Stop wasting your time and get out of table-tennis already

(Unless you join Loopaholics Unanimous)

By  Srinivas Janardhanan - Updated November 22 2012

If you are a casual player who just plays for fun and/or exercise this article does not apply to you.

    But if you are a player who plays in tournaments and wants to improve your game and maximize your potential and reach as high as your talent will take you , then this article addresses issues regarding managing your practices, equipment etc effectively without focusing on wrong issues. My strong belief is that you should be doing some other activity other than wasting time in table-tennis if you are not focusing on the right issues to maximize your potential.     

        In table-tennis  I think USATT has a reasonably accurate computerized rating system and  generally most players have an initial  goal of getting to a rating of 2000 (and beyond) which puts them solidly at expert level (1900 is considered an expert level but 2000 is goal of most players) .  This article may still apply to you even if you do not play in tournaments but are interested in improving your skill level and maximize your potential.

Here are what I believe some of the most overlooked factors by both players as well coaches. There may be other factors and I would love hear comments from other players

 

1.     Selection of right grip to match your natural style

     This is actually more tricky than it actually seems.  Simplistically you may say that there is just the shake-hand grip and pen-hold grip.  But in reality  there are 1000’s of subtle variations.  Selection (or de_selection) of a grip by a player (or by a coach to a player) is dictated by many factors.  For example if a 70 year old player has played all his life with a seemingly bizarre convoluted awkward crazy grip, there really may not be any  point in trying to change his/her grip. But on the other hand if a seven year old wants to do the same thing that is a very tricky situation. How do you figure out if (s)he will be better off with a standard penhold or shakehand grip ? You have to have him / her a try for a while but if it does not work then maybe (s)he is better off with the crazy grip. Recently I noticed a 11 year old with a Hasegawa grip and tried to switch him to classic shakehand but it did not work . I also notices his topspins were powerful (like Hasegawa) and his blocking was also good.   So I let him stay with the Hasegawa grip  but with long_pips on the other side.  Generally a 11 year old should not use long pips but this is a special case.

      In most cases grip problems with children must be corrected as early as possible.  Also it is highly recommended that players don’t drastically change their grips while playing backhand and then switching to backhand.  Table-tennis is way way too fast for this . True that penholders may adjust grip little more though that should be minimized.  

 

 

2.     Selection of right equipment (racket) to match your natural style

    This is usually highly overlooked by both players and coaches.  If you are just playing for fun , then racket is of no concern to you.  But if you want to maximize your potential , you and your coach must select a racket that matches your style as closely as possible.  While children should start only with regular inverted rubber (or known as smooth rubber, unlike rubber with pips out) both sides (if shakehand) and inverted one side only if any other one sided grip such as penhold, Seemiller, Hasegawa etc. , for adults it is different.   Children “generally’ should not start with pips-out or anti as the strokes are so different (  Regular inverted uses a more closed racket and pips and anti use a more open racket angle for attacking strokes ) .    

         For adults this is more complicated.  If you had played for 5 years and if you have an excellent looping backhand and a forehand that you can only flat-hit with but cannot loop , it is a stupid mistake for a player (and his/her coach) to continue using inverted both sides, just because using pips is socially considered uncool by some irrational psychopaths , simply  because they cannot play against such styles.  

Another more common example :-  You have played for 10 years . You have a smoking looping forehand but your backhand stinks to high heavens and can’t do a thing with it..  Players simply direct the ball to your backhand and finish you off. Are you going to play the next 10 years using the same inverted rubber on your backhand  just because using anything other than inverted both sides is considered socially by a few of those insensitive haters , who may ridicule you if you tried say short pips or long pips or anti .  True , short pips and long pips or anti were introduced to “enhance” certain styles of play (just as inverted was to “enhance” looping) but it is definitely not unethical or immoral to turn your weakness into a weapon by using non-regular inverted on your pathetic backhand.  Most players don’t do this because of fear of social rejection by irrational psychos who are clueless about the history of origination of long-pips or anti etc. and suffer year after year, wondering why they suck in table-tennis.   Backhand attack usually is not meant everybody. You may hit one spectacular backhand out of a thousand but in general most players have a far weaker backhand than forehand. So if you notice that you cannot loop at all with your backhand but can hit with it, then your natural choice is a pips out rubber on your backhand , keeping your inverted on your forehand.  Of course if you are one of those minority with a looping backhand but with inability to loop on your forehand, then by all means keep your inverted on your backhand but switch to a short pips or medium-pips on your forehand only if you have good hit on your forehand

 

