There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which I call "The Ping Pong Zone."
Yes, I did indeed borrow that from Rod Serling's introduction to the old TV program "The Twilight Zone" but it so appropriately fits my dilemma. My dilemma? Well, yes but I'm certainly not alone for I have witnessed many ambitious young players and seasoned old-timers who run into this proverbial "brick wall." After some delay and incredible frustration I find myself compelled to find the answer. I must find the answer to elevate my game to the high level I seek to attain. I also address this issue in hopes that others (and I know there are many of them) will somewhat be relieved to know they are not alone as they experience similar frustrations. I admit my question will be somewhat rhetorical, but I am sincere in my pursuit of the secrete key.
The problem without exaggeration is . . . my game stinks. I can't escape from "The Ping Pong Zone."
I started playing table tennis after a long break. A long, long break, of 34 years. I got a robot, table, and racket for Christmas and gave my garage a massive makeover. I was as giddy as any child on Christmas morning. I've exercised and got into good condition and practiced nearly all strokes (no loop yet) for hours nearly every day for months. I've read books, studied videos, and joined a local club and the USATT. I have great passion for the game, enjoy the camaraderie, believe it enhances my life, and possibly will contribute to greater health and longevity.
While subjective as they may be, I'll use the rating system so you can best envision my development. If you walked into our club and saw me practicing, you very well may think I'm a mediocre tournament level player. Meaning, you'd imagine by observing my strokes that I appear to be approximately a 1500 to 1700 player. My strokes are fairly smooth, with decent form, impressive power, good accuracy, and have been developing fairly quickly to my satisfaction. Based upon true life experience I can honestly say I am still athletic, quick, and skilled but obviously I have age related physical limitations and unwelcomed spontaneous injuries to slow progress. I figured once I established a consistent game style, I'd integrate a loop, hoping to advance to a higher level.
I went to the club to participate in their once a week casual round robin matches. I went to my assigned table which was nearer the lower ranked club players than it was to the middle. I observed the first match while waiting my turn. Rather than warm up, they immediately started a game. What I witnessed was players with styles so unconventional they exceeded my imagination. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I sat there in awe. Other than a frequent push, they had no forehand or backhand strokes to resemble anything I'd ever seen in person, on video, or in script. It was more like jabbing, poking, lunging, and flailing. They stood straight up, no bending of the knees, and their starting position was random and never repeated. They'd hit the ball from the normal backhand or forehand side of the racket but with a motion coming from the opposite/wrong side and posture that would make any proficient contortionist very proud. Okay, enough. You've got the idea.
Excited, confident, but admittedly a bit nervous, here's my chance. I'm ready to warm up with some forehand and backhand strokes only to find an opponent with a style equally as bizarre as the players I had just watched. He strikes the ball and it ends up two tables over, then punches one into the net, and another hits his foot. He says, "Okay ya ready"? Well, I thought I was. So we begin play. It's ugly right from the beginning and it got worse. Instead of showing the world my newfound skills, I was about to experience the most shocking and humiliating awakening of my life. I not only lost, but could not even compete. I was so thrown off that I could not execute any strokes as I had learned. I quickly became frustrated, was failing at all shots I would usually complete with ease, I was always off balance, and most definitely was not having fun. The beautiful game I have such passion for (table tennis) did not exist at this table. Next opponent, same results. Next week, same results. If there was anything positive gained, it was that my one or two wins out of five matches each week, were against the player who won the table that night. In other words, I lost to the unconventional players and beat the best players.
Finally, my questions: How can this be? Why can I not beat players who cannot even stroke the ball? Ultimately, how can I learn to easily dominate the junk ping pong game and escape from what I shall call "The Ping Pong Zone? There must be something simple that I am overlooking. I want to play "real table tennis" but I do realize I must first earn that privilege. I just don't know how. I will certainly be grateful if you can save me before I crumble permanently from disgrace.