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The 80/20 Principle for Table Tennis / Ping-Pong

Get More Results From Less Effort?

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Photo of table tennis lob

Less Lobbing, More Chopping!

© 2008 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Broadly speaking, the 80/20 principle refers to the observation that in the real world, roughly 80% of results come from 20% or fewer of causes. This principle is demonstrated time and time again in real world examples - check out the 80/20 website for more details. But in general, we already know a number of 80/20 principles at work in our lives - such as:
  • We see 20% of our friends 80% of the time, and the remaining 80% of our friends 20% of the the time.
  • We get 80% of our work done in 20% of the overall time taken, and the remaining 20% of our work takes 80% of our time!
  • 20% of the members on the About.com table tennis forum write 80% of the posts. (Actually, this may be closer to a 10/90 rule!)

Does the 80/20 Principle Apply to Table Tennis?

Anyway, you get my drift. Taking this principle and applying it to table tennis, you can come up with some interesting hypotheses:

  • 80% of your points won during matches probably come from 20% of your training; and the flipside of this:
  • 80% of your training is only producing 20% of your points won.
Does this sound feasible? While the exact ratio may not be 80/20, my gut check tends to support this point of view. I know that during my matches, I win most of my points from a handful of strokes and strategies, while a smaller percentage of points come from many other means. But in the past, I have tried to balance my training to cover all aspects of my game - essentially meaning that 80% of my time was spent training parts of my game that probably only won 20% of my points!

Making Use of the 80/20 Principle for Table Tennis

Assuming that the 80/20 rule does hold true for ping-pong in general, I think there are several ways to use this knowledge to improve our table tennis. Here's what I can think of at the moment:
  • What are the 20% of things we are training to produce 80% of our points won?
    While every player is different, I'd hazard the opinion that for most attacking players, practicing our serve, serve return, short game, and opening up against a push and following up against your opponent's block would probably make up a large amount of that 20%. (Obviously, defenders and push/blockers would have different point winners.)

  • What are the 80% of things we are training that only produce 20% of our points won?
    Again, this may vary a bit from player to player, but I'd think that all of the following would be likely suspects - counterlooping drills (how often do you really spend in counterlooping rallies during matches?), routine fixed drills where you switch off your brain (such as loop to block in the same location), and counterhitting drills (how often do two players both counterhit at each other during a match?).

    That's not to say that these drills don't have a place in your training routine. But given your style and what type of rallies you actually play during matches, are you spending way too much time on drills that aren't relevant to your table tennis game?

  • Can we improve our game by spending more time on the 20% of things that bring 80% of our points won?
    I believe the answer to this question is a definite YES. Of course, you can't just stop doing any of the 80% of things that are only producing 20% of your results, since this could leave some holes in your game that an opponent could exploit. But imagine what improvements you could make by simply spending 50% of your training time on the things that are winning you the most points, and using the other 50% of the time to round out your game. You'd more than double the time spent on your point-winning strengths, while only sacrificing a little time on each of your less important areas.

Conclusion

As you may have noticed, this is all quite theoretical, with lots of if's, shoulds, and maybes thrown in. What about the practical side of things? Never fear, I'm currently implementing this 80/20 principle in my own training - as a defender I'm working more on the 20% of things that win points for me, such as tight serving, chop technique, spin variation, defensive footwork, using a strong push return of serve, and counterattacking my opponent's push after making a strong chop. I'm cutting back on all the things that I used to spend 80% of my training doing - such as counterlooping, flicking my return of serves, blocking drills, and counterhitting. I'm very pleased with the results so far - my core game is getting stronger and stronger, while I hardly notice the effect on the strokes I hardly ever use. Definitely something to think about for your own game, wouldn't you say?

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