Table Tennis Consistency or Creativity? The Right Recipe for Success

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.    

7 Replies to “Table Tennis Consistency or Creativity? The Right Recipe for Success”

  1. I disagree, consistency in paddle/racket sports is essential. Unforced errors are a huge reason why a lot of players do not progress and become good players. You don’t need to be creative to be a good player, look at the Chinese at ping pong, they are like consistent robots. A 50/50 player would lose to a 100 percent consistent player almost every time, given that they are on the same skill level. If 50/50 percent of creativity and consistency were the key to success, then Adam Bobrow would be the best player in the world. But consistency is more important, and that’s why Ma Long is the G.O.A.T. In pickleball a 4.0 player and a 5.0 player have the same skill set, the only difference is the 5.0 player makes less unforced errors. When someone loses a ping pong match they always say, I missed all my loops, or my blocks went long, or my backhand was inconsistent. I never hear a person say I lost because I wasn’t creative enough.

    1. I can’t argue too much with you, but I could give you some examples of players you know that have been playing the exact same way for twenty years and never bothering to learn any new techniques or develop any creative serves. I definitely lean towards solid fundamentals, but the best players in any sport are usually creative…..Waldner, Michael Jordan, Gretzky, Federer, to name a few. You’ll notice I didn’t endorse the 50/50 approach. I just think the 100% robotic approach eventually has some weaknesses, but a creative person like you already knows that. Good to hear from you.

      1. When I think of consistency, I think of the ball landing on the playing surface in bounds. In which case, every player should aim for 100 percent consistency. If you are referring to a player’s movement or shot selection not having enough variations, then you are talking about variety. I’m already transforming into a pickleball player, we don’t have robotic players, and consistency means not making mistakes. I like how applying your article to two different sports can mean two different things. I enjoyed this article.

  2. If you turned this into a video, you could hire a voice over guy who rapidly reads disclaimers at the end of tv commercials. I’d love to hear one tackle YOUR disclaimer!

  3. I would much rather play a 1800 player that is well coached (drill master) type player then a 1800 player with no coaching.

      1. Exactly! Typically, great with balls returned in a pattern. Of course at some level they will make less mistakes than I will and beat me because they are more accurate. Lol. I need to keep the rallies under 5 or 6 hits.

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