Plastic Ball and Balance of Basic Elements

Rowden November 2016

Speed and power are now the basic elements, spin is dramatically reduced and is no longer a prime component, rather it enhances the other elements. If you watch two men both hitting at a distance off the table, even though they are initiating topspin, the ball does not have the same forward momentum after the bounce as the celluloid ball did, instead it tends to kick up and comes through higher. As rallies are longer, consistency and accuracy are also important in the total equation: power without control is largely wasted and shot selection is vital.

The plastic game requires a more intense level of physical conditioning and this is going to be essential if players wish to reach the higher levels of our sport. However the key ingredient in winning is CHANGE, when, where and how. Control plays its part and an important part, but at the higher levels change will distinguish the winner.
Speed – It must be considered that normal human reaction time is 0.22 of a second and many of the shots we respond to will be close to or even outside usual limits. That is why we need to be able to play on autopilot and why experience is vital as this gives us clues to ‘read’ the play, indicating what is going to happen.
Speed must be considered over 3 areas:
● Preparation, pre-stroke speed and timing.
● Speed of travel and trajectory of the ball.
● Speed after the bounce and the bounce factor.
The force fed into the stroke is only part of the picture and it is necessary to study and evaluate the effectiveness of the other areas. Also assess the value of other aspects, using the opponent’s speed to your advantage, using lack of speed and slower balls and the uses of variation in timing.
Power – This, the input into the stroke determines speed and this can pressure and damage your opponent’s game. Power comes in two forms:
● Brute force, innate and natural.
● Explosiveness, use of timing (more emphasis on consistency in this form).
Consider the total combination: use of the body, centre of gravity shift, the legs, rotation, the shoulder, arm, forearm and wrist, even fingers. In addition power with the plastic ball must be much more FORWARD, and not up. Play through the ball on almost all occasions.
Spin – of itself has little dynamic or force producing momentum. Rather it is reliant on speed and/or power. However it does enrich a variety of strokes and increases consistency.
Spin also has 2 main elements:
● The shifting of weight or centre of gravity.
● The use of the forearm and wrist to help achieve a finer contact (brush strokes).
With the plastic the strokes are changing with less brushing and more hitting, playing through the ball. The whole dynamic is the focus on forward momentum.
Although spin is of less value in the rallies it is still important in some areas:
● The serve, whatever spin but especially combined with sidespin.
● The first opening ball particularly when taken at early timing.
● Sidespin is the most effective with the plastic, but more so when combined with other spins.
Consistency and Accuracy – Aggression without control is of little value. Our sport of table tennis requires attention to a number of aspects:
● It needs constant adjustment as players deal with differing shots and situations.
● It requires alterations in both power and speed to progress and develop.
● It benefits from adjustment to trajectory, the higher arc is slower and safer, the flatter arc is faster and carries more risk.
Top players aim in the majority of their strokes, to clear the net by only millimetres. Top players also, though they may play extremely quickly, operate within a framework of control and select the right ball to win the point.
Change/Variation – This is the KEY component in winning and comes in more and more at the higher levels. Top players are not predictable, they don’t play several balls to the same place, at the same speed with the same spin, they use all the table and variation in all its aspects: change in pace, rhythm, spin, placement, arc and trajectory, angles etc. They try continually to pressure and confuse the opposition.
Focus on the Initiation of Change – There are occasions in the game when it’s more important to focus on change:
● When you start to fall behind or are losing impetus.
● When you’re well ahead and the opponent starts to come back strongly.
● When the match deteriorates into a stalemate.
● When the game is close.
● In the crucial/final points.
Also study the different times in the game, the beginning period, the middle and the endgames to come to a decision when, how and where change is needed.
Study the mental/tactical aspects too, the opponent’s habits, actions, gestures, facial expressions and evaluate his/her level of confidence.
Changes Required with Plastic –
● More basic technical training and combinations.
● More hitting, less brushing.
● More physical training to raise power levels and prevent injury.
● More footwork training.
● Stand and play closer to the table.
● Ball slows and drops faster.
● Travel/trajectory and especially behaviour after the bounce is different.
● More variation in service.
● More aggression and touch in receive.
● Higher focus on 2nd/4th and 3rd/5th balls.
● Longer rallies and as a result:
1. More focus on change to win points.
2. More training on mental aspects.
3. More training on handling/coping with pressure.
The Modern Player and the Plastic
Bear in mind that all players are different and must come to terms in their own way with the plastic, though it may benefit some players more than others.
● It is the combination and mix of the elements and the way the player uses these which will determine his/her style and effectiveness.
● The combination improves the whole stroke and improves shot quality.
● There may be conflicts between aggression/speed/power and control/consistency/accuracy.
● If you play harder and earlier you have time to anticipate, also the opponent is under more pressure and less able to react strongly.
Bear in mind the following:
● Think to be ready to be creative.
● Enhance your judgment, identify early where and how the ball will come to you, at the POINT OF CONTACT on the opponent’s racket (especially the 3rd ball).