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Is style conformity killing the sport?

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    Posted: 09/21/2017 at 10:01pm
I wrote an opinion piece about how the conforming styles of table tennis is taking character and some forms of entertainment out of the game, interested to know other people's thoughts on this topic.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote beeray1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/21/2017 at 10:27pm
I think it's a really interesting topic. Something I've thought about for a while was brought up in that recent TT11 interview with the Austrian coach (I forget his name and the video is unavailable now) is that with the new ball, you won't see players (he used Schlager as an example) that are able to employ really great feeling and variation to win. I've wondered for a while now about it, that you probably won't ever see another Waldner or Schlager or Ma Lin, there's just not enough rotation and potential for creativity in the sport anymore. Forum member APW has said it in the past, how the sport has sort of been 'dumbed down' and I agree. I think style conformity would have been a thing regardless as better techniques became more common, but I think with the changes since the turn of the century, it has accelerated and narrowed this conformity greatly. 

Watching the style differences you mentioned in your piece is the perfect contrast to what we have now. They were creative, there was variation, everyone played with personality. But the game was also a lot harder, there was a higher skill ceiling (i think, anyway) and with the amount of spin and variation, creativity was encouraged. This was lessened, but still possible with the 40 celluloid ball. The most recent ball change I think put a nail in the coffin as far as the potential for varying styles being common anymore. Watching pro table tennis is still fun, but noticeably different and less interesting to me compared to when I first got into the game, which is right before speedglue was banned. And you can tell just by watching points that there's this inconsistency with the new ball. I feel like there are a lot of unforced errors because of this new ball. I think Samsonov has talked about it in the past in an interview (might even be one of yours?) where even with the celluloid, professional players had a lot of errors just because of the inconsistency with balls. Now it's way worse than it was.  

In my opinion, the 'sweet spot' for balance between spectator friendly, creativity encouraging, and safety of players was the celluloid 40 era. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PingPongPom Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/21/2017 at 10:33pm
Great feedback mate I completely agree, I think people were disappointed by the change from 38 to 40 but it didn't really cause too much damage in the sense that players were able to adapt and maintain a similar playing style. I mean if you look at someone like Kreanga now, yes sure he's not as young as before but he plays a hell of a lot more passively than ever before - particularly on his backhand which was really his WOW factor. 

When speed glue was banned he kind of slipped off the radar for a little bit as it was a major part of his game with those kinds of shots but he bounced back and adjusted and came back to win quite an incredible European Top 12 tournament - still with the style that we just love to see from him, scrappy and just wildly powerful. Now his adjustments have really softened down his game completely to the point where he spends more time blocking than attacking.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote LUCKYLOOP Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/21/2017 at 11:16pm


TT is played more like regular Tennis now which people like to watch so it might attract more new fans.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PingPongPom Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/21/2017 at 11:37pm
Don't you think Tennis players have more persona though? I feel like table tennis players nowadays really don't have enough presence to attract personal fans. I mean Zhang Jike, even though I'm not a huge fan about the way he interacts with his fans face to face (aka with no enthusiasm at all), his shirt tearing, youthful ego really put him in the spotlight. 

People go to watch the tennis because they want to see Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray - not only because they are the best in the world, but because they have so much charisma and class on the court and off. If I watch post match interviews for table tennis it's like christ are these players even making an effort? lol
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/21/2017 at 11:40pm
I disagree. I think there are many styles still. But the sport has evolved in the last 15 years so they are not necessarily the SAME styles as in 1990 or 2000. Most sports evolve (and a subset of fans don't like the changes). For me it is as entertaining as ever.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/21/2017 at 11:44pm
As for unforced errors now, go back and watch older videos. I do that a lot and what often strikes me is how short a lot of points were with 38 mm balls when you watch whole matches.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote zeio Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 12:10am
The thing is table tennis was going through a transformation.   The style pioneered by the Swedes, with which Waldner and Persson brought down the Chinese Empire was by no means complete. It merely served as a proof of concept of the potential, which paved the way for up and coming players like Gatien, Saive, Korbel, Rosskopf, Primorac and Kreanga etc. to hack at the game from different angles, during their own journeys to the top.

