Professional Training

Rowden Fullen (2010)

Professional training is just that – professional and not just part of the time but all of the time. The main difference is the mindset and there are three prerequisites:
• The player has to be mature or prepared to try and be mature
• The player has to be really motivated and to want to get to the top and be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices including moving towards the right kind of life style
• The player has to be prepared to make a major effort and to start thinking for him/herself and to be ready to develop this aspect. No top player is ever going to reach the heights and still be coach ‘reliant’

Once the training starts other factors come into play. The training itself (and this is where many European countries fall down) has to encompass the following aspects:
• It has to be enough in terms of length of time (usually we are talking around a minimum of 25 hours per week)
• It has to be intense enough. No player develops unless the training stretches his/her boundaries all the time
• It has to be individually meaningful. In other words the training has to be aimed specifically at what the player needs to do in order to progress
• It has to embrace both the necessary physical and mental requirements applicable to the particular player’s specific style
• It has to cover a suitable balance of the necessary contributions needed for the player’s total development – training, tournaments of differing types, rest etc
• Over the period of training there has to be a shift from coach responsibility to player responsibility. In other words the player has to take the step of assuming an increasingly larger part of the responsibility for his/her own development
• No development of this complexity can by its very nature be solely sports-oriented. Rather than the moulding of a sporting star we are talking about the expansion and development of the whole person.

In most countries in Europe unfortunately professional training is not engineered precisely enough. Usually the required intensity is lacking and almost always the individual emphasis is non-existent and much of the training is in fact not geared towards what the player needs. Most of the top coaches in Europe are more than a little concerned with the direction and quality of our coaching and three main areas are highlighted:
• The general decrease in the levels of expertise and coaching knowledge
• An increased emphasis on achievement for the young (sometimes the very young) at the expense of senior development and preparation for the senior game
• A growing lack of good coaches in the women’s game and in the overall knowledge of what is required to bring women up to the highest levels

A further comment which has been made in some Table Tennis Magazines in Europe is the lack of ‘substance’ among the top coaches, that they ‘talk’ good coaching but seem unable to produce the goods in terms of results with their players. The consequence is that even a number of the top young players are losing confidence in the ability of their associations to help them achieve the higher levels they aspire to.

I quote from an article in a recent magazine published in one of the top table tennis nations in Europe – ‘How do top juniors have any chance to develop their own game under any form of sensible and understanding leadership? They are expected to follow blindly the trainers’ directives and carry out numerous ‘exercises’ which may or may not suit their playing style. Some years ago the older World Champions in Europe had to develop their own game without the advantages of such detailed exercises and constant direction. This of course is something the current coaches never mention. Top youngsters are heartily fed up with hearing ‘coach speak’ such as ‘I will teach you all about table tennis’ or ‘We have everything you need to get you to the top in Europe’. Blatantly many coaches in the association are unable to produce the results they are paid for and this is quickly obvious to the players’.

In many cases coaches nowadays seem largely deficient in the areas of technical preparation and in understanding technical quality. How many coaches work on the principle that the basic ready position and movement patterns must accord even in the early stages to the performer’s playing style? The basic ready position and footwork play a significant and leading role in table tennis; these are the most basic skills and a crucial part in preparing to hit any ball. And what about the waist? In every technical skill the waist has an especially important function, for correct utilization of the waist is a key element in the coordination of every stroke, this enables fast footwork, increases the power of attacking and the spin in the topspin strokes.

What too about the five elements of technical quality: consistency, speed, spin, power and accuracy? The more of these elements you have in your stroke, the more difficult it will be to return and the higher the quality of the stroke. According to your purpose and the kind of stroke you should be able to hit the ball in different phases also. Independent of your individual style you should master play from differing distances but always bear in mind your predominant distance (the area in which you primarily operate). I could go on at some depth about timing, the flat and brush strokes, contact on differing parts of the ball and racket etc.

What appears to be happening now is that we are in the business of producing ‘clones’ rather than trying to develop a variety of top players. And sadly in many cases we have stopped listening to the players.

Perhaps more coaches should reconsider their own image and what they are trying to achieve. At all times it is the player who should be ‘in focus’. If the coach considers himself in charge and of importance then a certain amount of his energy is directed into maintaining his position and feeding his ego. Therefore not all of his energy is centred only on the player and in giving the player the best of all possible opportunities to reach his/her full potential. In this case it is the coach who is no longer professional.

Many careers nowadays unfortunately are about putting work before anything else. Then if the motivation is about achievement, what matters most are promotion, salary and the annual appraisal. It is the ‘me’ who is in focus. Are we serving the wrong things? If people work as a team, not for themselves but for each other, how much more can be achieved! And then in fact believe it or not, the results would flow!

In the final analysis the coach’s job is to make the player self-reliant and independent so that he/she, the coach, is no longer needed.