Over-emphasis on Technique

Rowden October 2012

Technique is of course important and many coaches will tell you that ‘Technique is the basis of Tactics’. When looking at techniques the coach should be evaluating which weapons (techniques) the player will need for the senior game. The weapons the player requires will of course have to be tailored to the player’s style as all performers are individuals.

To develop to maximum potential the prime criterion is that the player has full understanding of his/her own style of play as early as possible in the developmental stage. Bear in mind that tactical development is based crucially on technical abilities. If the player doesn’t have the technical weapons to play his/her own game most effectively then the performer never reaches full potential. We must also bear in mind the principles of Long Term Athlete Development: ‘If the critical periods in the life of a young person, at which time the effects of training can be maximised, are not utilised to the full, then this can significantly reduce the performer’s chances of ever reaching full potential’.

National Coaches are primarily interested in producing players who will play at International level for their country. If performers don’t fit into this category then they may not get the right help for them as individuals. This can mean in some Associations that playing for your country and being the best you can be are not always compatible: in others it is felt that the country has a traditional style of play and players who are different are not readily accepted. Unfortunately at National level there can also be a tendency to over-emphasise minor aspects of technique which in terms of the bigger picture are of limited importance, or to generalise, to look at:
• What most of the top players are doing now and to copy this
• The techniques of the top Asians and to try to apply these to youngsters in the West

Both of these unfortunately have major flaws. We are always following and playing ‘catch-up’ and don’t think to develop our own vision! We also tend to focus on trying to fit our young players into a style of play which is not necessarily in accordance with their own talents and inclinations. Unfortunately as well in many countries throughout Europe there is a tendency to introduce players to professional training at younger and younger ages. This can have the effect of ‘fitting them into boxes’ at a very young age but sadly by the time they mature their particular ‘box’ is no longer relevant!

If we take a simple example, most top men players are dominant on the FH side and will attack hard with this wing whenever they receive a long or half-long ball. Therefore the coaching system decides on developing this strength and style of play with all young boys. This principle however ignores the fact that some young boys may well be naturally BH oriented and that if we had persisted with this type of method in the past, many great players such as Des Douglas, Kreanga, Jorgen Persson and Otcharov, would never have achieved their potential.

It is all too easy with young players to make sweeping technical statements; ‘You can’t get any power if you play square and don’t have lots of backswing’ (Makes one wonder about the ‘one inch’ punch in martial arts!) or ‘Spin is the only answer if you can’t spin you can’t win’ (Most girls can’t spin anyway and many use material).
We have all seen players ranked in the top 30 in the world playing square with ultra-short strokes or even over-square or winning without spin and playing flat.

What is needed is a greater perception of the individual qualities of the athlete and in particular what is natural to him/her. These are the attributes which need to be developed for the individual to attain full potential. What appears to be overlooked on too many occasions is that to focus on the areas where a player is never going to be more than mediocre will never produce a world champion. Rather this will lead to losing the player from the sport as he/she will become dissatisfied with performance.

A player may have a style of play which top coaches feel strongly will never produce world-class results at the present time. However table tennis is changing year by year along with equipment and rules. A style which is limited now may well be very successful in five years time. Equally forcing a performer into a ‘box’ where he/she does not feel comfortable is of little or no benefit now or for long-term development.

As far as strokes and tactics are concerned it is not what ‘looks nice’ that matters but what is effective and works for the individual.