The problem is that those players stuck around for way too long and failed to pass the torch to the next generation, leading to a generation gap in Europe. Rule changes are hardly to blame for the lower excitement. Blame Gatien and Saive for the prominent style in today's table tennis. They were the pioneers of the irrational style. Blame Korbel for inventing Chiquita, the go-to stroke that has monotonically taken over the start of a point. Stop blaming and start working like Japan.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote apenholder Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 12:21am
As I read this I'm watching video of a match from the 2017 Austrian open yesterday between a short pips/long pips twiddler penhold attack hitter with traditional backhand and an inverted fh/short pips bh shakehand defender.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ohwell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 12:24am
In case there was any doubt that ittf has been in the driving seat with the (de)evolution of the game, it’s always fun to consider the ban on frictionless long pips.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ohwell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 12:25am
Originally posted by apenholder apenholder wrote:

As I read this I'm watching video of a match from the 2017 Austrian open yesterday between a short pips/long pips twiddler penhold attack hitter with traditional backhand and an inverted fh/short pips bh shakehand defender.


Can’t help but ask: where do they stand in world rankings?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote obesechopper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 1:12am
Ma Long
Xu Xin
Koki Niwa
Adrien Mattenet
Joo Se Hyuk
Quadri Aruna
Mattias Karlson
Stefan Fegerl

Wu Yang
Liu Shiwen
Mima Ito
Miu Mirano
Seo Hyo Won
Polina Mikhailova
Manika Batra


I think all of the players I've listed use different styles from each other! Still seems to be a good mix of techniques and tactics going on. Maybe not at the top 1-5 players, but so what! That happens to most sports in general where one style comes into favor and rules for awhile, until the next dominant fashion enters and so on. 

About the only TT style you don't see in the top 100 much, if at all, are the blocking oriented ones. Material players, I mean. Fegerl, Niwa/Matsudaira still use the inverted blocking game quite well. However, you can drop down the list a bit and still find anti/LP block oriented games. Not top tier. 




Edited by obesechopper - 09/22/2017 at 1:15am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote LUCKYLOOP Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 1:13am

The general public doesn't understand the nuances of spin. They do understand power shots and location winners. Now there is less service return errors. A proficient chopper can get almost any loop back now.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 2:01am
Originally posted by obesechopper obesechopper wrote:

Ma Long
Xu Xin
Koki Niwa
Adrien Mattenet
Joo Se Hyuk
Quadri Aruna
Mattias Karlson
Stefan Fegerl

Wu Yang
Liu Shiwen
Mima Ito
Miu Mirano
Seo Hyo Won
Polina Mikhailova
Manika Batra


I think all of the players I've listed use different styles from each other! Still seems to be a good mix of techniques and tactics going on. Maybe not at the top 1-5 players, but so what! That happens to most sports in general where one style comes into favor and rules for awhile, until the next dominant fashion enters and so on. 

About the only TT style you don't see in the top 100 much, if at all, are the blocking oriented ones. Material players, I mean. Fegerl, Niwa/Matsudaira still use the inverted blocking game quite well. However, you can drop down the list a bit and still find anti/LP block oriented games. Not top tier. 






Weren't many blockers in Waldner's day either. Possibly Kalinic.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 2:12am
Originally posted by PingPongPom PingPongPom wrote:

Don't you think Tennis players have more persona though? I feel like table tennis players nowadays really don't have enough presence to attract personal fans. I mean Zhang Jike, even though I'm not a huge fan about the way he interacts with his fans face to face (aka with no enthusiasm at all), his shirt tearing, youthful ego really put him in the spotlight. 

