West Cork Table Tennis Assoc.
Coaching Manual unillustrated Version.
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What or who is a coach is a difficult question to answer. There can be many aspects to the job of coaching, The teacher who imparts the skills. The trainer who improves fitness. The motivator who encourages a positive approach. The disciplinarian. A manager/administrator. A friend who will advise and support & as a student who is willing to learn. This manual intends to help you the coach to pass this information on to your club or school. A coach is not judged by the ability of one student but by all. Some students are easily motivated & pick the sport up very quickly, the challenge to the club coach is to encourage all the club members.
The coach is often left with the role of club organiser. This is of course not ideal as the time could better be spent on the “coaching” itself. When possible the setting up of tables, tournaments, rankings & other club business should be carried out by another club member/official. If coaching juniors it is important to have as many parents involved as possible as there are equipment and travel costs to consider. You are likely to be the number one choice when it comes to travelling to tournaments & matches & you will need help in regard to supervising. The coach is also the tactical adviser & you will spread yourself very thin if you do not encourage assistance very early on.
Your own standard of ability at table tennis is not an indication of your ability to coach the sport. If you can attain an understanding of the mechanics of the various shots you can certainly pass these skills on. The result of your time & effort will be the reward in seeing your students learn to enjoy this exciting sport that can be played through out their lives.
Fitness is a term that is often misused to describe one facet, stamina. By physical fitness we mean the overall physical condition of the body and its ability to function at its maximum at the sport. This can be divided into four different areas.
Endurance: the capacity to continue prolonged physical intensity despite the onset of fatigue.
Flexibility: the range of movement at a joint or series of joints.
Strength: the maximum force which a muscle or group of muscles can generate against a resistance.
Speed: the time taken to co-ordinate the movement of individual joints or of the body as a whole.
All these factors are important in table tennis but to be fit to play table tennis to its maximum there must be the correct balance. To sacrifice speed for strength is unlikely to improve a players game. It is important for a coach to be aware of the fitness of a player to help improve the areas where they maybe weak. Much time is spent on the study of technique as the game is a very skill orientated sport but the levels of fitness that can arise in players will help them remain fit and health throughout their lives. On a personal level within training I feel if a student has not sweated during the session they have not been putting enough effort into the game. This means that the warm up exercises are extremely important at the start of a session and that suitable sports attire should be worn to prevent injuries and accidents.
In an ideal situation there would be enough tables to allow every player an opportunity to play through out a session. Usually four can play at a table at a time. With the use of multi-ball many more can be accommodated. Table Tennis has the reputation of being able to be played anywhere, this is not all together true, although I have played in the most unlikely of places. To ensure that you have a suitable environment in which to play there are a few important consideration. Make sure the lighting is adequate. The floor should give reasonable grip. The table needs to sit evenly. There also needs to be a certain amount of “run back” & room around the table to prevent players from bumping in to each other & injuring themselves.
The bat is made of two parts the blade & the rubbers. The rubbers on each side have to be of two colours usually black & red.When a player is introduced to the game I would suggest an all round blade & rubbers. There are hundreds of different combinations of bats available. The ready made “all round” bats are found in a number of sports shops locally. It must be understood that as a player improves their natural inclination toward a “defensive” or “aggressive” style will develop & they may wish to get a bat which will suit their new game. In my experience I would purchase a number of all round blades & rubbers, which I then make up myself for each student using a variety of similar rubbers. This gives an opportunity for students to swap or buy second hand rubbers which they can then try out. The rubbers on pre-made up bats are often ripped when they are removed. A dark T-shirt, shorts & light weight sports shoes are also needed. Playing in street clothes is unhygienic & sloppy.
Overall the grip should be relaxed as this will help the player develop a “touch” for the ball. If any part of the player is too rigid this will impede their control & the amount of spin they will impart. This grip initially might prove a little uncomfortable at first but it is an essential foundation for more advanced & quicker development. A common fault is when the thumb rises up pointing to the end of the bat keep it pointing down as this prevents the grip changing between forehand & backhand strokes.
The penhold is the second of the most popular grips. The thumb & forefinger “pinch” around the neck of the bat handle. The remaining fingers are either tucked up behind or are spread across the back of the blade. Generally only one side of the bat is then used. There are some exceptions of course! A lot of new Chinese players are changing to the shakehand grip as it gives a greater versatility using a combination of rubbers & a stronger backhand shot.
