Stand back! I will now attempt to do some math. It won’t be pretty; but I think I can pull off some basic geometry. A basic definition of coordinates is a set of two or more numbers used to determine the position of a point in a given space in respect to other fixed references. Imagine you are attempting to hit a ping pong ball back to your opponent’s side of the net. Your fixed references are your paddle, the ball, and the table. In fact, only the table is actually fixed. The location of the ball and your paddle is rapidly changing. Your goal in this example will be to have your paddle connect with the ball at its highest point. You are simply trying to drive the ball to some portion of the table on your opponent’s side. There’s actually quite a few other factors that could affect this, the two most obvious being the spin on the ball and the angle of your racket. That’s a lot of things to coordinate for a relatively simple shot. We haven’t even gotten into coordinating your feet. You probably won’t be able to be in a perfect position if your feet are uncoordinated.
If you had an hour to determine all the points, angles, speeds, and coordinates necessary for a forehand drive, you’d still have to execute it in less than a second. Being good at math won’t help your coordination. I consider myself to be a fairly well coordinated individual. Even among other table tennis players, I might be better than average. But, I’m not great. How do I know I’m not really super coordinated? I know people that are.
The most graceful and well coordinated players I know seem to have one thing in common. They all played other sports, either in addition to, or prior to taking up table tennis. Dan Seemiller played baseball. I know several players who gained most of their coordination through soccer. Richard McAfee played tennis. Keith Evans played cricket. Most of the best highschool athletes I knew played multiple sports. Apparently, Roger Federer played just about every sport imaginable before becoming a tennis great. The trend towards sports specialization might just actually be having a negative effect on our future athletes.
Even though I have mostly focused on table tennis for the last twenty years, I’m beginning to rethink how I might improve in my chosen sport. Is 63 a little old to take up soccer? Would throwing a football or hitting a wiffle ball be of any benefit? I used to play basketball. Would some dribbling coordination drills be of any value to my table tennis game? Normally, I would say that if you want to get good at table tennis, you should practice skills specific to table tennis.
But……If you’ve been playing for years and seem to have plateaued, perhaps it’s time for thinking outside the box a little. All of the sports I’ve mentioned require some level of coordination. At the very least, dabbling in a secondary sport could be a good mental break.
You can survive in the table tennis world simply with good hand/eye coordination. But what about the other 99% of your body? Throwing, catching, hitting, dribbling, running, and kicking engage your body in a slightly different way. Playing table tennis requires some instant calculations. The great players have a special awareness of exactly what the essential coordinates are. It starts with knowing the exact coordinates of the ball, your paddle, the table, and your body. Anything that promotes body awareness should help. It’s true….Do the math.