People go to watch the tennis because they want to see Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray - not only because they are the best in the world, but because they have so much charisma and class on the court and off. If I watch post match interviews for table tennis it's like christ are these players even making an effort? lol


How people see class and charisma depends some on where they are from. Maybe when Europeans and Americans see great Europeans they see a charisma they don't see in Ma Long. The 1.5 billion people in China and other people in Asia probably see it differently. I for one always found WLQ to have infinitely more charisma than a host of robotic tennis players. We all sed things tbrough a cultural prism. I think some of that explains some of the nostalgia you often see for Waldner. (Bear in mind I learned to play when I lived in Sweden, so obviouly I am a Waldner fan, but the Waldner worship and pining for his era? I don't quite get all of it).

I also don't think many people watch Nadal and Federer for the post match interview, even though they are articulate and gracious and speak perfect English.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 2:23am
Originally posted by LUCKYLOOP LUCKYLOOP wrote:


The general public doesn't understand the nuances of spin. They do understand power shots and location winners. Now there is less service return errors. A proficient chopper can get almost any loop back now.


The general public usually don't understand the nuances of any highly technical sport.

I think table tennis was headed to where we are now for a long time. Maybe bigger balls sped up the evolution some. But all the trends were there. For sure, now the serve is less of an advantage, but that may not be a bad thing.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fulanodetal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 10:09am
"The thing is table tennis was going through a transformation.   The style pioneered by the Swedes, with which Waldner and Persson brought down the Chinese Empire was by no means complete. It merely served as a proof of concept of the potential, which paved the way for up and coming players like Gatien, Saive, Korbel, Rosskopf, Primorac and Kreanga etc. to hack at the game from different angles, during their own journeys to the top.

The problem is that those players stuck around for way too long and failed to pass the torch to the next generation, leading to a generation gap in Europe. Rule changes are hardly to blame for the lower excitement. Blame Gatien and Saive for the prominent style in today's table tennis. They were the pioneers of the irrational style. Blame Korbel for inventing Chiquita, the go-to stroke that has monotonically taken over the start of a point. Stop blaming and start working like Japan."


Zeio hits the nail in the head. What is needed is not to copy the chinese style of play but to apply the chinese method of developing players. The chinese are not the problem, they have the solution. And their method works. By method I mean having the features of government support, a body of coaches, and the fact that table tennis is a job and NOT a hobby in China and the fact that players get started when they are very young. They do develop many styles, I saw it with my own eyes when I visited. But it is true the majority of young players are developing the attacking style.

I suppose I agree there is a bit of lacking in style variety these days. I think once the ITTF is done manipulating the equipment and changing rules, and the game becomes a little more settled then players may start looking for new angles and applying new ideas.
Some players have been attempting this by creatively using some of the more exotic techniques...Kenta, Kiko Niwa...

I was hoping Maze would be the one to carry the torch but that did not happen.....

FdT
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kakapo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 10:39am
I can only speak about Belgium and not about the Sates for instance.
These last years, clubs have lost lots of players.
Of course, we don't have anymore moving forces like the Saives and TT isn't popular as it was 20 years ago but this is really not the only explanation because the phenomenon has increased drastically since the obligation of using the poly ball.
Some clubs have lost 20-30% of their members. These players simply stopped playing.
Lots of them are 30-40-50-60 years old guys who played with the 38mm, the 40mm, with or without speedglue...but all with a game based on spins, control, placement, tactic....
The poly ball, especially at an intermediate level (probably something between the 1800 and 2200 level in the USA ranking which I don't master) kills all thèse style of play and only favours the player whose game is only made of blocks and hits or what we call in Belgium a "female" game (don't want to be macho :)) with pushes, hits and blocks. 
Nearly all the players whose game is based on spins have seen their results in compétition falling down dramatically, including much stronger players (LP players, defenders...) but this not only about results but most of all about fun.
 Many of them stopped last year or this year simply because the fun is not more there.
Some of them have even created their own llittle league with 38mm celluloïd balls and 21 points games like TT was and....should be.
I think the Belgium TT federation has lost more than 20% of its members in the last 3 years. I read it.
Average level players are the ones who are the more important for many clubs.




Edited by kakapo - 09/22/2017 at 10:44am
You can't enjoy an easy win.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kakapo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 10:42am


Now the young ones are all little robots with the same style....