First Things First. Table Tennis is an extremely fast game with very little time for recovery between shots. It is important to establish a well balance position in regard to the table. The player should stand slightly off centre to the table covering the majority of it with the forehand stroke.(To the left of centre for the right hand player.) The feet should be slightly wider than the shoulders & the player needs to be up on the balls of their feet. If you watch the top players their feet are spread much wider than the shoulders making them very low to the table.(Do not encourage beginners to be too low.) The knees are bent to provide a spring action towards the ball & improve sideways movement. The upper body is arched over towards the net, providing easy movement of the bat arm over the lower chest. Both the arms are held at a relaxed 90 degree angle almost level with the table. The arm not holding the bat is called the free arm & is very important to balance the player. Some youngsters feel very awkward about holding this arm up while in the recovery position or while playing keep an eye out for it & correct it when you can.
Keep beginners up close to the table while their learning the game. So that the bat edge can touch the end of the table. Students are of course all sizes & shapes. If you have a player who can hardly see over the table do not try getting them to bend their knees too much!
To encourage a correct stance start a session with a relay race where every one has to “crab walk” up & down the hall. “Crab Walking” is turning sideways & swinging one foot to the other keeping the proper stance. Balls of Feet/Knees Bent/Body Arched Foreword/Head Level.
From the position we discussed on the previous page we move to the first shots. To make things easier for the coach & player keep the initial stroke action short. A long swing & follow through makes it harder to control the speed & accuracy of the shot. The shot is made up of three parts.
· Follow Through.(finish)
Make sure all these parts are kept short to start with. Remember power comes from the swing. If during the acceleration phase a player contacts too early will not have the ability to create a lot of power.
The ball travels towards the player in an arc. Once the ball has bounced on your side it also travels in an arc. Students should be encouraged to hit the ball at the peak of the arc. Referred to as “peak of bounce.” This gives the student the best possible chance of hitting the other side of the table as it is at its highest point above the net. Taking the ball too early will increase the chances of hitting the net. Take the ball too late & the player will try & lob the ball, loosing power & control. At a later stage players will learn take the ball late either to defend or to generate more spin or early as a block or counter hit. However these are more advanced techniques that will be covered later.
The action of the body in the construction of the stroke is essential. The correct use of the legs, waist & shoulders all combine to firstly put the player in the right place. The action once this is achieved aids the control, power & direction of the stroke. It is a misnomer that the only exercise one gets from table tennis is in the arms.
The bat is the extension of the arm & needs to be joined by a relaxed grip. The wrist determines the angle that the bat contacts the ball. This is either tilted forward (closed face) which produces a “top spin” shot or backwards (open face), which produces a “backspin” effect. Moving up the arm is the elbow, which is held at an angle of 90 to 120degrees & again is relaxed. The shoulder with the aid of the trunk of the body provides most of the power. The action should flow down the arm in a fluid motion like the action of a whip. The faster the shoulders turn the greater the power at the bat face. A horizontal swing will generate the maximum power while an angled swing will provide more spin. The choice of the correct angle of bat & degree of swing is a lot of what table tennis is about.
We have touched very briefly on the free arm already but it is worth a second mention as it is a fundamental that young players often experience difficulty with. The free arm is very important to balance. With the body weight moving so fast the free arm acts not unlike what a high wire walker would use. It should work in symmetry with the bat arm. A good tip is to use the free arm as a “radar” pointing to where you want to place the ball (without extending the elbow), this keeps the free arm at a 90degree angle to the body. The free arm also acts as a counter weight to the bat arm leading the bat through as the shoulders turn when played with the fore hand stroke. The two arms should never cross, this would happen if the shoulders were not turned as the shot is played. The action of the free arm for the backhand side is less as we do not encourage too much rotational action for this shot.
The first stroke to master is the PUSH. This shot is the foundation for so many of the other strokes that are learned at a latter stage. As mentioned earlier this shot like all others is made up of.
PREPARATION / CONTACT / FOLLOW THROUGH.
The stance is square to the lijne of the ball. The bat angle is slightly “open.”(Tilted backwards). The backswing starts above the ball in line with the left hip(for a right handed player). The ball is then contacted at peak of bounce & “pushed” over the net., with a bat arm angle of 90 degrees. The shoulders remain square to the table with the free arm pointing in the direction you want the ball to travel. The follow through takes the bat following the line of the ball in the direction you want the ball to travel in. Body position as stated earlier is kept through out the shot: on the balls of the feet, knees bent, head level leaning slightly over the ball. This shot will create a small amount of backspin as the bat passes under the ball. This should keep the ball low. Increasing the wrist action increases the amount of spin. Keep the initial push shot as a “controlling” shot emphasising control over both spin & speed, these are more advanced techniques that can be introduced at a latter stage.