Yet another common example :-  Some players have an excellent looping forehand but cannot hit or loop or block from backhand but can chop decent from backhand then guess what ………the logical choice is long-pips on the backhand. (This is me………at my rating level……….not at a much lower level…….When a 1700 player asks me why I “bother” with long-pips because my forehand loop is strong …this is my answer………my backhand sucks not at a 1700 level but at my rating level …..I have a good backhand chop at my rating level….that is why I use long-pips there and that is the original purpose of invention of long-pips.. ) .  Again, sure you can chop with regular inverted rubber but that is not the “intended purpose” of regular inverted. There are some players out there who don’t switch to long-pips, again because of fear of social rejection by uninformed haters.  I have no shame in admitting that my backhand sucks (at may rating level) and I am not worried about narrow-minded idiots who cry that I win “only’ because of long-pips. Yes I win because of long-pips but only because I chose rubber that suits my playing style , which is chopping………..just as a looper wins “only” because of his inverted reglued rubber which suits his playing style.  There seems to be a sad myth in tabletennis that you become a great player simply because you choose inverted rubber both sides and nothing else. No rubber can make you great unless you choose rubber / blade that matches your playing style.  Even more offensive and sexist is the macho stupidity  that you are not a man if you do not use inverted both sides (you play like a girl……real men only attack) . Well if you are a REAL man , then you should not play ANY defense at all (no blocking, no pushing , no lobbing and God forbid no chopping) ………try playing like that ……..Gatien or Lindh may get away with it but if you are 2200 player and try that your rating will be probably like 1200 !!!........keep in mind that even Waldner’s best stroke is probably the block ……….a defensive stroke. …….I guess that makes him a sissy. If I went up 300 points “just” because I switched to log-pips, so be it. I chose equipment that maximizes my potential I have no guilt whatsoever and do not worry about insensitive psychos who do not know the history of the sport. Just because you chose a two winged looping style does not make you a Kong LingHui or a Waldner in itself (though maybe you can look impressive to your girlfriend who does not understand TT  ), if you are stuck at your pathetic level with a chopping backhand but are afraid to switch from a Mark V to long-pips because of social ridicule and rejection. One would think table-tennis players would be more sensitive because I am sure tabletennis players run into people all the time who think it makes them better athletes or better person ,  simply because they chose to play say tennis over tabletennis, but unfortunately it does not seem to be that way. 

        There is absolutely nothing shameful in turning your weakness into a weapon by switching to a suitable rubber / blade. It is not your problem if your opponent is too incompetent (or too psychotic) to play against certain rubbers / styles. It is not your job to please your opponent by choosing the equipment that (s)he is comfortable against ,so that  (s)he can beat you 0-11, 0-11, 0-11 but it is in fact your moral and ethical obligation to yourself , your opponent and to the sport , to use the best equipment  that best suits your style (not your opponents’) and try to beat your opponent 11-0,11-0,11-0…………….unless of course you want to play casual ping-pong and not competitive table-tennis.  Therefore if you play your best  say by looping on your forehand and chopping on the backhand but are afraid to switch to long-pips on your backhand only because you are afraid of social ridicule and suffer by using a 2 mm Mark V on your backhand , then only you, your stupidity, ignorance and vanity are to blame, if you are not playing your best , because you have not understood the simple fact that long-pips were originally invented for one simple reason, which is for chopping and not intentionally for deception as many a hater would want you to believe.

       Selection of a racket to match your style is of course very complicated. There are infinite number of blades and rubbers and thicknesses and blade grips.  Tiny microscopic changes that you make to your equipment will greatly effect your performance at any given more or less equal skill / rating level (not by comparing a world-class 2800 rating player to a sub-beginner 800 rating  player, as many hatemongering idiots would do) . But my point is that you and your coach must strive hard to match your racket design to your playing style as closely as possible. Yes equipment costs money but you might as well be doing something else that you enjoy more, if you are wasting your time here and not maximizing your potential not because of your lack of skill and talent but because you use a racket that is either a total mismatch to your playing style and / or the quality of your rubber / blade is well below your talent-level. (This is sadly a major problem because when you switch equipment , the adjustment period can vary from weeks to months depending both on your talent and amount of change to equipment but I guarantee you it won't happen even if you are a world champion ....see below on discussions of short & long term gains )You don’t always have to buy new equipment to try. You can try other players’ rackets in the club. Chances are that there is another player in your club is using the racket that very closely matches your style (and  what is more funny,  in all probability does not match his / her style) .

       I know so many players who use a one-sided style (Seemiller, Penhold etc)  , who leave the other side of the racket with no rubber,  simply because of social ridicule. They could be using an off-rubber such as long-pips or anti or short pips and many top players such as Lu Guoliang (or Ma Lin , Xu Xin, Wang Hao etc)  to diversify their game.  

