by Massimo Costantini, High Performance Elite Coach
Before diving into the specifics, I would like to stress that this mini-guide must take into account your individual environment and its conditions in order to ensure that the work in your training session is done safely.
If we have used the lockdown period (phase one) to keep fit and, perhaps not for everyone, have continued training or have resumed this during phase two, then we are ready to do something more meaningful for our table tennis.
First of all, let’s set the six elements or goals for a successful session, which consist of three initial objectives and three final considerations:
- Play to the best of one’s ability
- Never spare yourself
- Always have fun
At the end of the session I will reveal the final considerations.
Let’s start as usual with the warm-up off the table.
Body warm up (15 minutes)
Devote at least 15 minutes to this important part of preparing for the game. When stretching and faced with the choice dynamic or static: I’d say, dynamic, of course.
Now, as we are facing a more intense training session, I really recommend that you raise your heart rate (with sprints, for example); this will serve, above all, your consistency in the footwork drills.
We maintain the standard of 10 minutes for each drill assuming each player is right-handed.
Table tennis warm up (10 minutes – overall 25 minutes)
After the usual 10 minute warm-up at the table, for which I would recommend five minutes forehand crosscourt and five minutes backhand crosscourt, you’re ready to work.
To simplify, I propose a session with the aim of enhancing the strokes quality, stability through footwork, and, as usual, a decent quality of consistency. At this stage, I would keep the game-like situation in stand-by.
As per Part One, we will follow the principle of gradualness.
Drill No.1 (20 minutes – Overall 45 minutes)
Your partner will play twice to your backhand, once to the middle and three times to the forehand, a cycle of six balls played.
The work you will have to do is to play two backhand topspins from the backhand and a fast forehand topspin from the middle; when your partner blocks your forehand, the return will be with the forehand.
At that point, it will be easy to reach the ball with a shuffle lateral movement to the right; you will have to play three consecutive topspins towards your partner’s backhand and then start again the cycle of six strokes.
My advice is always to set yourself a target of how many strokes you have to play. Certainly, the strengthening of the strokes, balance and consistency require a fair number of strokes but be careful to not compromise the quality of each and every single shot; this simple exercise will give you good quality and control of the strokes, as well as good table coverage.
After 10 minutes, it’s your partner’s time, so it’s your turn to block.
Drill No.2 (20 minutes – Overall 65 minutes)
Just above, we were talking about the concept of gradualness. After this first half hour of table tennis, it’s time to complicate things.
The partner will have to play twice to the backhand, once down-the-line and once into the middle / forehand. You will therefore have to perform a backhand topspin to the backhand; through a pivot footwork step, you will play a forehand topspin to the backhand; with a cross movement of footwork, you will play a forehand topspin to the forehand. Finally you will need a slight movement to the left, so as to recover position and balance and play a forehand topspin to the backhand. At this point, you are ready to start over for round two and, I hope, many more!
Once again stay focused on the strokes that you have to perform and try not to think too much where the ball will be placed by the partner. To be honest, these drills are done with predictive placements (with the intention set in advance), so it will be easy to focus on the footwork, the correct execution of the strokes, the quality of the strokes and finally the consistency.
Of course after 10 minutes, it will be your partner’s turn, so you can take a breath.
Predictive or non-predictive?
Before starting to explain the third exercise, it is important to make a premise, which is also the subject of discussion among coaches and I do this by asking a question: should the drills, or exercises, be predictive or non-predictive?
It would seem to be a simple answer but it is much more complex than you expect.
Of course, the drills are designed to achieve an objective, and, like all sciences and sports, table tennis follows the same rule. The repetition of a technical gesture will serve to stabilize the biomechanical motion and improve its performance. The same applies to footwork and to all the interactions that develop as the game progresses.
However, the game in its progress is anything but predictive, what reason would there be to do exercises where there is no surprise in intercepting the placement of the ball by the opponent? It is where things get complicated.
There are many champions who, even if they know they have to face unexpected situations, find themselves training and playing simple, ordinary drills, where the difficulty coefficient of the exercise is zero. If you observe the training of good athletes, it should not have escaped you that the vast majority of athletes, male and female, play the classic two times on backhand and two times on the forehand, a drill of disarming simplicity. But what is behind this simplicity?
In my opinion, the crucial point brings us back to the concept of self-confidence. In fact, through a simple gesture, repeated many times, with a relevant physical commitment but with a very modest level of mental stress, the athlete finds and renews their self-esteem and feels ready to explore the world.
