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ITTF Sports Science Congress

By Donn Olsen | May 11, 2013, 9:30 a.m. (ET)

Day 2

The second day of 13th ITTF Sports Science Congress, being held 11th – 12th May, hosted by INSEP (the National Institute of Sport in Paris), started as the first day ended, with one interesting presentation after another, maintaining the trend of diversity started on the first day. 

There seems to be no limit to the creative minds of these scientifically-oriented table tennis enthusiasts.    

Presentation Highlights

Here are a few of the highlights from the day’s presentations.

A short time performance analysis in table tennis: Reflecting on the consistent lack of use of objective data in evaluating a player’s performance in a match, this presentation proposed an evaluation system based on tracking points won and lost using the shot number as the basis of the statistical tabulation.  The service would be shot number 1, service return shot number 2, etc.  Then, the points won and lost would be tabulated for the player by shot number.  From these data, trends could be detected that would reveal relative strengths and weakness of the player in the match.

Effect analysis on backhand side-twisted technique in receiving used by Olympic winner Zhang Jike: The usage of this technique, known in some circles as the “banana”, was analyzed in the five matches Zhang Jike played at the 2012 Olympic Games.  A set of detailed statistics was drawn from the play, documenting a range of usage characteristics.  One primary conclusion reached was that this technique produced superior results for Zhang in service return than the forehand loop/flip.  The study was presented to the Chinese National Team for their analysis.

The interaction between serves and match winning in table tennis players in the London 2012 Olympic Games: The round results from the 16 men and 16 women who reached the Top 16 Round were gathered, featuring points segregated by elements associated with the serve.  A number of statistical methods were used to determine the importance of service and service return, including the calculation that the medal winners in the Olympics won between 62% and 67% of the points when the eventual medal winner was serving.

Technical and tactical performance of top-class senior, junior and cadet table tennis players: 20 randomly selected matches were chosen to evaluate three performance criteria, namely stroke type, footwork type, and shot outcome.  Two statistics among the many findings are a determination of the most frequent stroke types (#1 is topspin: 27% and #2 is service: 20%) and the most frequently used footwork type – single step.  Also discovered were the three most frequently used stroke types of top-class players: forehand topspin loop, forehand topspin counter attack, and backhand block.

Muscular strength, muscle activation patterns and kinematics during forehand loop: A major finding was revealed in this research concerning the relationship between quadriceps and hamstring muscles.  It was found that the proper strength interrelationship between the two muscle groups is critical to avoiding injury.  The evidence indicates the strength ratio between the quadriceps and the hamstring muscles should be approximately 60%.

Differences in physical performance using new approaches in fitness assessment between elite athletes in table tennis and other racket sports: A study was conducted comparing a number of physical performance attributes from athletes in three racket sports – table tennis, tennis, and badminton.  In comparing table tennis with both badminton and tennis players, no significant differences were found in percentage body fat, VO2 max, reaction time, agility, and upper and lower body power.

Top athletes’ handedness in the major racket sports: A study was performed evaluating the handedness of Top 100 in the world athletes in table tennis, tennis, badminton and squash.  Table tennis showed a significantly higher percentage of left handedness (27%) than tennis (19%), badminton (16%), and squash (14%).

Competitive readiness scale for table tennis athletes (CRSTTA): Typically, the mental and emotional readiness of a player is not formally analyzed.  This study proposes a method of evaluating athletes three to four weeks prior to a competition for the purpose of detecting and intervening in the competition preparedness of the athlete.  The method is CRSTTA – Competitive Readiness Scale for Table Tennis Athletes.


To provide more opportunity for authors to present their work, the Congress provides the support for presenters to document the high points of their studies in a poster framework.  A session is provided each day for the Congress attendees to view the posters and discuss the findings with the authors.

The Congress Concludes

We have reached the conclusion of this biennial ITTF event.  Much talk has already begun about the prospects for our next meeting in 2015 in China in coordination with the World Championships there.

We thank all involved in the setup, management, and orchestration of this wonderful and stimulating event: a very successful Congress that is very much appreciated.

Day 1

The world renowned INSEP (the National Institute of Sport in Paris) is our host for the 13th ITTF Sports Science Congress, being held 11th – 12th May, just prior to the start of the LEIBHERR World Championships in the same city.  As one of the most unique of the ITTF groups, an impressive collection of contributors, from scientists to coaches, convene to share their latest technical work in the field of table tennis with those of like interests. 

These conventions never disappoint, as the work of each presenter is an educational experience for the always attentive audience.

Opening Remarks

The Congress opened with remarks by the host country’s Jean-Francois Kahn, the Chairman of the ITTF Sports Science Committee, Christian Palierne, the President of the French Table Tennis Federation, and the irrepressible Michel Gadal, former French Men’s national team head coach (during the great accomplishments of the French team and Jean-Philippe Gatien as Men’s World Champion in 1993), now France’s National Table Tennis Technical Director and leading the French Organizing Committee for these World Championships.

If You Love Diversity, then . . .

No small part of the fun of this experience is the remarkable range of contributors from around the world that grace the stage.  Just to show you what I mean, here is a list of the countries that had representations present at the podium on the first day: China, France, USA, Japan, Australia, Iran, Greece, the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, the Philippines, and Serbia.

There really are very fine table tennis brains active in all the corners of the globe, exploring our beloved sport from the most creative angles.  This is the time when those highly analytically inclined with exceptionally impressive scientific and academic backgrounds have their international moments of contribution to the understandings of table tennis.  By attending this Congress, it is impossible not to learn very much indeed.

If You Love Intellectual Stimulation, then . . .

In eagerly awaiting these sessions, no one is capable of anticipating the breadth of exploration being reported on.  Here, using the formal titles, is a taste from the first day:

-          Systematic analysis of techniques and tactics of table tennis in China

-          Low cost motion sensing of table tennis players for real time feedback

-          Analysis of the principle and technology of loop drive

-          Effects of digital images on table tennis players and coaches based on the thoughts of McLuhan and the PATT system

-          A training support system for table tennis service using Kinect

-          The effects of insoles in table tennis

-          Net touching detection by sensing displacement

-          Relation between success and anthropometric index and physical fitness in elite men’s table tennis athletes

OK, I’ll stop now.  As interesting as the titles are, it is the content of the presentations they represent that leaves all in attendance with a great deal of intellectual stimulation, prompting the audience to shoot some sharp arrows during the presenters’ panel question and answer period following each segment.  It becomes not a small challenge by the moderators to shut off the questions at the allotted time, for it always feels like we are just getting started with our targeted inquiries and contributing opinions.  We have much to say, and we want to say it.

All in the Best of Spirits

Although there are some past acquaintances that each of the Sports Science Congresses give the opportunity to renew, most participants are first time contributors.  This makes even more remarkable the tone and spirit of camaraderie and collaboration that permeates the sessions, imbuing the proceedings with a professionalism and intellectual maturity that ensures a rewarding experience for all.

We in attendance highly appreciate the excellent first day.  We will rest tonight, and fire it up tomorrow.