Table Tennis Reflexes – Your Hidden Superpower

Reflexes work because sensory neurons bring sensory info almost directly to motor neurons in a specific area of the spinal cord. Because of this, the body can react to certain stimuli even before the brain registers what is happening.

I was asked to write something about reflexes by a former table tennis player. He’s taken up pickleball with some interesting results. Pickleball doesn’t require the quick reflexes that table tennis does, but my friend has discovered that the skills he developed in table tennis serve him well in his new sport. Is there any cause for concern that he’ll lose his superpower if he gives up table tennis completely. If he puts as much time into pickleball as he did with table tennis there’s probably no need for concern. The problem would come if he decided to make a triumphant return to table tennis after conquering the world of pickleball.

Playing table tennis is often prescribed as a way to sharpen your reflexes. I can attest to the fact that reflex actions happen before your brain can process them. Most of my best shots are purely reflex actions. If you play close to the table and block well, you too have probably developed excellent reflexes. I have also witnessed the tendency to adapt to the speed of the ball that you typically see. Steady blocking skills against USATT 1500 level players don’t translate very well to stronger shots from USATT 2000 players. Reflexes are essentially a survival mechanism. Our earliest ancestors evolved life skills to avoid snakes and unexpected attacks. Not surprisingly, your general health greatly affects reflexes. Lack of sleep, alcohol, stress, caffeine, diet, and fatigue can all slow down reaction time.

So, will a retired table tennis player lose their superpower? Quitting table tennis could have very negative effects, unless it is replaced with another healthy activity. For table tennis players, dabbling in another racket sport can be a great addition to your training. My own experience is that I feel like I move more freely playing table tennis after playing a sport that requires covering more ground. Your reflexes will only be as good as the sport you are playing require. Pickleball players won’t have table tennis reflexes. Your current superpower won’t last forever, but it could be replaced by a new one. 

I hate to lose a good table tennis player to another sport. On the other hand, I’m glad to know that he’s happy and staying active. I wouldn’t worry too much about slowed reflexes. Pickleball players use reflexes too. Just keep playing, and keep moving. You’ll always have plenty of superpowers. Lethargy is the kryptonite.

5 Replies to “Table Tennis Reflexes – Your Hidden Superpower”

  1. Great post, Jon! The table tennis player is a fantastic athlete. Having played table tennis for seven years, the one thing that upset me was I couldn’t use my 6’2 210-pound body as an advantage. In pickleball, my body gives me the power to hit hard, and the height to smash lobs. But, being a table tennis chopper, the skills transfer so well to pickleball. I can read spin easily, my reaction time is excellent, and table tennis defending taught me patience. So to all your readers out there, I’d like to say while you’re having fun playing table tennis know that you are building athletic skills that will help your health, reaction time, and focus. Even though I laid down my paddle for good, my table tennis past continues to enrich my life, and as for pickleball, I got a 2 to 3-year head start on a pickleball beginner.

  2. Pickleball is trash and taller players in table tennis have more leverage for strokes on both sides, just like in pickleball. Keep spinning everyone!

    1. Pickleball is trash! Blasphemy! Table tennis is meant for shorter people like 5’8″ or below. You can get away with being a taller table tennis player in your 20’s and 30’s, but beyond that age, the sport will mess up your back. It is not natural to get low in a baseball catcher like position and move in tiny steps for thirty-minute matches for hours on end in a week. My back is forever messed up because of playing table tennis, and as for spin, that went away since to introduction of the plastic 40+ ball.

      1. Pickle ball was on ESPN ..hey Matt. Let’s double up and win some real money !!! $$$$-$$$$$ payday vs table tennis $$-$$$ Check !!! I play most racquet sports, paddle ball, tennis & racquetball..even handball ‍♂️

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