As I began to change the focus of my game from “making the shot” to making the best possible shot, my offense improved rapidly. I was on the brink of competing with the top players in our club. However, hitting the ball harder meant that balls from good players began to come back faster as well as enticing them to play more aggressively against me to prevent me from attacking. A player suggested that I back off the table to buy myself time to manage the speed of those counter attacks.
Adrift in the mid Pacific, on the Big Island of Hawaii, our table tennis club has grown over the last two decades, from a core of largely self-taught players, into a robust club with enthusiastic children and adults of ages eight through eighty. Recently, Len Winkler, a regionally certified USATT coach moved to the far side of our island, and introduced us to the book PATT: A Principles Approach to Table Tennis, the brainchild of Donn Olsen. With his collaborator Kyongsook Kim, Donn has created a language and mode of thinking about table tennis, which offers structure to the complexity of the sport. In our efforts to guide up-and-coming youth and to improve our players, we have attempted to implement the guiding principles of PATT. The following are essays that have sprung from our efforts.
Stephen Freedman offers table tennis coaching both privately at his Kurtistown residence, or at the Boys and Girls Club of Hilo. Trained and mentored very extensively by the author and originator of PATT -- A Principles Approach to Table Tennis he offers an individualized coaching plan to support development and performance for adults and children, individually or in groups.
Contact email@example.com or call (808)966-8943.
Years ago as an aspiring beginner I asked the best player in our state how he went about analyzing a point which had been lost. How far back in the point would he go? Would he look to the opportunity given up for an opponent’s winner? Did he look for the moment when the tactical advantage was lost? Or did he perhaps look all the way back to the service beginning the point?
“I only look at my last shot attempt,” he said.
I have been engaged for some months in adding a new shot into my repertoire. Learning this single feature upended my thinking about the nature of table tennis and about the goals and measure of coaching developing players.
Close on the heels of the World Championships of Table Tennis in Rotterdam this year came the French Open Grand Slam of Tennis. The juxtaposition of viewing these events brought to mind the importance of bad relationships. No, I do not have a melancholic romance in Paris to relate, I’m talking about the unique distinction of relationships a table tennis player has within the speedy game we play.
Everyone knows that judgment is critical within the sport of table tennis. Separating average players from great players, judgment is a complex skill which can be broken down to its elements and trained like any other technical skill. Many club players tend to think of judgment as applying exclusively to the moment prior to ball contact, adjusting the intention of shot and the method of creating the shot from some preordained plan to a practical compromise based upon the realities of a given circumstance. But ongoing judgments inform the entire process of shot creation.
It had been a year since I first sent video of my play to coach Donn Olsen for analysis, so I followed up by sending him footage of a match I played recently against a defensive player rated a couple of hundred points above me. This opponent played a consistent game, counter attacking successfully whenever I attacked. I misread his serve often, and he had effectively toyed with me in every past meeting.
“First do the right thing; then do it right.” – Donn Olsen
One of our best island players has competed in table tennis for two decades. He’s athletic, smart, and dedicated. Yet one fatal flaw has remained in his game; he has been very weak at returning serves to his short forehand. Whether the service is topspin or underspin, still he continues to exhibit poor results, giving up position and several points per game to any opponent canny enough to detect the flaw.
A topspin ball is rushing toward you at high speed. Recognizing the speed of the ball and the spin which will launch it forward upon contact with the table you position your body quickly. You take a backswing then with every intention of covering the rising topspin you proceed to launch the ball off the end of the table. Oops, didn’t cover it enough!
In a match played at a recent tournament a problem I’ve encountered over the years resurfaced. A torrential downpour caused a very tiny drop of water to plummet from a leak in the roof high above onto an area just outside my playing zone. I became obsessed with this absurdly irrelevant distraction, completely losing my ability to compete effectively against an opponent I would normally defeat easily.
Biologists discuss two types of causes in the mechanics of evolution: proximate and ultimate causes. The proximate causes are the most temporally related set of events to an effect, and the ultimate causes are the evolutionary causes having more to do with why an entire class of events came about. For example the immediate cause of a squabble in a tribe of primates might be competition for a morsel of food. The ultimate cause of the event might be the evolution of dominance systems. Understanding events often requires acknowledging the relationship of these two categories of causality.