Butterfly Online

Chinese Women's Team

February 1, 2012

Style and personality

Many years ago, while driving to a tournament with Dave Sakai (a top U.S. player for many decades) and Ron Lilly (one of the best pips-out penholders at the time), Dave pointed out that most players tend to develop playing styles that are opposite of their personalities. Dave likes to gamble (and in fact now has houses in both Maryland and Las Vegas, where he likes to spend much of his time), and can be pretty aggressive in arguments. And yet he plays a very safe pushing and blocking game. Ron is a very nice, non-confrontational type, and yet he plays an almost reckless all-out hitting game. And me? Most would say I'm the intellectual type, and yet in my early years, rather than developing some complicated tactical game, I worked hard to develop a pure all-out physical forehand attacking game. (However, as the years went by, my game evolved into a highly tactical game, though I still like all-out forehand attacking.)

Do aggressive people tend to develop passive styles, and vice versa? Do thinkers tend to develop non-thinking games, and vice versa? I think these observations apply to many players. I've found that the smartest people - scientists, doctors, computer programmers - often like to play table tennis mindlessly. I've also found that some of the best table tennis thinkers go home and watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men" or "American Idol." It's almost as if thinker types like to rest their brains and play mindless table tennis, while others who don't spend a lot of time thinking on the job do their thinking in table tennis.

I once coached a scientist who was one of the tops in his field. The guy was brilliant, and away from the table understood the game very well. But at the table he was about the most mindless player I've ever coached. He rarely noticed what worked or didn't work, and was oblivious to what his opponent was doing. He had no ability to adjust his game in a match, or even to follow advice giving between games. A typical 10-year-old would notice obvious things that this player was unable to see.

There is also the opposite - smart people who think tactically so much as they develop their game that they never develop high-level shots, since those shots were low percentage while being developed, and so were never developed. These players are good tacticians, but poor at long-term strategic thinking.

There are also hybrids, smart people who develop very physical attacking games (as opposed to a "tactical" style, usually more defensive), and apply their tactical thinking to developing that style. Often they play somewhat mindlessly while developing their games, and only start to really play a thinking game when they become advanced. Or they apply their thinking only to developing the style, and don't worry about tactics too much until later on. (If they do think about tactics too much early on, it often limits them.)

Among juniors, there are many really nice juniors with non-aggressive personalities who become offensive terrors at the table. Often the ones with more aggressive personalities become pushers and blockers at the table. On the other hand, there are many non-aggressive women, especially in Asia, who become passive choppers. It might be a cultural thing.

One other niche is what I'll call the Chinese penhold mystique style. The penhold grip allows easier maneuvering and variation over the table with pushes and blocks, which leads to tactical play, and my club has a number of older Chinese penholders who are both very smart and play smart tactics. I think it sort of goes with the penhold grip, while shakehanders often tend more toward physical rallying.

Many don't fit into these categories, of course. Where do you fit in?

Mind over Matter?

Here's an interesting article and video from CNN where former English champion Matthew Syed explains why an individual's ability is secondary to the level of coaching they receive and the facilities to which they have access. One thing that jumped out at me was this statement about how a small group of players became the best players in England: "We happened to have the best coach who gave us access to the only 24-hour club." This is similar to what is happening in the U.S., where a few clubs are developing most of the top cadets and juniors in the U.S. - because they are the ones that have full-time clubs and top-level coaches. This is why the level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so much stronger than in the past. (I blogged about this on January 4, 2012.)

Chinese Women's Team

Here's an interesting article on the Chinese Team getting preparing for the World Team Championships.

Kim Gilbert coming back

Here's an article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Kim Gilbert's table tennis comeback. She'll be at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12.

Michael Maze versus Timo Boll

Here's a great point between the two

The scooping backspin bounceback return

I teach this to all my students (0:30).

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