September 29, 2011

The Inner Games of Table Tennis

When a looper plays a blocker, there's an inner game being played between the two. The looper wants to be in a stable position where he can make strong, well-placed loops that force the blocker to lunge for the ball, back up, or just miss or return the ball weakly. The blocker wants to be in position so he can make quick, well-placed blocks that force the looper to lunge for the ball or just miss or return the ball weakly. In most rallies, one style takes control while the other struggles, although the advantage can change quickly and multiple times during a rally. When you are in such a match, are you playing blindly or are you focused on winning this inner game?

There are similar inner games in most matches. For example, between two players with strong backhands, both might battle for control of the backhand diagonal. A righty and a lefty might battle for chances to hit aggressive backhands to the opponent's wide forehand, thereby drawing the opponent out of position, or they might battle for forehand control into the opponent's backhand. Or there's the battle between the serve & attacker against the receiver who wants to force a neutral rally. There are countless such examples of these inner games. Have you learned to recognize the inner games that take place in your matches?

Glasses or no glasses?

I started wearing glasses in college because I had trouble reading what was on the blackboard. I also need them to watch a movie or TV, to read road signs when driving, or to see anything clearly in the distance. At some point around 25 or so years ago, I started wearing them when I play table tennis. The problem is that I take the glasses off to read - my eyes are fine for that. When I wear the glasses, I can't read anything close up. When I wear the glasses in table tennis, I can see my opponent's racket clearly, but up close, the ball is a blur.

Yesterday I experimented playing without glasses. I can see the ball much more sharply when serving - my serves seemed better as a result - and I could almost see the ball right into my racket in rallies. My opponent's racket isn't as focused, but I think I can see the racket motion well enough to read spin. So I'm going to continue this experiment. I'll report back later.

Anyone else have experience in these matters?

Slippery Grip?

If you have problems gripping your racket when you get sweaty, you might consider wearing a wristband, and drying your hands with a towel regularly. When it's humid, you should bring two towels, one for the ball and racket, one for you (in particular your hands). Other options include getting a rubber grip or perhaps power grip. (I haven't tried power grip, but I've seen others use this or something similar. When the blog first went up this morning, I incorrectly called and linked it to court grip, which is for shoe traction - another topic to cover someday.)

It's Ping-Pong Diplomacy Night in Colorado!

Yes, you read that right. Read about it here. There will be a live re-enactment of 1971's Ping-Pong Diplomacy games. Actually, it's Ping-Pong Diplomacy Month in Colorado - there are a whole series of Ping-Pong Diplomacy events taking place, such as Ping-Pong in the Park in Denver.


Ping-Pong and Music and Parties, Oh My!

The London Ping-Pong Company is a company that creates ping-pong events with music in a party atmosphere. To use their own description, "Our unique ping-pong events are based on fun, teams-based ‘tournament-style’ parties involving fantastic venues, trained hosts & umpires, MCs, DJs, super coaches, & exhibition matches." Sounds like something someone in the U.S. could emulate - a niche just waiting to be grabbed.

Polar Bear versus a Penguin

In this episode (3:36, starts with a short ad), Bernard the Hairless Polar Bear plays ping-pong with a penguin. (As someone notes in the comments, the cheating bird illegally hides his serve at 2:22.)


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regarding the inner game theory:

it seems to me, that there are only a few cases wherein a 'true inner game' battle takes place.

In most other cases, it is simply a "both players are trying to win the point" battle. For instance in the looper vs blocker battle, both players are just doing what they are the most comfortable with so as to win the point.

In reply to by ttc

Hi TTC, while both players are trying to win the point, it is winning these inner games that allows one to take the advantage and win most of the points. For example, I often serve and attack. Saying I am simply doing what I'm comfortable with so as to win the point doesn't help. Instead, I'm thinking things like, "If I serve short, low no-spin to the middle, I'll probably get a deep ball that's not too angled, and so I can look to do a well-placed loop off that return." Once the opponent realizes what I'm doing and adjusts his returns, I'll change to something else, and then perhaps come back to the no-spin serve when I think the receiver is no longer ready for it. It's an inner game, and whoever wins it (and other inner games taking place on the other person's serve and in various types of rallies) wins the match. 

In reply to by Larry Hodges

I do agree with the inner game comment. As a blocker, I know I am trying to force my opponent to play a weak shot or make him miss the ball altogether. He is always trying to do the same thing to me, force a weak shot that I will not be able to block his return. While this is definitely both players trying to win the point, I feel it is more than that in the tactics that the two players are using. I've told myself from the start of the point exactly where my first block was going. My opponent looped down the line to my forehand, I punch blocked down the line to his backhand, he surprisedly pushed cross-court to which I looped down the line for a winner. If he had looped to my backhand, I was still going to block to that same spot, though the rest of the rally may have played out differently.

I've played juniors that reminded me of that penguin. I swear when some of them go to loop, they disappear altogether under the table. Then, all of a sudden, a rocket comes flying past you.

Hi Larry, I'm in the same situation regarding glasses/eyesight.  With glasses on anything within about 6 feet is out of focus but anything beyond that is in focus.  With glasses off it's the opposite.  Overall, I play better with the glasses on but it makes returning short serves difficult because the ball is just blurry enough so that I can't read the spin from it.

In reply to by dhbernstein

I'm off in just a few minutes for my first actual practice session without the glasses. I played without them for the first time in decades yesterday while coaching for an hour, and it seemed to work, but we'll see. It's also going to be my first real practice session in a long, Long, LONG time! All part of the two months of getting in shape for table tennis. 

I'm usatt 1300 or so and in about half my matches I can sense that an inner game type battle is taking place.  I often, almost always in fact, change my tactics depending on what my opponent is doing.  Sometimes I can see that they're doing the same thing, sometimes not.  When I see that my opponent is not paying attention to the match on this level I know I have a shot at winning no matter how good their strokes are.

In reply to by dhbernstein

Dave, the fact that you see these inner games means you can be on the path to improvement. Now you can focus on developing the techniques that allow you to win these inner games. Good luck with it!

Larry, this kind of topic is really interesting, and I think not discussed enough. Your posts and thoughts on these kinds of things is really appreciated. Personally, it is a weak part of my overall game and something I'm trying to improve upon, the thinking that is behind the game plan.