Technique only Half-way there

Rowden Jan 2017

The table tennis player in the early stages should work at developing conventional strokes to the best of his/her abilities. What the coach must bear in mind is that some of this process will entail unlearning habits inherited from other sports, whether this is in the areas of movement, technique, tactics or even the mental aspect.

Guard also against the purist’s approach; this can be right and wrong at the same time. Purists create systems and academies, academies create dogmas and dogmas create fossils. Technique, materials and ideas are in constant flux: purity is as limiting as consistency. Remember artistry favours creativity and innovation over consistency and convention, unpredictability over regularity and the exceptional over the normal. Artistry is flexible not rigid.
The whole point of standardizing one’s game and working to possess and execute all the conventional strokes and practising them over and over again until they reach the highest level of consistency, means arriving not at your destination (the complete and perfect player) but at reaching the threshold (or starting point) beyond which table tennis is able to be transformed into an art!
Of course in any form of competition it is never straightforward to predict a winner, there are many imponderables such as physical and mental condition, lighting, luck and above all the vagaries of style. We are all individuals, play similar strokes but differently and with a differing emphasis. Competency in a particular style often requires many months if not years of practice. The correct strokes, with the correct order, timing, tactics/strategies, character structure, balance and rhythm are all essential. And however good and well ranked you may be there will always be styles of play which can cause you problems.
In fact many of the Asian coaches and especially those from China, focus from the early stages on the individual qualities of the player, actively looking for not only a sound technical base but also for individual specialties. What does the player have which makes him or her different and which will present real problems for any opposition?
Whichever style you will adopt, which will be one which suits you and with which you feel most comfortable, you should endeavour to distill this down to a sublime simplicity. Much of how the great players perform goes unnoticed. The public watching always sees the great loops, the awesome smashes, but rarely sees the perfect balance, the seamless footwork, or the work put in to neutralize the opponent’s power, spin or placement. The great performances always seem on the face of it quite effortless!
Finally there is the problem of the mind, of too much thinking, too many thoughts crowding the mind, too many instructions, pointers and ideas. The intellect clouds the picture. Rules and laws take you so far but never beyond the threshold. Once you know them inside out, you can free yourself of them and enter the next dimension and be in harmony with yourself.
Continue to learn more about yourself and your sport, but also all that’s behind and beyond it. It is always a work in progress and has, is and will continue to be fun!