I thought I would do a bit of an alternative post today on coaching wheelchair players. It is a topic which is rarely covered and it is important to cater for everyone in our sport.
I am currently at the end of a week of coaching a 14 year old wheelchair player who I coached in 2011. At the end of 2011 he won the PNZ National Championships.
So what differentiates wheelchair players in their training? Well they have more prominent weak areas which need to be tightened up, predominantly the body and wide balls. So what can you do to make a wheelchair player the best they can be?
Define the Middle Zone: Shot definition is important, feeding basic multiball across the middle of the table helps the player define where they stop using forehand strokes and start using backhands. Regular use of this exercise makes shot selection automatic eventually and with recovery practice it will make it less likely for the player to get caught up in their body/middle zone.
Generating Power: Wheelchair players are seldom able to use their body to generate power so it is important to teach them to have fast hand speed, it is this which helps them generate spin and power more than anything else. Teaching the players to be decisive and confident in their strokes is vital. A good exercise to practice this is a simple opening exercise.
Shot Choice: Players are not always able to sustain attacks against backspin or chop blocks which are common in wheelchair table tennis. Teaching shot selection is important, as against choppers in able bodied table tennis sometimes it is necessary for wheelchair players to use the attack-push strategy of attacking one ball, pushing the next, attacking. It may not alternate directly but patience is an important lesson to learn.
Wide Balls: Wide balls are a tough one for wheelchair players, the best advice you can give is to make sure the player just does their best to get the ball back on the table, keep their stroke compact and simple so as to reduce risk (often the wide shots are difficult to keep conventional in technique).
Reduce Options: Service and placement will help the player reduce their opponents options, learning to serve and cut off angles on the table will help a player determine where the opponent return will be able to go. E.g a wide serve often cuts down the probability of an opponent returning down the line.
Remember everyone should have the opportunity to learn in our sport, I hope wheelchair players reading this or coaches of wheelchair players will get some value from it!