[/QUOTE]

Edited by kakapo - 09/22/2017 at 10:43am
You can't enjoy an easy win.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fulanodetal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 11:04am
"These last years, clubs have lost lots of players.
Of course, we don't have anymore moving forces like the Saives and TT isn't popular as it was 20 years ago but this is really not the only explanation because the phenomenon has increased drastically since the obligation of using the poly ball.
Some clubs have lost 20-30% of their members. These players simply stopped playing."

it would be interesting to see if this is happening in other countries as well. But you can't simply assume the reason is the new plastic ball. There could be other reasons. Change of jobs, moving away, study...etc. Maybe a few dont find it fun anymore, but simply stop playing is too drastic. 

I like what you said about splinter groups forming and playing to 21 and with the 38 mm ball. I think that's great!!


FdT
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kakapo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 11:16am
Originally posted by Fulanodetal Fulanodetal wrote:

"These last years, clubs have lost lots of players.
Of course, we don't have anymore moving forces like the Saives and TT isn't popular as it was 20 years ago but this is really not the only explanation because the phenomenon has increased drastically since the obligation of using the poly ball.
Some clubs have lost 20-30% of their members. These players simply stopped playing."

it would be interesting to see if this is happening in other countries as well. But you can't simply assume the reason is the new plastic ball. There could be other reasons. Change of jobs, moving away, study...etc. Maybe a few dont find it fun anymore, but simply stop playing is too drastic. 

I like what you said about splinter groups forming and playing to 21 and with the 38 mm ball. I think that's great!!


FdT

My post is about what I have heard and expérienced, being myself a 47 years old guy who began more than 35 years ago. I'm an average level player but of course, I know lots of players in Belgium.
Jobs, family etc...can explain  some cases but in Belgium, we live in a small country so the distance is not a problem.
But when you take a drink after the league matches in the cafetaria of the clubs and you speak with people and ask about this player or another one who used to play for the club, it is often the same story which is told: no fun anymore so they have found something else in which they can find fun again.
Also, when 2, 3, 4 of thèse players stop, their friends often stop...We can also say thèse players should adapt but this is not easy when you have played the same style for décades....

You can't enjoy an easy win.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lineup32 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 12:13pm
Aging with its impact on men such as knee and hip replacements, heart issues, lack of mobility plays a big part in the reduction of aging players in many clubs. While there is always exceptions the reality is that clubs with high percentage of aging players, those over the age of 40 lets say probably have a bleak future. The younger generation has grown up with a different mind set and has a larger variety of activities beyond TT.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote apenholder Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 12:40pm
Originally posted by ohwell ohwell wrote:

Originally posted by apenholder apenholder wrote:

As I read this I'm watching video of a match from the 2017 Austrian open yesterday between a short pips/long pips twiddler penhold attack hitter with traditional backhand and an inverted fh/short pips bh shakehand defender.


Can’t help but ask: where do they stand in world rankings?


13 vs 63 in women's ittf
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Makelele Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 2:58pm
Harimoto is showing that there is a different way to play that is effective as well (even more than the standard "offensive male style").

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 3:26pm
Originally posted by Makelele Makelele wrote:

Harimoto is showing that there is a different way to play that is effective as well (even more than the standard "offensive male style").



That is a good point.  I was going to mention it after the comment with a list of players with different styles.

The thing is that there has probably never been a time since I have been involved in the sport when (had there been an internet) various people would not be posting that "X" is killing the sport.  Moreover, I'm not sure it is even remotely unique to our sport. 

"X" could have been any number of things over the years. 

