Table Tennis in the Twilight Zone

There is a middle ground, perhaps between light and shadow, but probably not as timeless as infinity. There is a time immediately after the ball leaves your racket that will determine whether you or your opponent will win this point. There is a middle ground where fear, knowledge, and imagination collide.

All players experience the sights and the sounds of table tennis rallies. The best players are able to play in the zone, The Twilight Zone. It’s not nearly as absurd an idea as it initially seems. There’s a lot going on during the portion of a rally when neither player is connecting with the ball. Perhaps when the ball is directly above the net each player can unlock the door to their imagination and plan their next shot. Some of this we take for granted. Naturally we determine whether to use our forehand or backhand. Most players will consider how to approach the spin on the ball. Determining depth, height, and speed are important. What we see, hear, and feel determine our reactions.
If this is the extent of our experience we may only be playing reactively or by instinct. This in itself is not an easy thing to do. Some players practice for years to get to the point of making consistent shots and reading spin correctly. I am convinced however that what happens between shots is at least as important as the shot itself. That middle ground where decisions are made out of fear or knowledge will likely determine the winner. The player who fails to appreciate that middle zone doesn’t have time to unlock the door to a different dimension. Many players don’t realize the door is even there.
Players who play in this zone and recognize the possibilities between shots tend to not be predictable. They will change speeds as needed as the point progresses. They will envision their shots regularly hitting corners, and might not hesitate to incorporate drop shots into their game. It’s not an easy thing to play in the Twilight Zone. Sometimes sights and sounds can get confused with shadow and substance. Sometimes imagined shots don’t go where we imagined them. The idea that occurs to us in the middle of a rally backfires.
Anyone who ever watched an episode of The Twilight Zone knows it was always a little scary. We don’t have a vast amount of space and our time to imagine is very brief. But we sometimes have more time than we think, and our brains can sometimes understand more than we realize. Things are happening and things are being imagined in this middle ground. Once you understand this, you’ll never come back. You’re in the table tennis twilight zone.

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