Do you ever feel frustrated by your seemingly slow progress? Well fear not, the next stage of your development may be just around the corner! Which of the following stages are you at now?
#1 The Garage Player
This player is characterised by not having seen high-level table tennis before, be it on TV, YouTube, or elsewhere. Everything they know about table tennis, they’ve taught themselves, or received as dubious advice from other Garage Players. Unfortunately for most people, and the sport of table tennis as a whole, this is as far as 99.99% of the general populace of Western countries will ever progress.
#2 The Enthusiast
Having been exposed to the above high-level play, the Enthusiast starts to seek out a higher level of competition by joining a local club. The Enthusiast stage is one of many realisations, some of them painful. Yes, rackets that cost more than $20 do exist. Yes, you should be using one. No, your awesome garage serve is not legal. No, you’re not as good as you thought you were. Depending on the early experiences of the Enthusiast, they may stay at this stage forever, or even regress back to Garage Player again
#3 Optional (but not recommended): The Equipment Junkie
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never been bitten by the ‘E.J.’ bug, because it will save you a ton of time on your road to becoming the best player you can be. Equipment Junkies spend ungodly amounts of time obsessing over the smallest changes in their blade and rubber combination, doing severe damage to their bank balance in the progress. The truth is, unless you’re considering a major change in your rubber, (i.e. changing from inverted to pimpled rubber), any equipment change will make less than a 5% difference in your game. In the meantime, you should stick with any inverted rubber on both sides and instead be spending time looking for the lower-hanging and longer-lasting fruits of technique improvement and saving your money to get lessons from a quality coach. Don’t spend any significant time considering equipment changes until you reach ‘The Dedicated’ stage below. OK? Congratulations! You’ve just saved potentially thousands of hours and dollars!
#4 The Wannabe Pro
The Wannabe Pro has finally seen table tennis at its highest level, and wants to play exactly like their favourite player/s. The problem is, those players have had thousands of hours to hone those skills, the right diet, gym schedule, and not to mention in many cases genetic advantages (i.e. height, build etc.) that allow them to play the way that they do. Wannabe Pros don’t take any of this into account and can easily become frustrated by their seeming lack of progress because they can’t quickly do the things their heroes can. Sadly, they often permanently regress to Enthusiast or Garage Player and stay there forever.
#5 Optional: The Gym Fanatic
At some point, during either the ‘Wannabe Pro’ or ‘Dedicated’ stages, everyone realises to some extent that on-table training is only one piece of the puzzle in their development, and that if they were a little slimmer, stronger, faster or more flexible, they could be a better player. And so they get a gym membership, start reading about and taking supplements, yoga classes or the like. In general, this is a good thing. but beware: going to deep into Gym Fanatic can cause you to lose sight of the fact that your improvement as a player should be measured on the court, not in the weight room, or the running track, or anywhere else. There should be a little bit of Gym Fanatic in you at all times. Just be careful it’s not too much.
#6 Optional (but not recommended): The Clueless Guru
At a certain point, a strange thing happens to some players. They decide they know everything about table tennis. Perhaps they reach the top of their local club and decide that makes them a great player. They stop training, or maybe they continue training but it’s really just going through the motions. Pushing to improve is no longer their primary goal. Instead they turn their attention to the lesser mortals below them and start dispensing their ‘wisdom’ to them, whether it is asked for or not. They might do this for free, or they might even make money for it from poor Enthusiasts and Wannabe Pros who don’t know any better. The problem is, because they ‘know everything’, they stop watching and learning the new evolutions and techniques of the game at the highest level, and so they quickly become outdated and irrelevant. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t become a coach at some point, or give advice for free, but don’t try to fool anyone, including yourself, that you know it all, and always keep your mind open to the new developments this beautiful game constantly presents us with.
#7 The Dedicated
The Dedicateds have progressed beyond the youthful follies of their Wannabe Pro stage. They accept that just because a top player plays a certain way, doesn’t mean it will suit their own physical or mental abilities or style of play. This is a stage of deep introspection to know what skills can and will work for them, and then long hours of honing those chosen skills, giving 100% effort at all times to squeeze every last drop of improvement from themselves. If you’re doing it right, this is probably the stage you will spend the most time in.
#8 The Elite
Elites have put in the hard yards and have reached the summit. Table tennis is their life, and as in life, they know table tennis has no absolutes. They know the rules of good technique and when to follow or break them and they make those decisions in milliseconds. Their invariably long careers mean they’ve seen everything. They’ve been through the many rule changes of the years, glorious victories, shattering defeats, and come out strong players and strong people. Table tennis has changed them irreversibly and for the better.
Have I missed any significant stages? Comment below!