The Importance of Fingers and Wrist in Table Tennis
The Importance of Fingers and Wrist in Table Tennis
By: Jinxin Wang
Once, I heard an experienced coach advise: “The student who uses the arm to play is an elementary student; the one who uses the elbow is a middle school student; the one who uses the forearm to play is a college student; one who uses the wrist to play is a postgraduate; and finally, the one who uses the fingers to play is a doctorate.”
Table tennis is an extremely detailed, yet rigorous activity. Every time the ball and the paddle meet, the player needs to be aware of the specific location, arc, spin, speed, and strength of the ball; thus, coordination with the player’s body and strengths must be precise. In determining these factors, the fingers and wrist play a key role. In a single moment, the fingers, wrist, and adjustment of the paddle can change the ball’s spin, speed, and direction. Therefore, in order to improve the technical skills in table tennis, one must be aware of finger and wrist strength. This article will discuss this topic from a professional point of view to enhance understanding (using shake hand as an example), and immerse in different viewpoints to promote a preliminary discussion.
The fingers and wrist control the formation and quality of the arc in the rally.
The reasonable usage of the finger and wrist, adjusting to different incoming balls, can create optimal arcs. The arcs are formulated by instant strength and speed of the player, as well as the paddle angle. This string of movements is all closely related to finger and wrist strength, and creates a suitable arc.
For instance, suppose Party A and Party B are counter-looping from the far-middle range (away from the table), and suddenly Party A moves toward the closer range of the table, softly blocking a ball, decreasing the overall strength and shortening the length of the rally. Party B realizes that the ball has changed, but has no time to move from the far-middle range to the closer range to attack; thus, Party B would move forward a tiny step, then calmly intercept the ball at the end of its arc, and use his/her wrist strength to spin the ball. Using finger and wrist strength together, spinning upwards and forming an arc, Party B would allow the ball to travel over, while maintaining a quality return. It is important to note that when returning the ball, the player should not only think of looping upwards or forwards; looping upwards will ensure that the arc is too high and has no threat, while forwards would cause the ball to move out-of-bounds. From this, we can deduce that even if you are in a disadvantageous position, using finger and wrist could optimize your chances by formulating a perfect arc over the table.
The fingers and wrist control the quality of the ball’s placement and location.
Through examining a player’s ball placement, we could deduce the player’s overall capabilities and playing level. To have a tricky placement, a player must have flexibility in his/her finger and wrist movements. Through controlling the racket angle as the ball meets the paddle, a player can create a variety of optimal arcs and locations of the ball.
For instance, during the tournament Party A is preparing to use a forehand quick flip horizontally, but right as Party A is about to flip, A realizes that Party B is already prepared. Thus, in a single moment, Party A would relax the hand and use the index finger and wrist to change the paddle shape, to a vertical line, taking Party B by surprise. From the larger arm to forearm, the movement of horizontal and vertical placement is practically the same, but the finger and wrist can change the direction of the ball without the opponent’s awareness. Therefore, this increases the opponent’s difficulty of returning the ball, as the movement of the fingers and wrist is too subtle.
The fingers and wrist are immensely important when handling half-long and sideline half-long balls.
From my current observation of a majority of U.S. athletes looping half-long forehand balls, most of them attach their elbows to forearm and shove the ball over, without using fingers and wrist strength. Thus, there is no adjustment according to different balls, nor any instantaneous spin when contacting the ball. If one only relies on the elbow and forearm to loop half-long balls, the ball quality would greatly decrease, and there would be no tailored control towards different balls. The player has a greater probability of looping the ball straight to the net, or depending on the spin, looping out-of-bounds.
Sideline half-long balls, on the edges of the table, rely even more on the finger and wrist. For instance, at international tournaments, we commonly see a type of ball receive tactic: Party A serves underspin to Party B’s forehand, and Party B consciously returns the ball to A’s forehand on the sideline/edge, as a half long ball (so the ball is impossible to aggressively attack). B would then want A to return a passive, weak, low-quality ball to B’s forehand, allowing B to counterloop. At this point, A’s only winning option is to loop a quality return, so B cannot counterloop, thus allowing A to continue to attack. So how does A accomplish this? This will need, again, the wrist and the fingers. First, A’s footwork needs to be in place, then the body bends over, using forearm, wrist, and fingers to instantaneously add strength. The most important factor is the finger and wrist to stop in a moment, and ensure that the strength used is not too large or else the arc will be too high; if the strength is too small, the ball may become a low-quality return. Thus, the strength must be perfect, in order to have the return be high quality, with spin, a low arc, and an increased difficulty for the opponent. World-level competitors even choose to use this tactic to loop short balls, as they know how to use the “hidden strength” or the finger and wrist.
Through examining kinematics, one can deduce the favorable advantages that the finger and wrist bring.
Under the influence of force, lighter mass objects move even faster and the overall acceleration is larger; however, under the same influence, the acceleration of heavier objects is less affected. Likewise, when comparing the instant acceleration of heavy and light mass objects, light objects can change comparatively easier and quicker. The fingers and wrist are prime examples of light mass objects; thus, when using them in playing, they could switch direction instantly as compared to the arm and forearm. Using the finger and wrist allows for an optimal combination for the change in location, speed, and strength.
From the summary detailed above, it is not hard to deduce that in order to improve a player’s level in table tennis, one must improve on and pay attention to the finger and wrist, using the “hidden strength.” For the players, it is imperative to pay close attention to their fingers and wrists since young. In the entire process and movement of contacting the ball, the fingers/wrist play a critical role in controlling position, arc, and spin. It is also important to note that the player must not tilt his/her wrist upwards, nor downwards, and the fingers cannot be positioned too high on the paddle – the paddle should be a natural extension of the player’s hand. In addition, the paddle must not be clenched too tightly, or else the muscles will become fatigued easily, and will be unable to release instant strength when contacting the ball. The paddle also must not be held in an overly relaxed manner, either; else, the paddle shape will be easily changed, and the strength will not be concentrated in one area.
We must raise awareness and understand the importance of the finger and wrist strengths during trainings and competitions, as well as seek ways to improve and exploit the fingers and wrist to their fullest potentials. It is necessary to further study the fingers and wrist for the future to allow U.S. players – and ultimately the whole country – to improve on a world stage, creating successes in international competitions.