The question regarding whether juniors should be taught to play with combination rackets, and if so, when to introduce the rackets to their game, is one that is often debated in both local table tennis circles and on the Internet.
I'm not sure that the question has a definitive answer for all situations, since there are many things that can influence whether the decision for a junior player to use long pips or antispin is a good or bad idea.
Before I give my opinion on the subject, let's take a quick look at some of the arguments made by those on either side of the debate.
Should Junior Players use Combination Bats? Arguments in FavorThere are number of points in favor of allowing suitable juniors to use combination bats early on in their careers, both from the point of view of the individual concerned, and also for the other players in their local area.
- Children often learn new skills faster and easier than adults, so why not teach them to master the use of combination bats as early as possible?
- If the junior has a style of play that would obviously benefit from the use of a combination racket, why make them wait before they can use a racket that suits them?
- Provided the child is still taught proper inverted rubber technique on both the forehand and backhand, then if the child later decides to return to using normal rubber on both sides, no harm should have been done.
- If the child wishes to use a combination bat to play table tennis, is it right to deny him the chance to do so based upon our own preferences and attitudes?
- The junior's training partners and team mates will benefit from having a combination bat player to train against.
- It is a commonly held opinion that defensive players take longer to mature than offensive players, so by allowing juniors to starting learning to use combination rackets earlier, we may be extending the length of their career.
- Children are often the innovators when it comes to inventing new techniques - are we hampering our juniors' ability to experiment freely?
- If the child has more fun playing with a combination racket, but his performance suffers, which is more important?
Should Junior Players use Combination Bats? Arguments AgainstWhile there are a number of reasons in favor of allowing children to use combination rackets early on in their careers, those who are opposed to the idea have some strong arguments as well.
- Combination rackets suit certain specialized styles of play. It is possible that a junior who is given a combination racket to use too early may have his natural game stunted by his racket. In effect, the racket is molding the player's game to suit the racket, instead of the player developing his own style, then choosing a racket which suits that style.
- Good combination racket play is too complicated for young players to master. It is better to allow them to learn the basics with a normal inverted racket, develop a style of play, and then teach them how to use long pimples or antispin when they are a little older and better able to handle the complexities.
- Combination rackets are far too often used as a crutch for players to cover up a weaker backhand or forehand stroke. Juniors would be better off spending their time learning proper inverted rubber technique, instead of restricting their options by using long pips or antispin to poke at the ball.
- Using a combination bat gives the junior an unfair advantage over other juniors who are generally unskilled at playing against long pips or antispin. In effect, the racket is doing the work. This discourages other juniors, and gives the junior a false sense of his skill level, and he may in turn be discouraged when he does badly against more experienced players who can handle his combination racket.
- There are very few combination racket users in the top ranks of the world's players. Based on the odds, it is probably better to encourage juniors to use inverted rubbers - they are more likely to succeed.
- There are very few coaches with the ability to teach juniors how to use combination rackets properly, so the junior will find it difficult to get proper coaching as he rises in standard.
Should Junior Players use Combination Bats? My OpinionAs you can see, there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. My own personal opinion is that I would generally start a junior player with normal inverted rubber on both sides, and I would want the junior to master the basic techniques on both forehand and backhand with normal rubber. Then, if a junior player is developing a style that would be suited to combination racket play, and he has the desire to use a combination bat, I would then add extra training with the long pips or antispin rubber to his normal inverted rubber training, along with plenty of practice at twiddling the racket.
For me, the biggest problem is not in allowing juniors to use combination rackets, but in finding suitable coaches to teach them the intricacies of advanced combination racket play. It's very hard to expect a junior player to work everything out for themselves - they need an expert coach to guide them along the way. Unfortunately, such coaches are in short supply. It's a vicious circle - we don't encourage our junior players to use combination bats, which means we produce fewer skilled combination bat players, so later on we end up with less coaches who are familiar with combination bat techniques, which makes it harder to teach the next generation about how to use combination bats properly!