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Changing Traditional Teaching Methods

by Barney D Reed

This will be the first in a series of articles to start building a new thought process for all Table Tennis coaches and players. When you read and digest this information, it is my hope that we open our minds and use good common sense in developing our future Table Tennis skills and stars. For a moment, I would like you to think about just what it is you have been taught and what it is that you're teaching, i.e., passing along to others. Think about the foundational process of learning motor skills and then realize that you are programming your body movements, training your mind and most importantly training your muscle memory as you learn or teach yourself this sport. Your repetitive exposure to movement develops your unique, personal, muscle memory.

My first topic undoubtedly will create high interest and controversy with developing players and coaches throughout the country. It is specifically directed at the core of the foundation in coaching methods of today, the so-called "Ready Position"—a term that is so overbearing it shows up in book after book, clinic after clinic, and is being used today so powerfully and effectively that it permanently connects to everything you are to do, both before and while you're actually playing the point.

First, let us look at things from a reasonable position of good understanding. Isn't the ready position (having the racket arm bent at the elbow and racket pointing straight forward) just a neutral position for receiving service? You certainly cannot play a ball with your racket like that... and which one of us has exactly the same reaction time (hand/body speed) for all of us to start our movement at the same time?

To be more specific, we establish this position to be ready to start the point. Many of you have also been told to return to the "Ready Position" after each shot. Some of you have programmed your stroke movements to even pass through this position. To the extreme some coaches have preached to not move your racket from the ready position until the ball bounces on your side of the court. In any case you probably have been told to return to the "Ready Position" after you serve, and that all shots start from the ready position. If this all has a familiar ring to it, you are beginning to get the picture.

The reality is that this "Ready Position" is a monstrously overrated and misused term that is deeply imbedded within coaching philosophy everywhere. It is frustrating and confusing for students and in my experience actually slows down a player's stroke development, yet it continues to get used over and over in our coaching instruction throughout this country.

Think about it. In that specific position what shot is it that you can return? How is it that a developing player can ever develop rapid shot capabilities when one has trained their muscle memory movements to visit and pass through a non-ready neutral position? How can a three-point movement possibly be as fast as a two-point movement? What kind of shot can you play when the tip of your racket head is pointing straight forward? In this so-called "Ready Position" what is it that you are truly ready for? Isn't this position just a neutral position that's ready for nothing? Isn't this just a serve return stance because you really aren't sure of what you're going to do at this time? Is it also really possible to play your best Table Tennis while staying, or being in this neutral position so much during the point?

My opinion, based on experience, is that those who spend more time in this neutral position (the so-called "ready position") during rallies will only get hammered by the opponent that moves and anticipates his shots. Given each player had equal opportunities in training preparation, it is the individual who gets into their shot position early both maintaining playable racket positions and having designed stroke motions to incorporate rapid-fire action who will always come out on top.

In closing, I am reaching out to the coaching community to encourage a new thought process and direction by eliminating the use of the ever -"ready position". The foundational so-called "Ready Position" has become factored and programmed into our reflex movement (muscle memory) and most all developing players have fallen victim to it and accept it because of its traditional and on going teachings. Start the process of re-thinking and re-establishing a new learning foundation. It is simply more correct and makes such clear sense to use the term neutral or serve return position. Start thinking this way and start getting into your stroke positioning early and you'll become more consistent almost overnight. The "Ready Position" is very old philosophy and is damaging your performance by being programmed into your muscle memory.

Remember this simple concept to help in your quest to become faster and to have the ability to play high level Table Tennis with the best. Develop the proper body mechanics. Our muscle memory is programmed into the mind and body by the repetitive movements in Table Tennis. Trained reflexes are not inherent, but rather are learned by repetitive exposure to a stimulus. Keep in mind that a forward (playable) racket position is all part of proper ball contact. (More on that topic later.)

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and remember to exercise your anticipation and use good common sense as you keep developing your Table Tennis game.

Barney D Reed

Confidentiality: "Changing Traditional Teaching Methods" is a working draft and the information contained within it is forbidden to disseminate without the express written approval of Barney D Reed.

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