thought, especially in the formative years. If players are to reach top level and realize their full potential it is vital that they are taught to build up a high adaptive capability in the early years.

3. Individual emphasis

Players who have good potential need individual attention. Several aspects of coaching, consciousness, tactics, the mental side, serve and receive, style development etc. are developed much more readily when tackled on a one to one basis. The coach is also able to feel for himself the strengths and weaknesses of the player and to understand in which areas training should be focussed.

4. Direction

Coaches must appreciate that each player is an individual and different and should be directed towards his or her own individual style of play and towards his or her strengths. And even after we have stressed the importance of basics, we should perhaps emphasize even more that none of us can ever be dogmatic about technique. It is not how the player plays the stroke that is vital but whether he or she observes the underlying principles and whether it is effective! There is absolutely no use in having a stroke that looks nice, is technically perfect, but has no effect.

Bear in mind too the concept of the player having his or her own idiosyncrasies, the idea of individual techniques but within the underlying principles is vital if the player is to cultivate his or her own personal style of play. Six players executing a forehand topspin will do so in six differing ways, with varied pace, varied spin, varied placement, a little element of sidespin etc. None of these is ‘wrong’. What we are looking at here is the concept of individual ‘flair’, but within the underlying principles, the critical features of the stroke.

What the coach should be looking at also is how such unique characteristics can be turned to advantage. Does the player have a ‘specialty’, something a little different which causes problems to opponents — or are there aspects of his or her game which can be accentuated to fashion such a specialty.

Another aspect that many players and coaches do not seem to appreciate is that development must be in the right direction for the particular player and that the right training must be devised to enable that player to evolve and mature. Indeed it is the prime function of the coach to unlock the potential of his player. Direction is vital, if the player follows the wrong course for him or her then much of that potential can remain untapped.

5. Growth

The coach must never neglect the importance of growth. A continuous honing of skills and setting new goals, learning new tactics etc. is necessary if the player is to continue to progress. Often coaches take players up to a certain ‘plateau’ then the development stops and levels out. Growth must continue throughout the player’s career, at no time should it be allowed to come to a stop. There must always be progression, without this there can only be stagnation.

If you are to aim for the top levels it is critical that there is mental growth too and that you start to analyse your performance and what is happening when you compete and train. This should become a regular part of your development and become a habit. What often distinguishes the elite from the ordinary athlete is the ability to make mental assessments more or less automatically. Any mental programme should be systematic and goal-oriented and it should indeed be on-going and continuous and progressive. This doesn’t mean that you need extra time to train, the mental side should indeed be integrated into and become an integral part of your everyday normal training.

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