Rigidity

Rowden December 2015

The main reason why many athletes aren’t able to take the final step from being really good, to reaching the absolute heights and becoming great, is a matter of rigidity. Performers become locked into certain technical ways of performing and certain tactics and strategies, which work some or most of the time, but not all of the time. But worst of all athletes become locked into patterns of thinking and perception, which do not permit them to change and adapt.

In a sport such as table tennis where we have an opponent at the other end of the table and a different type almost every time we perform, the ability to change what we do to cope with the new situation, is absolutely crucial. Table tennis is one of the sports where adaptive intelligence will make the difference between success and failure and also where reading the situation incorrectly or using the wrong tactics and strategies can be fatal. For a top player being predictable and playing the same against all opponents at all levels doesn’t happen as this would obviously be a recipe for disaster.
The only real comparison if any in technique between differing levels is that world class players will play harder and faster than you, with more dynamic strokes and often earlier timing. Their shots may even be less perfect than yours, because of the simple fact that due to the increased speed they have to improvise more than you do. But most important of all top players customize and refine their strokes as they progress in their careers as we all will, as we develop and reach higher levels. For example a top player may have considerable sidespin on push, block or even topspin strokes which you wouldn’t encounter at lower levels. In most cases however it is not techniques which differ at the highest levels but how these are used, in other words not the technique itself but how it is applied within the area of performance.
Bear in mind too that it’s never the beauty of the technique that’s important but whether it’s effective and effective for the player using it. Also all your individual tactics and strategies are based on your personal techniques. The concept of individual flair, the idea that players can have different techniques within the underlying principles is one of crucial importance in allowing them to arrive at and to create their own personal style. As you can well see for yourself the underlying principles are extremely simple; BH for example more or less in front of body or slightly to the side, played with forearm and not too far away, but the number of personal variations in the technique can be immense.
At the highest levels technique is so refined to suit the individual player absolutely. But also the perception and the mind are honed to perfection. Often a younger international player will comment after losing to an older player of vast experience and equally often the content of the comment is remarkably similar. That the older player always recognizes immediately when the game changes but with the younger opponent this takes time, often two or three points. Older, more experienced players almost always have the edge when it comes either to changing what needs to be done or in recognizing what has changed and how to cope with this.
In many cases too a younger player competing with a world star will make the comment that they were able to stay with the better, more experienced player almost all of the game, but right at the end the older performer did something different, made a change which swung the game in his/her favour. Not only does the more experienced player have certain tactics and strategies he knows he can rely on totally, but he has been in this situation not once or twice but countless times before and this makes a difference.