Techniques, Rules and Systems

Rowden September 2020

Science is in a similar position to our sport of table tennis. Its practical limits are becoming apparent; it can tell us how to make things but not how to use them.

Because of uncontrolled science our world starts to be polluted in fundamental ways. Science cannot help us decide what to do with the world or how to live in it!

Equally like other outmoded systems table tennis is losing its way in the modern world. Techniques, ideas, materials and equipment are in flux, are always changing. It is therefore painfully obvious that to adopt the purists approach to our sport is both outdated and counterproductive. Systems and academies lead to dogmas, dogmas create fossils, rigidity and clones. The adoption of purity is as limiting as absolute consistency.

On the other hand the great artists understand intrinsically that there is no way they can succeed in our constantly changing sport by a predictable and rigid approach. They therefore prioritise creativity not consistency, the innovatory not the conventional, the exceptional not the usual and unpredictability over regularity. The great individualist, Jan Ove Waldner has been a prime example of such supreme artistry.

With our modern game of table tennis there are two other crucial aspects, to which every aspiring player must pay the greatest of attention and understand completely.

• Once you are able to execute table tennis strokes to perfection and know them inside-out, you may be of the opinion that there’s nothing more to learn. You couldn’t be more wrong. All your training so far has just brought you only as far as the threshold of the entrance. Rules and systems take us only so far, once they are out of the way, you are free of them and able to move on to a higher dimension.
It is only at this stage that you realise that table tennis is an art form; you indeed have the weapons, but now you must cultivate the awareness and understanding of just how to use these effectively and in the best way for you. We are all individuals and should progress and develop in our own individual way. We have to do what science hasn’t been able to do; now we have created something, we must know what to do with it.
• The second crucial aspect is to do with the science of our sport, which has changed with the introduction of the new plastic ball. As we know there is much less spin, more use of power and players adopting a closer to the table position. However unfortunately most players are not fully aware of all the implications.
For example power with much less spin results in a more predictable ball; less effect on the opponent’s side and easier to return. It also results in more conventional play from mid-distance or deep and less alternatives from these areas with less chance to win points or to deceive opponents.
Closer play over the table, on the other hand, gives more diversity and more opportunities to cause problems for the opposition. You can use more variety of stroke with all the early timed variations and there is more spin on the ball whereas at a distance most spin is lost. Also the slower shot, slow roll and drop shot, is deceptive over the table with the plastic as the ball slows rapidly and does not come through.
It would appear therefore that players who naturally adopt a closer to table position will benefit from the plastic ball and indeed it will be necessary for all exponents of our sport to prioritise and upgrade training in over the table areas.

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