All the Things We Don’t Know About Table Tennis

If you are reading this post and hoping to learn something, you’ve come to the right place. You could learn things from my other posts as well. Every week I attempt to share some of what I know, or think I know about table tennis. This post is completely different. Rarely will you get a coach to admit that there might be some gaps in their knowledge. I’ve attempted to come up with some of the mysteries of our sport – things that I don’t know, and maybe you don’t either. It’s become increasingly apparent that the more I learn about table tennis, the more I realize how little I know. I could definitely say the same thing about life in general; but for the sake of my readers I’ll stick to table tennis observations. 

One of the biggest mysteries is why on some days we play well and some days we play terribly. I think that players always try to find a reason to explain apparent downward swings in ability. It could be lack of sleep, concern about a pet, a new medication, an astrological misalignment, or your mother in law’s cooking. All of these are just theories. They could also just be illusory impressions of our performance, that might be affected by our opponent’s healthy diet and thriving gerbils.

It’s never been completely clear how some players can have slower strokes but create faster shots. Conversely, some players try to crush the ball and rarely get any real power. I realize that there are some good scientific reasons for this phenomenon. It all seems to be related to acceleration, friction, velocity, energy transfer, racket composition, and timing. I’m willing to follow the science on this one; but it’s still disconcerting.

Why are there some skills that players never really master? Older players, determined as they are, sometimes just can’t learn certain skills. But, it’s not just seniors who struggle with some aspects of table tennis. This comes down to realizing we really have no idea how our brains work. How much sense does it make that players can eventually give up on learning a skill only to have it magically appear after they quit trying?

I don’t think any of us will really comprehend the subtleties of spin. We read, discuss, analyze, and study spin; but it remains the greatest mystery of table tennis. All players understand it in a general way; but I think there are more types of spin than we have names for. I know that I can create backspin with inverted and short pips rubber. There might not be much real difference, but there’s enough that players tend to loop more successfully off of the short pips pushes – except for the players who prefer the inverted spin. 

None of us have the time or resources to study all the differences in equipment. There are billions of racket possibilities. If you read equipment reviews, you’ll discover numerous players have discovered the holy grail of rubber or blades. Even if that’s true, their holy grail may not be holy for anybody else.  

Every player will interpret what they see differently than anybody else. A fast shot to one player, will just be average speed to another. Some of us struggle against long pips, and some of us don’t. An obnoxious opponent to you, might just seem unusually intense to me. There’s a lot we’ll never understand about table tennis. But, there’s a lot we can understand and plenty to learn. We’ll all just understand it differently. Understand?   

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