Wednesday 12 June 2019

Understanding the Purpose to a Table Tennis Training Drill

An area of training which is often overlooked, particular by young developing players, is understanding the main focus/purpose of a training drill. This is a very important learning phase for players in their improvement and also the efficiency of their practice. It also aids individuals in choosing the right practice drills to help enhance particular areas of their game.

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USA's Lily Zhang
Courtesy of ITTF
Each drill in table tennis serves a specific practice in order to enhance a player's game or to help translate into match skills or ability. Learning to understand the purpose of each training drill can help you get the most out of a training drill, and also in how to adapt and re-purpose training drills to suit your desired outcomes.

Focusing on the wrong thing in a training drill can result in a lack of improvement, even after a 'good' practice session.

Focusing on the Wrong Things: 
Take for example the drill three-point forehand. A player can go into a drill hitting forehands at 90-100% and do their best to keep up with the footwork speed and positioning. What is the end result? Perhaps a low average in the number of strokes and movements performed per ball, with a focus on improving forehand technique. This 'purpose' is not necessarily the key purpose of the drill.

The improvement from performing a low number of high quality repetitions does not maximize the benefits from the training drill.

The true focus of three point forehand is the positioning and footwork movements.

A player in position should be able to hit a powerful forehand already, the goal of three-point forehand - first and foremost - is to work on footwork muscle memory, forehand positioning and the timing and execution of forehand strokes from different points on the table.

A player focusing on forehand power in the drill may average for example 8-10 stroke repetitions per ball.

A player who understands the focus of the drill would aim to reduce the power in the forehand stroke and focus on mastering consistent and efficient footwork movements, stroke positioning and timing of the ball. A player who focuses on this can achieve for example 15-20 stroke repetitions per ball.

This may not seem like a big difference, but results in a faster improvement in the main focus, forehand footwork.Keep the stroke consistent in order to maximize the number of movement repetitions.

The player who practices this is more likely to move faster and more automatically into position for a forehand at any point on the table during a match. In contrast, a player who focuses more on the power and quality of the forehand and less on the repetition of movement is more likely to make positioning or timing errors in a match - in which case the quality of the forehand ball is reduced anyway.

Drill Purpose as a Training Partner:
Not only is it important to understand the purpose of a drill when you are training, but also when you are blocking or controlling a drill for your training partner.

Take for example a simple opening drill. A player serves short backspin, you push long and the server then initiates an opening ball.

What is the purpose of the drill?

Some may consider as a controlling partner that the purpose of the drill is for their training partner to achieve as many openings as possible. This is not correct training method.

Even as a control partner, every action must serve a purpose.

As the receiver, a player should be thinking of how to make the first opening ball difficult for their opponent. Being a controller does not mean feeding a simple long return to your practice partner, in order to maximize training on both ends of the table, it is the job of the controller to simulate a match environment.

In this example, the receiver should be looking to make a purposeful, deep and heavy push with intent. The intention is to make your training partner work for their opening ball.

As the player receiving the serve my goals and focus would be simple:

- Perform a low, deep and heavy backspin long push, with pace.
- Aim for 3 outcomes: force an error on opening, induce a passive push return for a player not in position to attack or induce a weak opening from an effective long push.
- Follow up on the hopefully effective service receive.

Why is this important for both players? Well firstly the controller must achieve something from every drill, there are ways to improve from your drills and from your partner's.

Secondly, the quality of the drill improves for both players. By improving the execution of your long push you are forcing your training partner to make adaptations to their opening ball - to move into position faster, to transfer weight faster and to produce a better quality ball.

As your training partner improves in this aspect, you must then continue to adapt your serve receive to become more difficult, or improve how you respond to the quality of the first opening ball.

As players focus more on executing the main focus of the drill, each player continues to make improvements to how they carry out the training drill - and both players improve, forces to constantly work to execute the drill at higher and higher standards.

Below is prime example of ways you can improve your blocking variation in order to practice different blocking styles, and also to challenge your training partner more in their drills with variations.

Understanding Training Drill Purpose Helps with Drill Selection:
By gaining an understanding of the outcomes and focus of different drills, you also gain more knowledge in what drills can specifically help develop areas of the game which you need to work on.

Take for example a drill where a player receives short on the forehand side with a backhand banana flick and then recovers to play the next ball on their backhand corner.

What is the purpose of the drill? The main focus of the drill is the recovery from an extreme placement range. My goal is to move away from my backhand, risking exposure in order to receive serve, and then recover quickly in order to execute my next stroke. As a training player my goal for this drill would be to ensure I execute the backhand recovery stroke every ball. Repeating this success helps me to improve my recovery at the extreme range of covering the whole table.

If I understand the key purpose of this drill, I can be more aware of the need to select a drill like that in the case that it becomes a weak area for me in matches.

I can also make adaptations to the drill in order to make it even more challenging, for example I can receive short on the forehand side with a backhand banana flick and then move to a step-around forehand on the backhand corner.

Knowledge of Training Drills Helps Evaluate Training:
By outlining the key purpose of each drill it becomes easier to set small goals and evaluate the success of your training sessions - allowing you to monitor improvement more effectively.

A good example is the transition and anticipation drill playing backhand to backhand with your partner switching the ball to your forehand at any time.

The main purpose of the drill is to anticipate the change to the forehand, to move into position for the forehand ball and to execute a well-placed forehand stroke.

So going into this classic drill my goal can be as simple as, executing the forehand change 80% of the time.

I can build on this by saying my goal may be to execute the forehand ball 80% of the time with placement to the cross-court corner, or with placement down the line. I could say my goal is to execute the forehand 100% of the time, or that at least 50% of the time I need to execute the forehand ball to the elbow of my training partner.

Having purpose in your training drills and setting small goals allows you to evaluate your training and also to see where further improvements need to be made. It also allows you to progress and continue to challenge yourself in training by using the same drill sets - by simply changing the main focus of your practice.

Training Without Purpose is a Dead-End:
If you simply train monotonous drills like three point forehand, falkenberg and other fixed position drills, without focusing on the purpose of your training then you will develop at much slower rates than your peers.

Mindless training does result in improvement, it slowly improves techniques and movements through repetition and muscle memory training. However, a smart player will always try and look for a deeper focus to the drill, thus making training more relevant and more meaningful.

There are many questions you can ask in order to help you transform your training sessions:

- What skills will I take from this drill into my matchplay?
- What are the weaker areas of my game and how can I tailor my training drills to improve them?
- What am I learning from the drills I choose each session?
- How can I adapt training drills in order to best suit my needs?

But most importantly these questions:
- What is the main purpose of the drill, where should my focus be?
- How should I train in this drill to consider it a successful training session?
- Why am I practicing this? What can I do to get the most benefit from it?

There are always many things to consider when training, but I believe that gaining knowledge of training drills and their main purpose is a vital skill to become, not only a smart player, but a valuable training partner.

Hopefully this is useful to some of you and gives you some things to think about next time you practice. As always you can reach my by email at or through message on my facebook page!

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