Shot Selection and the Use of Power

Rowden 2011

Table tennis is an ‘antagonistic’ sport. This means that it involves power and judgment from two opposing parties, who both influence what happens to the ball. To play the most effective shot to suit the situation at hand we have to consider both:
• the type of incoming ball
• the precise amount of effort needed in our stroke

A detailed consideration of these two factors will help the player over a period of time to establish an instinctive theory to deal with any situation and just as importantly, will develop the concept of how to utilise power to the best effect.

There are basically 3 types of ball and to each type of ball there is a best response in terms of effort: the main influencing factor which dictates the ‘best response’ is the influence of time.

Type of Ball and relation to Amount of Effort

  1. Hard required response Soft
  2. Soft required response Hard
  3. Medium required response Medium

What are also critical in the equation (not solely the amount of effort) are the type and length of stroke to be used, relevant to the demands of time, as these will be variables. Essentially the stroke will shorten or change under the pressure of time and this is significantly more important in women’s table tennis due to the fact that they are closer to the action.

The main fault with many players, especially younger players and which leads to a high rate of errors, is the tendency to try to play ‘hard effort’ against a ‘hard’ ball. This of course is not impossible and is seen at the highest levels, but it is an acquired skill which needs development and training. High-level selection of the most effective shot does not occur overnight and requires experience and is part of the process of evolution. The player tends to learn and develop this through ‘converting’ power into placement on the opponent’s side of the table.

The danger in trying to play power against power or ‘hard’ against ‘hard’ at too early a stage in the player’s development, is the lack of effective time to deal appropriately with the incoming power. One of two things will tend to occur as a result. The player will either:

• change or violate the usual stroke configuration
• back away to create more time to feed in a longer stroke

The attempt to play too hard, therefore constructively limits your ability to prepare and then to feed in your own power in the time available. The creation of any ‘time deficit’ is of course of immediate advantage to the opponent and gives him/her a direct opportunity to increase the power ratio first.

More often than not when you watch top players perform, within the context of their level of play, you in fact see medium effort against medium effort. (You must not of course confuse the fact that their medium may well be your very hard! This concerns ‘levels of play’ and is the difference between town, county, regional, national, international and the small handful of the world’s best players.) Top players perform within a basic framework of control and then spar for the opportunity to execute the best shot to win the point.

What every player must therefore assess at some point in his/her career is the exact degree of effort required to be able to control ‘the play’, a degree of effort which denies the opponent the time to play with strength, but at the same time creates the opportunity to ‘accelerate’ his/her own more powerful aspects. A player for example could ‘control’ at 60% input, but find that at this level he/she loses out because the opponent is able to get in with the hard shots which win the point. Equally the same player could control at 90% input, but still lose out, not because the opponent gets in, but because he/she just makes too many unforced errors. Table tennis is a game of ‘balance’!

A critical stage to understand the usage of power is of course as the player moves on from the basic technical levels and starts to expand potentials and capabilities and is moving upwards towards a higher level of performance. Without an in depth perception of the principles of power usage many budding stars will unfortunately fall by the wayside.

Younger, developing players must especially appreciate that initially feeding in around 75% of effort will lead to winning around 75% of the points. The theory behind this is of course that at this speed you keep the opponent under enough pressure that he/she is not allowed the time/opportunity to open up with the ‘hard ball’ and/or power. Or if he/she attempts to do this, it entails risks and the possibility of unforced errors. Alternatively the attempt to create power from the opponent’s end of the table will result in a decisive advantage for you!

One final point which should be emphasised is that the 75% theory has a great deal more relevance and significance in the women’s game. This is of course because of the lesser power input in general and in consequence the longer rallies which occur. As a result the ability to keep the ball on the table with safety and enough speed to keep the opponent under pressure and unable to feed in the ‘hard ball’, assumes rather more importance as does the ‘juggling’ for supremacy by one or another form of change within the rally.

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