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Tactical Intelligence

Learn more about table tennis tactics

Tactical intelligence

The purpose of this article is to introduce the reader to the instruction of table tennis at the elementary levels and to briefly comment on the Tactic Intelligence.

Teaching how to play: Feeling the game

Following a very disseminated analytical scheme, it is thought that to teach table tennis one must start with the basic techniques and later, by joining those techniques together, one reaches the game. I do not agree with these notions because it is not the reality of any player, even one in the under-12 category. What actually happens is that one starts with the game: We must also then, as coaches, start from the game, asking ourselves “what is a match like?” and from there looking at what movements, plays, etc. are important and need to be practiced. Coaches generally suggest strange exercises that don’t come up in matches; On what basis do I modify the training or the exercise? I have to analyze what happens in real life. Coaches must design the training exercises and determine how much time to devote to each task with regards to what happens in a match. It depends on how many times certain errors or difficulties come up in a match. The more often a player makes a particular mistake, the more time I have to dedicate to correcting the problem, that must be the parameter. Starting from the game means starting from its structure, which is divided into: serve and attack, reception, blocking and counterattacking. The basic techniques must be achieved in order to accomplish these foundations. It is not a simple sum of learning techniques, of how we teach the techniques or teach the game. It is logical that to teach how to play we need the technique, but from different perspective than that of a coach who thinks he/she must teach the technique and then the players will play. This last perspective lacks the notion of teaching how to play the explanations and advice given to players are often exclusively technical, not directed to teaching them how to play. For instance, it is often said that a player knows how to topspin, but what can he topspin? Can he hit a long, short, low, high ball? In parallel, diagonally? Each of these is a basic technique. If we continued this analysis to the end just regarding topspin, we would find at least 30 basic techniques. Obviously the basic word would lose meaning. We may be speaking of basic techniques, in this case, if the player knows how to bend his knees, his arms, rotate his waist, make the ball spin, etcetera. This is the basis from there to actually being able to topspin there is a long stretch.

The relationship between technique and tactic

Using the game as a general method to teach means stimulating the child’s reasoning and creativity. This does not mean simply throwing the ball at him and letting him do anything, but rather playing a game with rules set with regards to the participants’ possibilities. The person playing is asked to observe the opponent’s behaviour and to behave in consequence. He thus carries out tactical behaviour. Instead if the coach demanded from the child a strict precision in the execution of a technique, the latter would find difficult the tactical interpretation of the game.

Tactical Intelligence

Tactical intelligence is the player’s mental activity that controls his actions during the full execution of the techniques. The correct application of the techniques according to the situations in both sides of the table depends on the player’s capability. The way the tactics are applies is also an indicator of the player’s level of experience and maturity. The expression “tactical intelligence” may seem abstract and yet it is very concrete. It is in truth an invisible technique and tactic are of very real existence. Each technique and each tactic that is correctly applied must be controlled by a certain tactical intelligence, and therefore, this intelligence cannot be set aside. Tactical intelligence guarantees the correct application of the techniques and tactics, and exerts a strong influence on their unfolding. The development of tactical intelligence in players both in training and in matches is, therefore, fundamental to the improvement of the players’ capability to use the adequate techniques and tactics correctly. The player demonstrates his tactical intelligence with his ability to judge the situations on the table and his flexibility to enrich his game with his experience. Fully executing the techniques and learning to think while the ball is in play accelerates the process of domination and maturity of the techniques. Rigid coaching systems impede tactical reasoning and limit the child's decision-making ability, as well as his capability of trying different possibilities until he reaches the correct form. That is why coaching must be developed with regards to what happens in an actual game of table tennis. This is a bit slower at first, but when players reach higher categories they are able to solve a number of diverse situations.

© Oscar Roitman, Dimosthenis Messinis
Denis' Table Tennis World

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