Here are a few  of the "Xs" that I have heard are killing our sport over the years (and sometimes continue to hear):  Inverted rubbers.  Super fast inverted rubbers like Mark V.  Same color of rubber on both sides.  TT ratings systems.  Speed glue.  Hidden serves.  Third ball attacks.  40 mm balls.  No longer hiding serves.  Banning speed glue.  Long pips.  Banning friction-less long pips.  Not calling illegal serves.  Boosters.  Rules against boosters.  Banana flicks.  Play style conformity is not really that new.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote LUCKYLOOP Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 7:57pm
Originally posted by lineup32 lineup32 wrote:

Aging with its impact on men such as knee and hip replacements, heart issues, lack of mobility plays a big part in the reduction of aging players in many clubs. While there is always exceptions the reality is that clubs with high percentage of aging players, those over the age of 40 lets say probably have a bleak future. The younger generation has grown up with a different mind set and has a larger variety of activities beyond TT.


The new long pips OX blocking skills helps the aging player a lot, with the spin reversals and 4h attack can keep them in the game causing trouble for the double inverted player.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote igorponger Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 8:08pm
Ruwen Filus -- The only allrounder in the World's 100.    Near all the Allrounders have now dropped out of the sport, because of the boosters and plastic ball. Sorry.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 9:15pm
Here is what is really funny about the last comment, because on August 1, 2014 Igor actually created a new thread here at MyTT in which he wrote this:


MESSAGE of 'THANK YOU'...

According to many people responses, the Plastic Balls do favour elder folk over the youngsters, for being easier to handle, some slower and less spinny.

Thank you ever so much, Mr. Sharara.
We have now got table tennis game more controllable with the plastic.

QUOD ERAT FACIENDUM.

Yours sincerely

Igor NOVICK
a rational blocker

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The bold and fonts were in the original. 

Now first I have say that we can't blame boosters for this because a few years earlier we had speed glues, which were much more effective than boosters at facilitating offensive style table tennis.  Make no mistake about that!!!  So maybe that just leaves plastic balls, and the issue isn't so much that they are plastic, it is that they are 1 mm bigger in diameter and about 0.07 grams heavier, both of which are quite significant.  (Old 40 mm balls were really around 39.5 and the current 40+ balls are actually around 40.5mm). 

At the time this was being discussed leading up to the change, from around 2012 through 2014, nearly everyone on forums was against this change.  I have a posting history on three English language forums from that time saying that it was a bad idea, that there wass no impending international ban on celluloid production, and doubting the motives of Sharara and cronies.  I have read some of those, and I was really angry about it but I was not alone. 

BUT, looking back, a lot of reasonable people might have thought that making the ball larger and heavier would slow the game down and that maybe this would be good for defenders and other styles!  So if the thesis of the OP is correct (and clearly a lot of people agree with him although I am not convinced), then we can conclude only one thing for sure:

Rules changes often have a lot of unintended consequences!  You try to fix one thing and you introduce all sorts of other things.  Obviously Igorponger was badly mistaken about what would happen.  He should "apologize to table tennis" for supporting this folly if that is what he thinks now.*

So, I wish they would stop with rules changes for awhile!!!!!!!!!!!

* While I was totally opposed to plastic balls, I switched to them as soon as I could because I know that ITTF never changes their mind about anything, and I have learned to like ABS balls quite a lot.  So I for one don't see the same crisis, except that the fact that lots of people think there is a crisis can't be ignored.  It is bad for the sport.
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Baal View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/22/2017 at 9:19pm
On the other hand, Igorponger has had a hard time making up his mind about this whole thing because on March 26 of 2014 he wrote this at OOAK:


in no way will plastic promote me to a better player. Never.

And the hard physical drill and taking daily sport lessons will do.

I do remain quite ruffless for the plastic, whichever to come on
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Basquests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09/23/2017 at 1:00am
There are a lot of confounding factors as well.

Young players in general will eventually surpass the older generation as they train / improve with time. Also, the young ones who keep playing will be the most driven ones.

Secondly, young players are more adapatable to changes. When changes occur, its the once a week type player who is gonna not adapt as completely or as fast.

For most people, the difference won't be more than 50 or 100 rating points on the USATT scale, its the pro's for whom small changes mean the small edges that determine whether you are winning 48% of points or 52%, and there's no reasonable way to make up that gap for them. For us amateurs, there are countless ways to meaningfully improve our game. Even for the older folks [or at least slow down the decline]

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