Life after Technique

Rowden 2011

What comes after technique and why is technique important? Let’s first look at what technique does.

Technique:
1. Provides you with the weapons to play the game you want to play and to do this to the best of your potential.
2. Is the crucial base for tactical development and for the refining of your individual style.

Many coaches unfortunately focus on technique to the exclusion of almost everything else and fail to understand fully where this leads and to understand the basic relevance of technique in the context of the development of their individual player.

Techniques are fundamental to the development of tactics. But these must be the right techniques for you the player and for your game so that you are able fully to implement the winning tactics which complement your way of playing. In other words you must not only have the right weapons, but you must be able to use these effectively and they must be the ones best suited to you, your character and your individual style.

This of course brings us to a further crucial point which coaches fail to fully appreciate and it is this: technique does not in fact predate tactics and style development. There are many aspects in the early stages of a player’s growth which are pivotal to just what he/she will achieve and also determine how far he/she will go. This means that early techniques must be refined in the light of the player’s end-style and the tactics he/she will then use in the future. This of course means that coaches should even from the earliest stages work with the ‘whole package’ and not treat technique in isolation.

What must be identified early on is how the young pupil will play as an experienced performer. The clues will for example be in the character, in the mental and physical strengths, in the grip, the ready position, the mobility and the movement patterns and the ability to play ‘body accented’ strokes. What the coach must of course fully understand is which techniques are appropriate to the player’s end-style and which will be most relevant to the tactics he/she will usually execute in the future.

Selecting and refining the appropriate weapons to suit the player’s end-style is very akin to the physical trainer’s job. If you ask the top experts on the physical side to devise a detailed training programme for your player their immediate response will be: ‘I can’t do that, because I don’t know how he/she plays. I can give you a general programme to build up basic fitness foundations but on a detailed personal level I don’t know whether to focus on stamina, reflexes and explosive speed etc. I only know the best approach if I know in detail how the player plays and how he/she uses the body and to what purpose’.

Equally if you the coach have 3 players with totally different playing styles, for example a backspin defender, a mid-distance topspin attacker and a close-to-table blocker/counter-hitter, then the physical requirements for each will be radically different. But similarly the technical requirements and the forging of suitable weapons for each of the 3 styles will also differ fundamentally. Technique of course doesn’t just apply to the stroke-play; it also embraces areas such as footwork and footwork patterns and these too in some cases will differ drastically.

Many trainers unfortunately do not understand the inter-connectivity involved in many areas of table tennis. Nor do they fully comprehend, especially those who are less experienced, the value and effects of the physical and scientific factors (such as upper body strength, ball speed and spin). European coaches must more fully understand the close relationship between techniques and tactics and that the appropriate techniques must be cultivated and refined so that the player is more easily able to execute the tactics suitable to his/her personal end-style. Only if we do this and try to help each player to achieve his/her individual maximum will we get anywhere near being able to match the Asians.