Teaching Table Tennis

Rowden Fullen (2000)

Table tennis is a fascinating sport and because of the combinations of spin, speed and deception, one if not the most difficult of all ball-sports to learn. Many people working in the medical profession consider table tennis to be one of the best sports for the development not only of bodily reflexes and coordination but also for the brain, because it requires such a variety of decisions in such a short time.

Like many other things in life the human organism absorbs table tennis and its principles, theories and requirements rather better at a younger age and the establishing of a sound base at a young age cannot be over-emphasized.

The prime skill of table tennis is to be able to adapt to an ever changing situation at speed. Unfortunately the way we train is often significant in reducing our chances of achieving this ideal. As a result of repetition our strokes become ‘grooved’ and automatic. We train so we don’t need to think about what we are doing — so that we can react instinctively, in effect play on autopilot. So once we are in this position of playing completely automatically just how are we supposed to handle an unusual situation or to react to something new and different, much less being actually able to cope with and adapt to new aspects? For once you introduce the conscious, thinking process into an automated response you destroy its effectiveness.

This is why it’s so vital for coaches to ensure that their players, right from the formative years, have the opportunity to train and play against all styles of play and combinations of material. In this way the ‘automatic’ reflexes, the conditioned responses, that the player has to work so hard to build up, cover a much larger series of actions and it’s rather easier for him or her to adapt to new situations. In other words the content and method of training assume rather more importance than we may have initially thought, especially in the formative years.

Equally it is important that we teach the ‘whole package’ in the formative period. Many coaches and trainers have the idea that certain aspects are better left till some undefined time in the future. However when the future comes it is that much harder to integrate the new aspects into the player’s game. Once you allow the style to become ‘set’ then it becomes difficult to introduce new techniques.

This does not of course mean that players should not be introducing new aspects into their own game, they should. Indeed unless their game continues to change they will not develop, rather they will stagnate. At whatever level you play each and every one of you will only progress, if you are prepared to accept in your own mind that change is necessary to develop. Each of you must monitor your own progress and question what is happening with your game. Ask yourself — ‘How has my game changed over the last 6 months or one year? Are my strokes changing, different timing, sidespin and slower balls, change of speed? Am I considering the possibility of different equipment, faster, slower blades or rubbers or pimples? Am I happy with the way I play, my own style, am I developing new tactics? Have I problems with certain types of player? What am I doing about these?’ In the final analysis, although others may point the way, you should bear the responsibility for your own fate. Always have an open mind, ready to listen and to question. Perhaps it is true to say — the greatest danger is in absolute certainty. Certainty is the enemy of progress, we stop thinking and further progress is not possible because our mind is closed to other possibilities.

Each player is a unique individual, with differing strengths, reactions and skills — you cannot force him or her into a style of your own choosing. Rather you must help him or her to develop and flower in his or her own way. In the areas of technique, tactics and physical exercises the coach can lead, in mental areas and in the choosing of a style, with which he or she feels comfortable, the player should have a large say. Only the player knows what risks he or she wants to take, whether he or she is more at ease playing close or back, fast or slow, spin or drive. A player’s style should always be based on and directed towards his or her greatest strengths and always he or she should bear in mind that style is a living, growing organism, developing all the time however slowly. The only alternative to progress is stagnation!

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