Thoughts on racket design : The Short Pips Stupidity
I always wondered if table-tennis players should be stereotyped as "intellectual idiots" ; ever since I started playing competitively a few years ago, I never cease to be amazed by the lack of attention given to the proper choice of rackets (blades, rubber, sponge etc.).
Tabletennis players on the average seem to be bunch of well educated and / or very intelligent people but I am totally stunned again & again by the poor choice of equipment or near total disregard of the choice of proper equipment. It is of absolute "mission critical" importance that a player match the type of equipment to his / her playing style regardless of your skill level. Time & again I get very frustrated when I beat an opponent very easily mostly due to the fact that his / her choice of equipment does not match her / his playing style. It is all the more upsetting & depressing especially if this opponent is a junior with great potential because we have a hard enough time as it is finding any juniors to play at all in the USA let alone discover a few Jan Oves & this is the primary reason I was prompted to write this article.
The theory that equipment does not matter much if you are to have sound strokes etc. . does not wash in tabletennis. Microscopic changes you make to your racket can greatly effect your performance if you are a competitive player. Add to it the fact that tabletennis is probably (in my prejudiced mind at least) the most technically complicated individual sport there is . (It is like playing speed chess while downhill skiing at the same time) . It is impossible to address all the racket related issue in a small article like this. I will limit myself to the issues that prompted me to write this article. However there are other excellent sources & the one that stands out in my mind is by Waqidi Falicoff , an year or two ago in the (then) TT Topics.
What really drives me up the wall is when I see a junior player using the wrong racket (rubber) as recommended by the coach. A simple but supremely important example is when a coach has a student use inverted rubber & teach 10 hours a day as to how to loop but it won't do the student any good if the student 's natural tendency is to block & smash. But a coach's responsibility is a lot more than this. In my opinion one of the top priorities should be the identification of a player's style / weaknesses & designing a near perfect racket to match that playing style. Anything else is an exercise in futility & is a simple waste of time & loss of enjoyment for the student. What bothers me the most is the choice of short pips rubber as the secondary rubber as recommended by some coaches & used by many juniors. I will first explain what I mean by secondary rubber using shakehand example (which more or less applies to other grips also but in different ways). Unlike say Samsonov or Rosskopf or Kong or Johnny Huang most of us mortals (even most world class players) have a stronger side which in most cases is the forehand (ignore unusual cases such as Cheng , Grubba) . I will refer to the rubber used on the stronger side as primary rubber & the other side as secondary rubber which in most cases is on the backhand side (for the moment disregard complex styles such as flipping). I asked several of these juniors as to why they have short pips on the backhand & the answer was almost always "I don't know ; my coach asked me to".
When a student "gives up" or is asked to by a coach to give up on the weaker side by choosing a different rubber, the goal should still be find a way to turn this admitted weakness into a weapon. If a player uses inverted on the forehand as the primary rubber & wants to use something else on the backhand, this does not mean you should choose an ineffective rubber. The choice of short pips as a secondary rubber, in my opinion is a sad mistake , because in the modern game it is too passive (as a secondary rubber) & does not provide as much variation as one thinks. Don't misunderstand what is said here; I am only saying that the short pips is useless as a secondary rubber ; if however you want to use short pips on the backhands as an equal primary rubber like Johnny Huang (or in the most unusual sense like Ding Song) then by all means do so, but what I am saying is that short pips does not have what it takes as a secondary rubber (at any level, from an average club player to world class) if used only as a means to mask your weakness say on your backhand. A shakehander's short pips block (unlike the unusual penholder or Seemiller block) is not as much of a variation (from inverted side) or bothersome & can usually be loop-killed by a decent looper or smashed by a hitter without much difficulty.
What would be the proper alternative in such a situation ?
The solution should focus on converting the weakness into a weapon ; using a medium or long pips or anti would be the logical solution since this somewhat reduces the weakness (of the weaker side) in that this usually makes the opponent to be more cautious & hopefully more tentative. Sure it takes months & maybe years to learn playing with unconventional rubbers but it is definitely worth the effort. I am the least embarrassed about using so called junk rubbers since it suits my style & I strongly advocate the use so called junk rubbers & I am not interested in addressing pros & cons of this seemingly extremely controversial issue in this article ; because I know all too well people will believe what they will for whatever reasons, rational or irrational. If you are completely opposed to using so called junk rubbers , then your choice (assuming you are competition oriented ) should still be to use at least inverted on both sides (assuming your primary rubber is inverted) because the primary purpose of this article is to point out the near total uselessness of short pips as a secondary rubber in the modern game. If you use short pips not as a primary rubber but just to mask your weakness, such as say your inability loop or block from the backhand as some form of a means of deception, then short pips in my opinion is "junk" in the context it is used & is no different from the other so called junk rubbers.
Therefore if one believes (s)he is taking the moral highroad by using short pips instead of other options, (s)he is not fooling anyone (at least not me).Of course if you are a purist who plays for the pure joy of tabletennis & not for the competitive highs (& lows) & love the way how a certain racket (& rubbers) feels then by all means feel free to play with what gives you the maximum enjoyment. This is just one example of virtually millions of such situations in designing a racket but you owe it to yourself to play with the best possible racket to match your playing style. Again I chose to discuss the above situation as I am extremely concerned about juniors playing with wrong equipment but this applies just to anyone who want to maximize her / his potential & playing enjoyment.