The principles of this stroke are very much the same as for the backhand. The body position is slightly different with the left foot being used as the front foot of a right hand student. The player should be slightly turned with the shoulders now at an angle to the table. A right hand player would lead with their left shoulder. This means as the ball is contacted there is a slight rotation of the shoulders leaving them square at the end of the stroke. The back foot however does not move round as the shot is played. The weight of the player shifts on to the front foot, bending the front knee. The emphasis being control not power.
Most players when they first play the game want to hit the ball hard. This is especially true of youngsters. I feel that once the initial touch stroke (the push) has been developed then introduce the attacking strokes. Spin is a very important aspect of the game, however the first attacking shot should encourage power. The “flat” hit is used to drive a ball that has been returned fairly high without much spin.
The same body position for the forehand push is used. The bat arm travels in an upward motion finishing at about head height while the player has their knees bent, the bat face is vertical. As contact is made the face becomes slightly “closed” (tilted forward). The shoulders & hips rotate through the ball. The weight of the body is transferred from the back foot to the front foot & the free arm moves through the ball with the bat arm following. Keep the follow through short as this will aid recovery. Like every shot the player finishes the shot only when they have returned to the recovery position.
The same principles of the forehand apply to the backhand but there is much less body rotation. Try & keep you students square to the table & their free arm pointing in the direction they want the ball to travel. The bat travels in a very “flat” trajectory & the arm is extended into a straight position as a follow through. The commonest problem with this shot is an over extension of the follow through & too much body rotation as players try & achieve as much power on the backhand as they do on their forehands. Physically this is very unlikely as there is less shoulder action involved with the shot. Concentrate on keeping the head down over the ball & the body well balanced. Watch out for that thumb rising up the bat, this will make it much harder to change to a forehand stroke for next shot.
PLANNING A SESSION
Good organisation is essential for a good coach as time is often at a premium. Before each session I prepare my notes. Each session is divided into 3 sections. During the initial warm up (10-15mins) it is a good opportunity to introduce the shot for the session (forehand push or backhand drive etc.) and some basic pointers. (arm action, footwork etc.) The second section covers the technical aspects of the shot through set practise routines. Starting with simple “across the angle” exercise working through from both corners. This can be done with a practise partner or by being fed in a multi ball exercise or robot. The third section of the session deals with match practise and introducing the previously practise shot into a game situation. It must be remembered that the techniques of the sport are only learnt so as to improve the match performance of the player and need to be put into that context at all times. Games up to 11 points or role playing 18-18 in the third game scenarios all can help create the competition environment needed to put the newly learnt or improved shots into context.
Table Tennis has been played in West Cork since the late 1920`s. In 1988 the W.C.T.T.A was formed to bring table tennis in to the schools in the area. Over the next few years the W.C.T.T.A has coached in 10 schools and has assisted in many clubs throughout the region. The Award scheme has been running successfully with 300 having passed the Bronze Award, which has been sponsored by many different businesses throughout its existence. In 1989 the W.C.T.T.A organised the first West Cork Open with an entrance of 250. In 1998 we hosted the first Junior International Event seen in West Cork at Skibbereen Sports Centre, with four national teams competing.
There is no doubt that table tennis is becoming more and more popular in West Cork and the standard has risen. In the last two years we have seen West Cork players representing Munster at under 12, under 21 and senior level. 1998 and 2000 we have also seen two of our under 12s represent Ireland.
This development has been gradual and steady. The need for more qualified coaches, teachers and club officials is essential as the demand and interest increases. At the competitive end of the sport table tennis is a very technical sport requiring excellent speed and mobility but it can also provide great entertainment for the enthusiastic hobby player.
Over the years we have judged our success by the results of our players at all ages at rankings and tournaments. This is the manner of most sports bodies. We also would like to judge the success of our players by the enjoyment they get from playing the game, this is a lot harder to quantify and can only be heard from the players themselves. All I can say from my experience of coaching within West Cork for the last 10 years, I have had a great deal of fun watching students learn the many different levels of the sport. Being a coach is hard work but very rewarding in many ways.
Owen Kelly(Chairman W.C.T.T.A)
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