Butterfly Online

January 13, 2017

The 800-Pound Gorilla in the Ping-Pong Hall: Muscle Memory
Think about it: everything you do when you play table tennis beyond the beginning level involves muscle memory. Muscle memory controls your strokes and serves, your reactions to the opponents' shot, even most of your tactics.

I'm sure there are many advanced studies on this, but what's important here is the practical aspect. And for that, I would say there are two types of muscle memory in table tennis: what I will call "rote muscle memory" and "reactive muscle memory." (I'm sure there are actual technical terms for this, but I'm not going for the technical side here.)

Rote muscle memory is what you use when you tie your shoelaces, play a song you know well on an instrument, do table tennis serves, or hit forehand to forehand with someone who keeps the ball in the same place. It's the first thing beginners learn as they develop into intermediate players. Without this, you simply wouldn't be able to make high-level shots with any consistency. An example of this is a demo I regularly give in my classes, where I put a water bottle on the far side of the table, and then rapid-fire smack it over and over with my forehand, all the while carrying on a conversation with the players. The shot is so ingrained into my rote muscle memory that I can hit it ten times in a row pretty regularly from about eight feet away. (I have a box of balls on my side so I can rapid-fire grab them to hit.)

Reactive muscle memory is what you use when you field a baseball, play "Simon Says," or rally in table tennis. It's the next step beyond rote muscle memory in that you not only have to have the muscle memory for a specific set of movements, but have to adapt them almost instantly to the situation. When an opponent puts heavy spin on the ball or hits it very hard away from you, you use reactive muscle memory to adapt to the shot with the correct muscle memory. This takes longer to learn than simple rote muscle memory. The primary difference between a top player and a non-top player is how advanced their reactive muscle memory is. It involves reacting properly to shots, i.e. reacting quickly, moving to the ball, choosing the right shot and placement, using proper technique, the right contact, racket angle, etc.

You use this type of muscle memory more than you'd think - even for tactics. As I wrote about in my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, most tactics are subconscious. You don't stop in the middle of a rally and say to yourself, "Hey, my opponent is a little out of position, and so if I go quick to his forehand I will score the point." Instead, your subconscious, through years of reactive muscle memory training (i.e. playing table tennis games and certain types of drills), reflexively sees the opening and you go there (and doubtless take credit for it), just as you'd reflexively close your racket against an incoming heavy topspin or reflexively loop a deep ball while not doing so against a short ball. In fact, the only tactics that aren't primarily subconscious (i.e. reactive muscle memory) are serving tactics, where you get to consciously choose your serve - though you'd be surprised at how much your subconscious is involved in that selection as well. Tactics in a rally have to be reactive, so while you may consciously tell yourself to push aggressively against a short backspin serve, you still have to react to it subconsciously when it happens - yes, reactive rote memory. (But telling yourself to do something in a given situation is how you communicate with your subconscious so that it learns what to do.)

How did this topic come up? Last night I was coaching a 7-year-old, and she popped the ball up. I smashed it, and she said she was afraid I'd hit her. So I put out the water bottle and demoed that the ball will go where I want it to go, that I wasn't going to hit her unless I wanted to hit her, and that the more she practiced, the better she would be at it as well. Next thing you know, I was in a philosophical discussion with a 7-year-old on the various types of muscle memory! She was proud of how fast she could tie her shoelaces, and so I used that as an example of rote muscle memory. She was pretty good at spinning the ball in the "spin and catch" exercise I use to teach beginners to spin the ball (see #6 in this blog), which is the "rote" part, but had trouble catching the ball since she couldn't always control where it went, i.e. the "reactive" part.

Friday the 13th
Yes, it's the day all Friggatriskaidekaphobias fear most. Here's Jason Vorhees wishing you a Very Happy Friday the 13th. ("I Jason. I no Loop. I smash. I Kill.") While we're at it, here's an extremely acrobatic black cat at the net (2:01). It's hilarious, and set to music. And here are two ghosts playing table tennis. And heck, here's a picture of Tim "Hulk" Boggan! (Hulk scary!)

Daily Update: Volume 19 of History of U.S. Table Tennis
Tim Boggan and I started work at 3PM on Tuesday, Jan. 10. I'm doing the page layouts and photo work. Most of the layouts were actually done in advance by Tim, who literally cut & pasted them from old magazines! He then sent them to Mal Anderson, who scanned all the pages. (Something like half the photos used are Mal Anderson photos. I've typed "Photo by Mal Anderson" more times than I've breathed in my life.) Tim used to type of the text, but this saves time - which is why the volumes are coming out every six months now instead of annually.

You'd think this would make my job easier - but it doesn't. I'm spending hours on page after page, fixing them up from paper cuts and other stuff that shows up in the scans, plus cleaning up each photo, and adding captions to each (which weren't in the scans).

Just for the record, all three of us (Tim, Mal, and I) are USATT Hall of Famers!

Book is projected to be 25 chapters, 500 pages, 1700 graphics. Current status, through Thursday night, Jan. 12:

  • 134 pages (front and back covers, 4 front pages, 7 chapters)
  • 524 graphics

Brief Analysis of the Application of Sun Tzu’s Art of War on Table Tennis
Here's the article.

Ask a Table Tennis Coach
There are two more segments at Expert Table Tennis.

  • #8: How to Add Wrist to Your Forehand Loop
  • #9: Ask a Table Tennis Coach - 009: How to Become a Professional Table Tennis Player

Ding Ning Tomahawk Serve Technique Slowmotion 2017
Here's the video (4:14).

Table Tennis Training with Jan-Ove Waldner?
Here's info - apparently it's Fridays 6-10PM in Ottawa, Canada - and it started in November and continues until June 2, 2017. I'm confused - is Waldner (of Sweden) in Canada on Friday nights? If this is verified, I might find an excuse to go up there one Friday.

5 Physical Activities to Try as You Get Older
Here's the article from NetDoctor - see #2. Here's USATT's link to the article - see the picture above, of me? Is that a hint?!!! (I'm "only" 56! But 57 in February.)

Destinations of the World Tour
Here's the ITTF article.

Turning Tables
Here's the article where Irish Paralympian Eimear Breathnach tells how love of sport helped her cope with horrific accident that left her wheelchair bound.

Newlywed Table Tennis Icon Fukuhara Putting Family First
Here's the article from the Japan Times (in English).

The Table Tennis Jackass
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Tress Way and Nick Sundberg Compete at Table Tennis Club
Here's the article about the two Washington Redskins players competing at the Smash TTC in Virginia!

The Mercy Rule
Here's the video (42 sec) from PingSkills.

Younger Generation Challenge Fan Zhendong
Here's the video (17 sec).

Paddle Palace Trick Shot #1
Here's the video (8 sec) of Tom Roeser

Google's Circle Shaped Ping Pong Table
Here's the article and picture. It's from the Google Asian office! I really want to see a video of them playing on this.

24 Most Funny Table Tennis Pictures
Here's the page!

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