October 20, 2011

Playing Style and Identity

Yesterday, "R8ng_stinks" posted on the subject of a player's "identity":

"I've been curious about this subject for quite awhile.  When I started playing a few years ago I simply tried to keep the ball on the table.  The best solution, I found, was to glue the ball to the table.  Okay...that really didn't allow play to flow very well.  I played aggressively, had very little control, then moved to a somewhat defensive style.  While trying that, I became aggressively defensive, which, depending on the situation, was not all bad.  But then passive mistakes started killing me.  I switched to an offensive style with slower inverted rubber, but still had control issues and then wanted to "baby" the ball in certain situations.  Control: ZERO.  Passive mistakes seemed burned into my long and short-term memory.  So I dumped the inverted and moved to short pips forehand and backhand.  I have plenty of speed and enough spin, and I can get defensive when necessary.  I'm still a below-average player, but my lack of skill is mostly due to my current inability to maintain focus and mental control."

Then he asked:

"To make a L   O   N   G story short, does a player really need to have an "identity", offensive or defensive?  How about "can't decide," or "I have no idea"?  Does the style define the player, or does the player define the style?  Does it matter at all, as long as the play is effective?"

When he writes of a player's "identity," I think that roughly means his playing style. I think the key question is the last line: "Does it matter at all, as long as the play is effective?" If the play is effective, then that play, whatever it is, is the playing style. The player must be doing something to win the points, whether it is looping, hitting, blocking, all-around consistent play, serve & attack, etc. Whatever ingredients being used to make this play effective, taken together is the playing style, i.e. the player's identity.

There are no two identical styles, though they can be similar and to some, seemingly identical. The pieces come together in different ways. For example, if you watch Cheng Yinghua, who was the U.S. #1 player for ten years and a former member of the Chinese National Team, you'll see three distinct styles meshed together - two-winged looping, all-out forehand looping, and a blocking game - as well as many aspects of former greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Tibor Klampar, since early on Cheng copied their games as a practice partner for the Chinese National Team. And so all these parts of Cheng's game came together into a distinct playing style, his playing identity.

How do you develop your own playing style or identity? It's a combination of three things - things that work for you, things that you or your coach believe will work for you if you develop them, and things you want to be part of your game. Put these things together, practice them, get lots of match experience, and gradually you will develop a playing style.

And what is this playing style? It's whatever you do that makes your play effective.

The other question was, "Does the style define the player, or does the player define the style?" I think he is asking whether a player's style develops on its own and defines the player, or whether the player decide on his style and define himself. (If this isn't the question, it's still a great question to answer!) It works both ways. For example, early on I developed a nice forehand tomahawk serve. Because players kept popping it up, I developed good footwork and a nice forehand smash. And so my playing style developed on its own, based on certain strengths (the serve) and the corresponding strengths that developed because of this (footwork and a forehand smash). But I decided I needed a strong forehand loop, and so spent a huge amount of time developing that, as well as a forehand pendulum serve that would set up my loop. And so a big part of my game became serve & loop - and so I defined my own style by developing this.

Interview with Barney J. Reed

Here's an interesting interview with Barney J. Reed on the mytabletennis.net forum. And for those not in the know, Barney J. Reed is the one who was on the U.S. National Team for a number of years (is now coaching), while Barney D. Reed is the father and table tennis coach. How can you keep track? "J" for Junior and "D" for Dad.

Did you practice your serves this week?

Just askin'.

Who are the original pictures of?

Here's the poster for the satirical movie based on my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques, with Brad Pitt and Michael Cera photoshopped onto two table tennis players. Anyone recognize the pictures and know who the players were before their heads were replaced by Pitt's and Cera's? (If you want more info on this poster, see my blog this week on Monday and Tuesday, and the original article.)

USA Nationals

Today is the deadline for entering the USA Nationals without a late fee (Virginia Beach, Dec. 13-17). After today, and through Nov. 1, you can still enter, but with a $75 late fee. So enter now! I'll be there, coaching and playing in three hardbat events. (I normally use sponge, but don't like to play sponge events in tournaments where I'm primarily coaching. I'm the defending and four-time champion in Over 40 Hardbat and defending and ten-time champion in Hardbat Doubles with Ty Hoff, my partner last year and in six of the ten doubles titles).

Tomorrow I'm writing about the rise and fall in the number of entries at the USA Nationals (though there was a small uptick last year), including a graph, with the big question: What will the final numbers be for this year's Nationals? Stay tuned!

Rafael Nadal

Here's 15 seconds of tennis star Rafael Nadal playing table tennis. Someone get him a shirt.

Yoda's Ping-Pong School

To a young Luke Skywalker, table tennis Yoda teaches (1:13). Or something like that.

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Re: October 20, 2011

Don't forget, you will also be at Nationals to take on all clipboard challengers. I'm now 1971 and itching to add my name to the list as either a victor or one of the fallen.

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: October 20, 2011

The clipboard will be in my bag - it always is! If you are rated 1971, we're going to have an epic battle. (But be forewarned - in literally hundreds of challenge matches at the Nationals and Open, only one player rated under 2000 - Bruce Liu - has ever defeated the clipboard.)

Re: October 20, 2011

I'm not too concerned. If I win, it will be a great memory. If I lose, the money goes to a worthy cause and it will still be a great memory. Speaking of which, is it $20 up front or $40?

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: October 20, 2011

Either one is fine. I used to do a special for USA Table Tennis where I'd take on anyone rated under 2000. If they beat me, they got $20 from me. If they lost, they donated $20 to the USATT junior committee. I raised quite a bit of money that way, and other than Bruce Liu, never lost. (And Bruce donated the money anyway, wouldn't take my money.)