One of the many things I love about table tennis is that men and women can compete together. Over the past 10 years, I have played many female players in local league matches. Some matches I’ve won, some I’ve lost. But never have I, or anyone I’ve played with, considered it unusual that men and women compete against each other. It’s just another opponent to try and figure out and beat.
Although we play the same sport, there does seem to be some differences between how men and women play. You could say there is a typical ‘female’ playing style and a typical ‘male’ playing style. Both have strengths and weaknesses.
I think we can learn from each other. In this blog post I pick out one big thing men do well, but women don’t. And one big thing women do well, but men don’t. If we can learn from each other then we will all improve.
First a warning! This blog post does contain generalisations. Not all women and men play like I explain below, but it happens enough for it to be a ‘thing’. If you don’t fall into my broad categories, I apologise in advance for any offence caused!
What women can learn from men
Men love to topspin. Women don’t.
For whatever reason, a lot of female players have been coached to flat hit rather than topspin. This has never made much sense to me. A flat hit is fine in the right circumstances (when the ball pops up a little too high and you have a good margin to hit the ball in a straight line over the net), but it is also very limited. When the ball is lower, the margin is reduced and it becomes harder to execute a flat hit consistently. And if the ball is low, with backspin, a flat hit is pretty useless.
Topspin gives you so many more options. You can topspin anything. If the ball has wicked sidespin you can topspin it. If the ball has kicking topspin you can topspin it. If the ball has heavy backspin you can topspin it.
And topspinning is so much more consistent than flat hitting, as the spin lifts the ball over the net and brings it back down the other side. You have a much bigger margin of error. Plus you give your opponent something else to worry about – topspin!
True, at the elite level, women will topspin. This is why they’re so damn good. But at a local league level, it seems the vast majority of female players flat hit rather than topspin.
Why? Why? Why?
The logic as to why you would coach female and male players differently seems like a throwback to half a century ago, when women weren’t deemed to be as physically able.
Times have changed.
Women run marathons. Women weightlift. Women box. Women compete in Ironman. Anything gruelling men can do, women can also do. If women can do all of this, then they are perfectly capable of coping with the extra exertion needed to topspin a little table tennis ball!
So here’s my challenge for any flat hitting women – learn to topspin. Your game will improve significantly.
What men can learn from women
So that’s enough shouting at women. Now it’s my turn to shout at the men…
Women are really good at staying close to the table and playing quick table tennis. Men are not very good at this.
Men like to inch back further and further from the table, most of the time completely needlessly. Playing back from the table can have some advantages – more time and space to play your shots, but it also has many disadvantages. You have to cover more distance. Your opponent has more time to prepare for your shots. And you are more vulnerable to short and wide balls. You need to have exceptional footwork to be able to play back from the table really well.
I can’t remember the last time I told a female player during a coaching session not to go too far back from the table. With male players, I seem to be telling them all the time!
There are lots of benefits of playing close to the table. You can rush your opponent. It’s easier to cover wide angles. You don’t need to run around so much. It’s easier to deal with short balls. But the most important benefit is that you can play with much more speed.
Why do men do it?
Maybe it’s an alpha-male thing. Men want to go back, so they have more space to wallop the ball as hard as they can. Or maybe men try to imitate the spectacular shots of professional male players. If the latter, this is quite misleading. Yes, you do get those points where both players are forced back from the table and they go topspin to topspin, producing the most incredible table tennis rallies. But this only happens occasionally. Most points are played out close the table. Professional table tennis players only go back if they really need to.
So here’s my challenge for men who like to back up from the table – learn to play closer to the table. Stay close, shorten your strokes and try to play faster table tennis like women. You’ll be amazed by how effective rushing your opponent can be.