Three major  pitfalls that every newbie must avoid

(a)     Playing every match in practice to win 

If you plan to play in tournaments, this is not a good idea.  You must think about long-term gains and not short term gains.  If you know that you can beat a player and have beaten him last 100 times in practice, then what is the point.  A better way to use this practice match is to go against this opponent’s strengths that bother you, and then try to beat him / her at that.  Also there is no need to win the match in practice just for winning. You can try to win a match in a specific way, for example say not using your best serves or say attacking every time using backhand only or play the whole match with just chopping or blocking with no attack etc and see what happens.

Of course you want to mix this with matches that you would play as if in a tournament.

I know this is kind of hard to do because it hurts your ego to lose to a player you know can easily beat but as long as you are not worried about your short term failures over long-term goals of improvement . This is especially hard against players who do not play in tournaments but play practice like tournaments but you have to keep your final long-term goals & objectives in mind and not worry about short-term results

This is a major problem for many newcomers especially. Given that table-tennis is an individual sport the ego of many players cannot handle losing to a player they have never lost to. I see many basement players with enormous potential & talent showing up at the club with a garbage 99 cent Kmart Bluelight special racket (either a pips no sponge hardbat or a smooth rubber like anti-spin rubber) and getting lucky beating a few low level players at the club and then start believing that they would have a prayer against better players.  Then when explained why they cannot beat better players ( garbage rackets they use) , they try superior equipment for only a few matches and lose not only even worse to better players but worse they lose to even the few low beginners they beat before. But these newbies don't realize the reason they lost ( adjusting to new rackets takes some time) and go back to crappy rackets and continue losing and lose interest and give up. This is quite sad because most of these players are very talented & athletic but they are not in itself sufficient conditions to succeed in table-tennis.  (Hardbat clowns living in the past corrupt & poison the minds of many of these new players and it has not helped the sport............asking a newbie to stick to hardbat without advising of all options constitutes deception and fraud  and if it is a child .....that is child abuse.........hardbat had its glory days and its time has come and gone ...........so it is time to move on with reality......while I have no issue with certain brainwashed American players kissing up to their cult-leader and pursuing hardbat , I have a hardtime understanding Olympic bodies like USATT supporting such nonsense as hardbat and now even sandpaper,  while these monies could be used for better training USATT talent ). Champions like Rozeanu-Adelstein, Bergmann, Barna , Reisman , Miles, Pagliaro were absolutely beyond amazing but players get faster, smarter. healthier and therefore better in all sports....so it is time to move on instead of living in the past.  I personally enjoy hardbat myself as it actually helps my game on one side and would even play in hardbat events but for the holier than thou attitude of cult groupies of hardbat . So if you think you can become a decent player with crappy rackets in table-tennis, keep in mind that it more like bringing a sword to duel where your opponent has nuclear tipped missiles (illegal carcinogenic glues)    .......I say "illegal" because most competitive players use some form of illegal glue undetectable in testing.....they need to do it because if they don't they are at a competitive disadvantage ....IOC "pretends" like they are doing "a lot" while they really don't , due to political reasons) 

 

(b)     My biggest complaint :-    Mindless practice >  Just   “hitting”   around in practice  

Welcome to  REAL table-tennis  >  Stop "hitting" and start “looping”  

(Conversely :-  Unless you want to learn to "brush" the ball instead of just mindlessly "hitting" it ,   please kindly get the bloody hell out of table-tennis and stop wasting your time by picking up another hobby........unless and until you will learn to loop you are nothing more than a basement recreational "ping-pong" hacker with fantasies of becoming a serious "table-tennis" "athlete". ) 

 Loop Counter-Loop  Loop  Loop-Kill  Power-Loop  Side-Loop Slow-loop  Inside-out loop  Loop Loop Counter-Loop Loop  Loop Inside-Out-Loop Loop Loop Nothing-but-loop  Loop Counter-Loop Loop   Loop-kill Loop  Loop-Kill  Power-Loop  Side-Loop Slow-loop  Inside-out loop  Loop Counter-Loop Loop-Kill  Loop  Loop Slow-loop  Loop Loop Nothing-but-loop  Loop Inside-Out-Loop Loop   ReLoop Counter-Loop Power-Loop  Loop-some-more  

The most frustrating thing for me is to watch is two serious players wasting their time just “hitting” ball back and forth mindlessly both at the table and at the robot.  I have no idea what purpose this serves a player who already knows  (s)he can  just “hit”  25 , 50 or 100 in a row .

