Just how Should Women Play?

Rowden Fullen (2001)

How many times has Sweden been to World Championships finals in Women’s singles? Never!

How many times to Worlds final in Women’s Team? Never!

When did Sweden first play Worlds women’s team? 1947.

How many times has Sweden won Europeans Women’s singles? M. Svensson 1994

Silver A.C.Hellman. 1974

How many World Championship gold has Sweden won? 14

Country M Team W Team M S M D M D W D TOTAL
Sweden 5 4 5 14
Britain 1 2 6 1 0.5 4.5 15

In addition Britain have been in 4 singles finals for women over the years.

You may say that this is all very well, but that the last British woman to play in a world final was back in 1957 (Ann. Haydon). However we must also consider that the last European to win the Worlds was the legendary A. Roseanu in Utrecht, 1955. Since then we have had total Asian domination. Only 4 European players since Haydon have reached a World Singles final, 1961 E. Koczian (Hun), 1963 M. Alexandru (Rom), 1969 G. Geissler (Ger) and 1973 A. Grofova (Czech). None won!

Sweden develop good women players up to a level, Marita Carlsson (Neidert, Swedish Closed winner 8 times) July 1961 in the final of Junior Europeans lost to Zoya Rudnova (who also won doubles and team) the outstanding Russian penhold player, who played in the last European team to win the women’s team championships, in Munich 1969.

In 1999 Linda Nordenberg lost in the semi-finals of the Junior E.C. to the Austrian girl Liu Jia in three sets — not that big a difference in levels. Now two years later Liu Jia has been as high as 14 in the world rankings in women, she has continued to progress and with the right training and development her level keeps going up and up! Swedish girls do not seem to have access to the right type of guidance at top level!

The prime skill of table tennis is to be able to adapt in an ever changing situation. Training is repetition in the right environment and with the right attitude.

To be a top player your development must be in the right direction.

TIMING and the understanding of timing is the major problem when coaching girls. They fail to understand that to hit hard when the ball is below table height is impossible without topspin! If they only want to hit or counter then ‘peak’ (or 2 – 3 centimetres before) is not just nice to use it’s an absolute necessity.

1) Physical chains

To get to the top you first need to get rid of the physical chains which hold you back, until you unlock them you are going nowhere. Aspects for example such as –

  • Problems with basics.
  • Poor technique.
  • Inadequate movement patterns.
  • Little understanding of materials.
  • Poor tactics against certain styles of play.

2) Mental chains

Many girls in Sweden also have mental chains which limit their development. Chains such as

  • Rigidity of play, rather than flexible and adaptable.
  • Rigidity of thought, not prepared to consider new ideas, new methods.
  • The understanding that development means change! To play the same means stagnation — you don’t move forward. Becoming bigger and stronger and hitting the ball harder and moving faster is not development.
  • The understanding of how to play the women’s game. Aspects such as;
    • Control of speed.
    • Opening.
    • Converting.
    • Short play.
    • Serve and receive.
    • Variation.
    • Use of table.
    • Equipment.
    • Stronger BH.
    • Positive attitude.
    • Winning weapon.
    • Not being afraid to be different.

3) Understanding own style

Each individual is unique and should develop their own unique style and do what they ‘do best’. It’s of vital importance that players –

  • Understand their own style.
  • Know their best playing distance from the table.
  • Are aware of their backhand and forehand split.
  • Have movement patterns appropriate to their style.
  • Know what is effective for them and how and where they win points.
  • Train in the right way to accentuate the growth of their own personal style.

4) Advanced techniques

It is of particular importance that in Europe women have access to the advanced techniques of the world’s best women players, such as –

  • Short play.
  • Use of angles.
  • Change of speed.
  • Killing through loop.
  • Slow loop (short and long).
  • Sidespin loop.
  • Dummy loop.
  • Early ball topspin.
  • Early ball push.
  • Early ball smash.
  • Various chop and stop-blocks.
  • Sidespin push/block.
  • Late timed push/block/flick strokes and their application.
  • Short drop balls (against defenders).
  • Loop and drive play (alternating).
  • Loop and block play (alternating).
  • Block play (especially on the forehand side).

Women should of course also be aware of how these techniques should be carried out and of the finer points of execution (whether the wrist should be used and when, exact timing to get the best results etc).

Many trainers in Europe at the moment seem to be of the opinion that the girls are getting nearer the boys and playing a more similar game. However more often than not this is talked about in general terms and we seem to get very little detailed information. If you in fact go to the ‘experts’ on girls’ training, the top European coaches who have players winning individual and team events in the European Junior Championships and ask them why girls can’t be successful playing strong topspin like the boys, the answer is quick and to the point — strength, speed and balance, (especially under pressure). To these I would add one more quality, the ability to understand technical matters fully and quickly and to translate these readily into physical actions. Many girls do not easily grasp mechanical and practical aspects and need much guidance on technique, much more than boys.

If you also go to the other ‘experts’, the small group of women in Europe who are ranked in the top dozen in the world and ask them how often they train with men, you also get a pointed answer — ‘ Men, only if I have to, the one or two times I’ve had to train with men, my results against women have gone down quickly.’

On a purely practical level if you ask the best junior girls to loop for loop against the best boys, or the top table elite women against the bottom table elite men, just what percentage of the points do you think the female of the species is going to win? And to take practicalities a stage further when girls play against girls and one topspins just how is the ball returned? With topspin all the time? Very rarely in fact. Rather with flat counter, blocking of one kind or another, defence or with some combination of material. There would therefore appear to be little or no logical reason for girls to train against topspin. Playing men is largely a matter of coping with spin, playing women of coping with speed.

Over the last 15 – 20 years in Europe we have had some very strong, athletic women topspin players. None of them have succeeded in winning the worlds or have ever been in the number one ranking spot. I also hear the argument that because our women in Europe are much bigger, they are too slow to compete in terms of speed with the smaller Asian girls and must play power from further back to create more time! Since when did big mean slow! I thought the American football stars and the New Zealand rugby players had demolished that theory when they produced guys of 120 kilos who could run the 100 metres in 10.1 or 10.2 seconds. Do we really think that now playing with the big ball which takes less spin, the predictable fast, hard topspin game is suddenly going to come into its own and topple the Asian players?

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