Last month, Milton Garcia (2x Mexican National Table Tennis Champion) and his student were here training with me in Ohio. After one of the coaching sessions, Milton asked me if I would be able to coach Timo Boll in a match against Ma Long in a major table tennis tournament. I replied “yes” I would be able to do that. You see… Coaching elite athletes involves WORKING TOGETHER WITH THEM. Because Timo Boll has played Ma Long many times, then Timo has a good idea of how he must train, what patterns he must play, what patterns he must avoid, what serves work best, what receives work best, etc. As you can see, Timo is very very knowledgeable about all these aspects of playing Ma Long.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we are now four months away from the Olympics. If I were Timo’s coach and getting him ready, here is what I would do:
#1 Goal (first day)
As I mentioned in the above paragraph, the goal is to beat Ma Long. Setting the goal happens in the first day of the training cycle.
#2 Evaluation (first day)
During the first day, we also do a total game evaluation – strengths, weaknesses, patterns, tendencies, etc; as well as a total physical evaluation – strength, endurance, flexibility, nutrition, rest, etc. Based on the findings of this evaluation, the table tennis training program will begin accordingly with emphasis on particular areas.
#3 Changes (first month)
Any major changes to technique, game tactics, fitness routines, or diet, need to be made within the first month of the table tennis training cycle.
#4 Strengths (first and second months)
Developing stronger weapons, such as a stronger serve or more powerful forehand should be done within the first month of the training cycles. Using these strengths, it is critical to test them in training and table tennis competitions leading up to the Olympics.
#5 Video Analysis (all four months)
Initially, video analysis is important to get a good picture of what to do. As the Olympics approaches, it will become increasingly important to watch Ma Long’s table tennis matches to know exactly what he does and how he does it.
#6 Simulation (Third and Fourth Months)
In the last two months before playing Ma Long, the goal would be to simulate Ma Long in aspects of the table tennis drills using training partners that he simulate his serve, flip, forehand, etc.
#7 Tournaments (Third and Fourth Months)
Once all the components are in place, it is necessary to play a few major table tennis tournaments to test the skills before the Olympics. What is more important – confidence or skills? The answer is confidence in your skills. Developing the table tennis skills early in the training cycle is important and using them in competition to build confidence is equally important.
Working with elite table tennis athletes involves much more than ordering them around in the practice hall or telling them what serve to use during a timeout. Working with elite athletes involves communication with them in structuring training programs and creating the right environment for them to reach their peak potential in the sport of table tennis.