If you are a serious (tournament) player trying to break 2000, you should eat , slip , drink, breathe one thing :- “The loop”. It annoys me like hell to see players and coaches mindlessly "hitting" the ball back and forth, thinking of that as serious practice. This is an absolute waste of time. If modern tabletennis can be described by one word it is "loop". Though other things such as serves, return of serve etc are important . they are secondary. A German research paper showed that the cause of most players (children) leaving the sport is being unable to loop .  (An article about this research paper appeared in a USTTA magazine issue about 10 years ago) They found that players (children) spend their practices “hitting” the ball and go to a tournament and get slaughtered by a player who has just barely mastered the basic loops. The paper concludes that, at the very least players(children) have “more” fun “spinning” the ball rather than “hitting” it , since “spin” is the “essence” of table-tennis. Even if you are a short-pips player , you can still loop effectively. So start looping today ………loop, side-loop, loop-kill, counter-loop, re-loop, counter-side-loop, lob-loop,dummy-loop (a no spin fake loop) and most importantly slow-loop. To “really” practice looping , start with slow-looping against the robot set to feed backspin balls . Most players would start forehand looping first. Think always about violently “brushing” or “whiffing” or “grazing” the ball with an acute angle of contact with a near vertical racket angle (against back-spin) and lift the ball about two feet over the net. You should hear hardly any sound at all when you slow loop. In the beginning you will miss 90 to 99% of your shots which is fine because you are trying to almost miss the ball (by trying brush with a very acute contact angle) as opposed to "hitting” which is the opposite.(Even the world’s best players completely miss the ball in matches while looping and this is perfectly normal …..it is just that they miss it 5% of the time unlike a beginner who will miss 99% of the time) You want to maximize spin by “brushing” the ball and snapping your wrist at contact At first you can start without snapping your wrist at contact (all arm) , then you will add wrist snap as well as arm motion to further maximize or vary the spin. Slow loop is basic because of heavy spin and relatively harder to block against or even chop unless opponent is using long-pips. Another key to creating excessive top-spin is bending the knees as much as possible when you start your loop and come up to brush the ball. At first you can  start without dropping your knees and no wrist snap and then once you get the hang of the loop, you can create more spin by dropping the knees and also wrist snap at contact. (See uploaded images called forehand-loop.jpg  and backhand-loop.jpg for excellent illustrations of slow loop from former England #1 Chester Barnes’ book)

Slow loop check list :-  1. Minimal sound at contact    2. Maximum brushing (tangential contact) and minimal hitting (orthogonal contact) by near vertical upward racket acceleration    3.  Wrist snap at contact    4.  Maximal knee drop and rise.

You do not have to be powerfully built to do this. Your spin is maximized by coordinating all 4 factors perfectly. Best examples are the backhand loops of  Jasna Reed and tennis backhand loops of Justine Hardine-Henin and many such women players. Both players are relatively very small in build, yet can generate enormous spin because of their near perfect stroke-mechanics.
How can you tell if you are slow looping or hitting the ball ? In a “hit” ball you hear the maximum sound. In a slow looped ball you hear almost no sound at all.(Keep in mind I am only talking about slow-loop not reloops or loop-kills etc….in a loop-kill or fast-loop some of the spin is sacrificed for speed and racket angle is closed and racket movement more forward than upward………in a slow loop the racket movement is almost entirely upward Any average club player can “hit” the ball but few can really “loop” the ball.
At worst you would have lot more fun “spinning” the ball

Once you relatively get the hang of slow loop , you can then move on to other loops.
I do not agree with the theory that you should walk first (hit first) before you can run sprints (loop) . Conventional thinking may suggest that you must hit first but if you look at long term goals of both fun and improved play the paradoxical approach of loop first (starting with day one….as crazy as it sounds)  makes complete sense to me. If a player has minimal hand eye coordination to “hit” the ball they would have enough talent to loop on day one. If a player is unable to loop you can then work backwards. This applies to all styles even if you are defensive player and to a lesser extent to a pips-out block and smash player.( a pips out hitter or defender can be over 2000 without looping but most top pips-out hitters or defenders over 2300 can also loop very effectively) ……in other words it is a bit easier for a defender or pips-out-hitter to break 2000 if they can loop reasonably well if not great).

