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.