You’ve probably already figured out that you need some of both. It’s not an either/or question. It is a how much of each ingredient do you need question. Getting the right proportions is essential to any recipe. Perhaps you will recognize some of these examples of different approaches.
Any resemblance to players currently coached by the author are purely coincidental. The examples used are fictional, and in no way should be construed to purposefully disparage the reputation of any table tennis players within a one hundred mile radius of Lawrenceville Georgia. Tournament players from the neighboring states of Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, are not necessarily exempt from being used as negative examples. All measurements of consistent or exceptionally creative table tennis are approximate, and should not be considered permanent, or factually accurate.
95% consistent – 5% creative This player can easily be recognized by the ability to warmup without ever missing the table. If you do warmup with them and can’t manage to keep the ball on the table, it’s your fault. They can also be counted on to wear the exact same clothes every time they play. Their serves are predictable. They rarely wander too far back from the table. Their attacks are moderately aggressive, and they are excellent blockers. They will often refer to their five year old paddle as “brand new.” The strength of their game is their consistency. Unfortunately, their USATT rating is consistently below where it could be if they were just a little more creative. They are conservative in all things, and tend to vote Republican.
5% consistent – 95% creative The ultra creative player is easily bored, and prefers to perfect shots that are rarely seen, and are rarely effective. Lack of discipline in training results in a player who has created a unique style. It occasionally works, but mostly stalls any significant progress. These players are often highly intelligent and analytical. They view table tennis as a puzzle to be solved, in much the same way they view global warming.
50% consistent – 50% creative This would seem to be the ideal mix for a well balanced approach. The problem with the 50/50 player is lack of commitment. They might not be too sure what they want to do. Fully capable of consistent training, they can veer off into uncharted areas. At times their creativity will pay dividends. Their progress is marked by big jumps, usually preceded by long periods of stagnation. They rarely play in tournaments because they can’t decide if they want to before the registration deadline.
0% consistent – 0% creative We’re talking about beginners. The jury is still out on what type of player they will be. They won’t be consistent until they learn the fundamentals. Any tendencies towards creativity won’t work until they have a good foundation of skills. I would encourage them to learn to control their shots, and be as consistent as possible. At the same time, it’s important to recognize what makes them unique. It’s best to help steer creativity, but not stifle it.
There is no right percentage for the perfect table tennis player. No matter where you fall on the consistent/creative spectrum, it’s worth considering where you should be. As I wrote this I realized that I am probably a 50/50 player. I tend to play better when I focus on consistency. Maybe my approach should be more like 75/25. The consistent player needs to avoid getting stuck in a rut. The creative player needs a firm foundation of proven table tennis fundamentals before letting their creativity fully bloom. The recipe for success is to know what works best for you.