           I suggest mastering the slow loop first because , if not anything else , it instills great confidence in a player if (s)he can loop the ball with maximum spin under pressure situations and does the opposite to the opponent.  Also usually under 2000 level, players would have a monumentally difficult time blocking against this slow loop properly, because the ball comes so high and spins excessively and awkwardly (in contrast to a loop-kill  which can be blocked easier) . Finally once you master the slow loop you can start mixing it up with the no-spin slow loop which makes it extremely effective against players below 2000.  The important point is that you are not trying to win a point right of the slow loop but you will later kill the blocked ball against a slow loop (called a fifth ball attack……compared to a third ball attack, which is serve and smash or serve and loop-kill) .  Third ball attacks are not easy though world-class players mislead beginners because world class players seem to loop-kill any long ball regardless of any spin or speed on the ball  so easily.

The backhand slow loop even more deadly than forehand slow loop because it takes a good blocker to even keep the return on the table let alone pop up an easy return for an easy kill.   Most importantly, once you master the slow-loop, other types loops will follow as a natural progression without even trying. Many players start with the loop-kill and see their loop-kills repeatedly blocked to the opposite corner before they finish the follow-thorough.

     Therefore a new player must spend 90% of his / her time mastering the slow loop against back spin. You can do this against the robot or as a multi-ball with the feeder feeding you back spin balls with lite to medium back spin. As your percentage improves you will move on to slow loop against heavy back spin. Then onto side loop against backspin. Then on to counter loop and counter side loop and loop-kills.

  The next one is the re-loop ( A counter-loop but right off the bounce against an opponent’s any loop but requires impeccable timing and control which some world-class players like Lindh, Gatien etc can do as second-nature) .  The final one is the hardest one , the inside-out-loop. Inside out loop and reloop are not really necessary in your arsenal until you are over say 2200 but one should reasonably master other types of loops.

 

(c)   Avoiding practice against long-pips or defensive or other unorthodox styles

Many players hate playing against unorthodox styles and go out of their way to avoid playing against them in practice.  These players seem to believe that somehow they can magically manage to play against such styles just in tournaments only and still win. This is a psychotic delusion at best. Fact is that if you have not played against unorthodox styles in practice, I can guarantee you that you will never break 2000 . You will be simply laughed out of the tournament in total humiliation. If you are afraid of losing against such styles in practice , you have absolutely no chance against them in a tournament, because usually most of these unorthodox players have their styles built on higher level of control, touch and feel for the ball whereas a low level  orthodox player can be extremely erratic and nervous. Sure it is much harder to play against unorthodox styles but if all of us played exactly the same we would be nothing more than a bunch of robots playing against each other. At the top level, usually the best matches for spectators (both knowledgeable and uninformed) always involve a defensive player playing against another defender (at the top level all defenders can also attack very very well)  or another attacker. While there are few matches that are exciting when  two attackers, most of those matches result in very short rallies.

Simply because you have chosen an attacking style does not by itself make you a superior table-tennis player and / or a superior athlete. An unorthodox player had chosen equipment to match his skills, such as if (s)he is defensive on the forehand and a blocker on the backhand , (s)he has every right to choose long-pips for  her forehand and anti for her backhand, just as an attacking player with a hitting forehand and looping backhand has the right to choose short pips for their forehand and spinny inverted for their backhand. Modern table-tennis is a sport of infinite unique styles as the style of a player is an extension of individuality both as a player and athlete as well as their  personalities  and this is possible due to availability of choice of rubbers and blades, that allows a player (if he is smart enough)  to very closely match style to his / her racket. If you cannot respect that and hate someone for their choice of styles , that is your narrow-minded problem and not theirs. If you take a negative attitude and avoid such styles rather than take a positive attitude and try to conquer as many styles as you can, it is exceedingly unlikely that you will become a good tabletennis player. That is the reality and get used to it or you can be stuck forever at a low level and don’t even bother going to tournaments wasting your valuable time and money……….you might just as well stay at your club just “hitting” the ball back and forth mindlessly against other robot players like yourselves.

           The number of unorthodox and defensive players at a given club varies from club to club. Some clubs like Charlotte TTC have only two or three such players and these unorthodox and defensive players can be actually charging a fee for the benefit of practicing against them if they want, because these two or three players can always pick and choose among many robotic players (but are not psychotic in their hatred against unorthodox styles) they want to play against but if some robot players want to ridicule them for their style and avoid them, then these two or three players cannot be blamed at all if they charge a fee for their premium services.  Interestingly these two or three players are exceedingly nice and prostitute themselves freely for the benefit of the club. It is simply a question of supply and demand and a player is under no obligation to play anyone else for free especially if you are going to be ridiculed for your choice of style of play and no club can force a player to play against any given player, especially a player with irrational psychotic beliefs and hatred..  Charging a fee is nothing new or unusual because in old days most top players in many US clubs won’t play you unless you play a money bet match with them, spotting you a handicap.