You might be mythstaken about…
In any sport, there are a number of myths that are commonly believed to be true by the general public. Table tennis has even more misconceptions than most sports, since it is a sport where high level ping-pong play is incredibly different from low level competition. So in addition to the myths believed by the general public, there are also a number of mistaken beliefs held by low level players about high level play.
I’ll be discussing both sets of myths in this article, starting with the general public’s misconceptions about the sport of ping-pong.
Top General Public Myths About Table Tennis/Ping-Pong
Ping-Pong is a Game, Not a Sport
This is probably the most common myth about table tennis held by the general public. The reason this myth is so popular is that it is easy to have fun at ping-pong straight away. Two absolute beginners with reasonable coordination can start enjoying rallies straight away.
Unfortunately, this level of play is what most of the general public think is the whole sport of table tennis. Until they see top players live and close up, it is impossible to really appreciate what can be done with a table tennis ball! Contrast this to a sport like tennis, where a number of hours of practice are required in order to have a decent rally with a fellow beginner. Because new tennis players have to work harder to get started, they tend to have more appreciation of the skills of tennis professionals.
Table Tennis Players are Unathletic
This myth ties in with the perception that table tennis is really a game, rather than a sport. It is also encouraged because most ping-pong promoters like to highlight how almost anyone can play and compete at table tennis. While this is true to an extent, it also ignores the fact that at higher levels, you need a lot of skill and tactics to compensate for any physical deficiencies.
Believe me on this one, at the higher levels of the sport, almost every player is very fit. Those who aren’t usually have some other edge, such as experience or tactics, which allows them to keep up with their more athletic competitors.
You Need Fast Reflexes to Play Good Table Tennis
This myth is from the other end of the spectrum. People who believe this myth tend to view ping-pong as a sport where players are hitting the ball so fast that there is no time to think, so fast reflexes are the most important aspect.
While quick reflexes certainly don’t hurt, you can still play very good table tennis with less than superhuman reactions. A smart player can place the ball in positions that his opponent can’t hit with full power, or make his opponent more likely to hit in certain directions. Quick reflexes alone won’t get the job done.
Ping-Pong is a Participation Sport, Not a Spectator Sport
People who have watched low level players push the ball gently back and forth generally hold this view. In my own opinion, watching top players face off is one of the most exciting things you’ll ever see. The sheer athleticism and power of elite players viewed from close up is mesmerizing stuff!
Ping-Pong is the Game, Table Tennis is the Sport
This myth has become popular because a number of experienced players are quick to tell everyone that they play the sport of table tennis, rather than the game of ping-pong. But in actual fact, both table tennis and ping-pong were common names in the early days of the sport.
So although calling the sport ping-pong can make some experienced players grit their teeth, in actual fact both names are pretty much correct. It is just that in common usage ping-pong has become well known for the version played in basements around the world, while table tennis is better known as the serious sport. So use whichever one you like!
Top Low Level Player Myths About Table Tennis/Ping-Pong
Faster Equipment is Better
This particular myth is believed by many new and lower level players. Knowing that the top players use booster or speed glue to increase their power and spin, many people then go one step further and assume that the faster and spinnier a rubber or blade is, the better it must be.
I have written about how to choose your rubbers and how to choose your blades elsewhere, but let me just briefly repeat that faster and spinnier is not better if you cannot control your racket. Top players have spent years practicing their technique to give them the ability to control their faster rackets. Trying to use a superfast bat without the ability to control it is a recipe for disaster.
I Need to Find the Right Rubber/Blade/Racket
Lower level players also fall victim to this misconception a lot, as evidenced by the Equipment section of any table tennis forum. Some players seem to want to try every possible combination of rubbers and blades in the hopes of finding that one magic weapon. It’s a neverending quest.
Instead of looking for the one perfect paddle, I’d recommend just buying a decent allround blade, with ‘classic’ rubbers such as Sriver or Mark V in around 1.5-2.0mm thick sponge. Then use all the money you would have spent on other rubbers and blades on lessons instead. Within a year or two you’ll have good enough technique to start looking around for rubbers suited to the specific style of play you have developed. (I’ve written more about choosing your first ping-pong paddle here.)
Junk Rubber is Unpredictable
This is a common cry from lower level players who do not understand how rubbers such as antispin and long pimples work. Once a player learns how these rubbers do what they do, playing them becomes entirely predictable. (I’ve written separate articles on how to play against antispin and how to play against long pimples if you need some help.)
One possible exception are the long pimples that have coated pimple tops, while the sides of the pimples remain untreated. These can be very difficult to play against in the hands of an experienced player, but I would argue that they are still predictable, but just more difficult to play against until you get used to them.
Talent Can Be Measured
This myth has the potential to cause a lot of arguments between players. Some will argue that they can spot talent when they see it, and are able to say that one player is more talented than another.
I’ve written about the subject of talent in table tennis elsewhere, but suffice to say that how much talent you have doesn’t matter as much as how often you win. Don’t limit yourself just because you think you don’t have much talent – after all, how do you know until you have finished and see how far you got?
In the Long Run, Nets and Edges Even Out
This is a common saying among players and coaches, but personally I think it’s rubbish, with one proviso. Some players hit lower and closer to the net than others, and some hit closer to the edges of the table than others. So if one player hits a topspin attack that consistently clears the net by six inches, it’s ridiculous to suggest that he will get the same amount of nets as someone who hits the ball two inches above the net on average.
The one sense in which I think the saying is reasonable is this – the players who take more risks by hitting lower or closer to the edge will probably hit more nets or edges, but will also hit more balls into the net or off the table as well. So in this respect things will probably even up.
Players Must Get a Warning Before Being Faulted
This particular myth is sometimes held by low level and top level players alike, who seem to think they deserve a warning for any serve that may be illegal. I think it is because the rules say that an umpire may give a warning if a serve is of doubtful legality.
But the simple truth is that this is up to the umpire’s discretion, and he may choose to simply fault the player anyway. Also keep in mind the fact that if the serve is clearly illegal the umpire must call a fault without any warning at all, according to the rules. (See my article on Important Rules for Beginners, about halfway down the page under the heading ‘Warnings and Faults’, for more details.)
So as you can see, there are a number of myths and misconceptions out there about the sport of table tennis. These are the ones I think are most common. So if you disagree or know of others that I have missed, feel free to drop me a post in our table tennis forum about it.