When I post a coaching video on my Youtube channel, I always have a sense of trepidation.
Usually my videos are well received, especially by beginner and intermediate players, who my videos are mainly aimed at.
But I usually get a few comments, where my technique gets completely trashed. I get told I do this wrong and that wrong and I should try to play the shot like the best professionals (usually someone from the Chinese National Team).
It can be a brutal experience.
What these comments imply is that there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way to play table tennis (mine is clearly the wrong way). Unless you can execute your shots like Ma Long, you suck!
But how true is this? Do you have to play like the best professionals in the world to be any good at table tennis? Is there such a thing as ‘perfect’ technique? Let’s explore these questions…
More than one way to play a shot
Last month I posted a coaching video on how to attack a backspin ball.
Here’s some of the comments I received…
- “I see severe deficiency in technique”
- “the biggest problem you have here is you’re using your arm / forearm to power the shot”
- “please take a look at the chinese players…how they use their legs waist and weight transfer”
- “there are number of errors in your loop. first, bend down from the waist. second, the non playing hand cannot be away from the playing hand. third, the racket tip must be downward, while looping. and, the last but not the least, the head must not be far away from the racket”
- “you are also going up and not forwards. Against backspin, you need to contact ball at peak or just after and then go forwards (so that the ball does not sit up after bounce on the other side)”
- “The chinese technique is better.”
- “no offense intended (really), but you need to take some lessons”
So reading these comments, you would have thought there is a lot wrong with my shot.
But here’s the thing – with the technique I use, I play the shot very consistently. It works for me. It wins me points. It’s a strength, not a weakness.
But how can this be, if my technique is so wrong?
I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is one ‘true’ way to play table tennis. Actually there are different ways that you can play every shot in table tennis and still achieve a high level of consistency and effectiveness.
When attacking a backspin ball, you could…
- Use a more horizontal swing with a straighter arm and a lot of body weight transfer
- Use a more vertical swing with a bent arm and less body weight transfer
- Use a much shorter swing, with hardly any use of legs or waist
In terms of the arc of the ball, you could…
- Spin the ball higher over the net
- Spin the ball low over the net
- Hook the ball with topspin and sidespin
In terms of the speed and spin of the shot, you could…
- Play slow and spinny
- Faster and flatter
- Somewhere in between
So much depends on your playing style, physical conditioning, body shape, age, playing level and the equipment you use.
So when I play forehand topspin against a backspin ball, I don’t use as much body as I could (dodgy knees / back) and I don’t use as much power as I could (I prefer a safer, more controlled style of play). I let my rubber (Tenergy 05) take the strain, so my body doesn’t have to.
Is my technique ‘perfect’? No way.
Is my forehand topspin good enough for the level I play at? Yes, I think so.
Would I be able to play a better quality forehand topspin if I tried to copy Ma Long? Almost certainly.
Would I be able to topspin like Ma Long consistently and have the speed to recover for the next ball again and again without killing my body? Almost certainly not!
So it’s not as though the comments above on my video are wrong. They are all correct in their own way. They all describe a particular way to play a forehand topspin vs backspin. But what they miss is that there is more than one way you can play the shot consistently and effectively.
Consistency is key
If you want to be the number 1 player in the world, your technique is going to have to be pretty damn amazing and faultless.
But if you have more modest goals – to be one of the best players in your club or your league or win a local amateur tournament, you do not need perfect technique.
You need high levels of consistency with your strokes, but you can achieve high levels of consistency even if your technique isn’t ‘perfect’.
There are other factors which are equally as important – match tactics, ball placement, spin variation, mentality, working out your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
There has been so many times I have lost matches to people whose technique seemed very unconventional. But these players had mastered their unconventional strokes. They knew their own strengths and knew had to steer the game to maximise their strengths.
These players were not technically perfect. But they were damn consistent and tactically much stronger.
Improving your technique
Of course, you should always be trying to make improvements to your technique. There’s always something you can be doing better.
But don’t get obsessed with achieving a mythical ‘perfect’ technique.
You should be wary of the player or coach who tells you there is only one true way of playing a stroke.
The truth is that there are many different ways of playing and succeeding at table tennis. Technique is one factor for being a good table tennis player, but not the only factor.
If you can play your strokes consistently (even if they are not technically perfect) and you have success with these strokes, IT IS OK.
Yes, you should look to develop the strokes to make them even stronger, but it’s not necessary to play like Ma Long to be good at table tennis.