I dare to conclude this brief philosophical deviation with an equation:
Drill No.3 (20 minutes – Overall 105 minutes)
After two footwork exercises, it is now time for a game of control combined with less predictive situations than in the previous exercises.
The drill involves a series of backhand topspins to the backhand and expecting a sudden return of the partner’s choice of either in the middle or in the forehand corner; at this point you will play a series of forehand topspins always on backhand and expecting a sudden ball from the partner placed on your backhand.
In itself, the drill ends here and you just need to repeat it as many times as you wish but we don’t exclude the possibility of enhancing the drill (maybe after the first five minutes) with different elements. I’ll list some of them:
- when the partner changes suddenly either to the forehand or to the backhand, feel free to place the ball on the partner’s forehand and continue freely
- the partner may decide to make a pivot footwork movement and then counter attack with forehand from backhand, perhaps, anywhere on the table.
- if in the second round of the drill you play on the partner’s forehand then you could continue with a series of regular counter top spins.
There can be other solutions, too, but I leave some creativity to you.
As you can see, the principle of gradualness is respected. The principle is very effective because it accompanies you on a progressive path, giving you the possibility to always adapt in a controlled way.
Break (10 minutes – Overall 105 minutes)
At this point, if you wish, you can take a break for a few minutes. The break is optional. You can insert it after the third drill but nothing speaks against inserting it after the second drill.
However, on the topic of “breaks” during a training session, I will have the opportunity to speak more extensively about this in the future, as here too there I have some reflections to share.
Drill No.4 (20 minutes – Overall 125 minutes)
There can be room to shorten the game. So far, the drills were opened without focusing too much on aspects such as short, long, backspin and flat push, backhand and forehand flick, counter attack from close or medium distance.
Entering a so-called short game zone, I would again opt for predictive placements for the first five minutes and less predictive placements in the second five minutes.
Let’s start like this: you play a simple backspin short serve (first ball) to the middle / forehand and wait for the return (second ball) alternately, once to middle / backhand and once to middle / forehand.
The third ball will see a single stroke: either short push to middle / forehand when the partner receives from middle / forehand, or a backhand flick (banana flick) when the partner receives from middle / backhand. The fourth ball from the partner can then be either short (free) or long to the middle / backhand. From here on, the rally can become totally free.
After the first five minutes we can eliminate the alternation of the return (second ball) and leave the partner the choice to receive anywhere short, but the third ball must be played as in the first five minutes.
The exercise hints at some tactical elements such as the serve, the return and the third ball. These first moments of the rally will be fundamental to having a good chance of putting the point in your pocket.
Drill No.5 (20 minutes – Overall 145 minutes)
The last exercise of the session will be set to an almost totally free game. There are no contradictions for trying your hand at playing a few games.
Here’s my proposal: each player has five minutes to make a short serve and free attack on the third ball; the partner will be able to receive anywhere but has to push the return. It is precisely to give the active player the opportunity to achieve the goal. So everything is very simple.
To repeat: free short serve, free push return and free third ball attack. I must make it clear that if, unfortunately, the serve goes long, then the partner can obviously attack first without pushing the return.
The following five minutes for each player are totally free, and as I said above, you can also end the session with two or three games.
Fitness (20 minutes – Overall 165 minutes)
In another post, I mentioned the recommendation to add physical work, such as strengthening, explosiveness and co-ordination; work that can be done in static or dynamic mode, indoor work (exercises) or outdoor work (running).
Cooldown (20 minutes – Overall 185 minutes)
The cool down involves stretching your body. We have already indicated exercises and many others can be found on the internet.
I must make a recommendation: always connect the stretching to the various parts of the body on which you have put the most stress. It is not uncommon to see players, youngsters or adults, doing stretching exercises in a totally indifferent way, as if it were a routine, sometimes a boring thing.
Stretching is extremely important and as such should be given the utmost importance and concentration.
Well, we spent almost three hours together and we realised that time flew by. At this point of the session there are the last three considerations to make, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article.
- Wondering if useful work has been done
- Having the feeling of having done a good job and having improved
- Being happy about the session you’ve played
Here ends this simple tutorial on how to set up, run and make a training session useful.
Hopefully we’ll talk again soon, stay safe, stay healthy, for all, for life; enjoy great table tennis.