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The Beginning of a New Era: The Plastic Ball

On July 1st, 2014, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) mandated that all

tournaments use a new plastic table tennis ball instead of the old celluloid ball (Inaba et al.). The

differences between the plastic and the celluloid balls were seemingly insignificant: a 2

millimeter increase in diameter and a change in material. Some people might say that the new

plastic ball was not an innovation - it was not novel, nor did it solve a problem. However,

according to Dr. Clayton Christensen, innovation can be defined by its ability to disrupt a field

regardless of its ability to solve a problem (Russell). Although a two millimeter increase in the

size of a table tennis ball does not seem like an innovation, it disrupted the sport of table tennis

by disadvantaging two common styles of play as a result of the fine changes in ball

characteristics such as deceleration, friction, and spin. Commented [JCH1]: Excellent start to the paper.

You do an excellent job of doing all three things that


The new plastic ball has measurably less spin and more speed than the old celluloid ball, the beginning of the paper should do. You establish
the debate very early on in the essay. You also
which affected blockers and choppers negatively. According to table tennis coach Rowden provide the definition of innovation that your essay
builds on, and you make a clear argument as well.

Fullen, the increase in ball size lead to a drastic decrease in spin (Fullen). With the celluloid ball, Great start! I’m also impressed with how succinctly you
did all of these things.
testers in the Chinese national table tennis team were able to generate a maximum of 151

rotations per second (rps) on the ball, whereas with the plastic ball, the maximum rps was 133

(Fullen). This is a 15% decrease in spin at the initial contact between the paddle and the ball.

Although both the old ball and the new ball lose spin while traveling through the air (due to

drag), because the new ball has a surface area 10% larger, it loses more spin in the time it takes

for the ball to reach the other side. Additionally, both balls lose spin on contact with the table. Commented [JCH2]: Great! I like how specific the
details about the spin of the ball are!
However, according to Inaba et al., the coefficient of friction for plastic balls was higher I also like how you explain these things in common
sense terms, translating an abstract number of
compared to celluloid balls (Inaba et al.). This means that a more of the spin is transferred to revolutions per minute into a percentage.

speed after the plastic ball bounces. This causes the plastic ball to accelerate upon contacting the
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table as opposed to maintaining a more linear trajectory as was the case with the old celluloid

ball. Inaba et al. showed that a plastic ball hit at 170 rps was 11.8 cm ahead of and 1.3 cm above

the position of the celluloid ball at 0.1 seconds after collision (Inaba et al.). These changes to the

ball, in context of the game, ultimately led to the downfall of blockers and choppers, two

common styles of play.

The decrease in spin and increase in velocity disrupted table tennis by making blockers

and choppers less successful. Almost every table tennis player ranked in the top 100 can be

classified into one of three main categories: attackers, blockers, or choppers. Attackers mainly hit

topspin shots from the forehand and backhand sides to hit the ball on the table with great power

(spin gives control). Blockers puts their paddles in front of the ball and use the opponent’s speed

and spin to put the ball quickly back onto the table. Finally, the chopper returns each ball with

heavy underspin in order to tire out the opponent and force him/her to make a mistake. Because Commented [JCH3]: Nice, concise description of each
style of play.
Due toof the introduction of the new ball, the strategies of blockers and choppers are less Commented [JCH4]: “Because” is a conjunction, and so
should not be used to start a sentence in formal essay.
effective.

The adverse effect of the new ball on blockers becomes evident when applying the

characteristics of the new ball to their style of play. As mentioned previously, blockers place the

paddle in front of the oncoming ball and use the opponent’s shots against him/her. By

anticipating the path of the ball, the blocker can reduce the time the opponent has between

successive balls and block the balls into awkward or difficult positions for the opponent (straight

at the body, or wide to the forehand or backhand). This causes the opponent to either miss a shot

outright (due to the lack of recovery time between shots) or give a low-quality return. Once the

opponent gives a low-quality return, the blocker smashes the ball out of reach to win the point.

However, this strategy loses effectiveness when combined with the new plastic ball.
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With the change to the new plastic ball, the blockers such as Oh Sang Eun struggle to

anticipate the ball’s position and place their returns into difficult locations. A blocker’s first

ability - the ability to anticipate the ball’s position - depends on the speed, and trajectory of the

ball. The new plastic ball has more speed, and a less linear trajectory. This gives blockers less

time to react to the incoming ball and makes it harder for them to predict the location of the ball.

The blocker’s second ability - the ability to place their returns into difficult locations accurately –

depends on the amount of spin on the ball. As previously mentioned, a ball with more spin is

easier to control. However, the new plastic ball has a larger diameter, a larger surface area, and a

higher coefficient of friction than then old celluloid ball, all of which decrease the spin on the

ball. Oh Sang Eun, the renowned blocker was ranked 16th in the world in 2013. After the

introduction of the old ball, his world ranking is now 65 (International Table Tennis Federation).

The introduction of the new plastic ball has disadvantaged blockers in the game of table tennis

due its decreased spin, increased speed, and less linear trajectory. Commented [JCH5]: Great use of Oh as a concrete
example supporting an abstract argument.
Not only do the qualities of the new ball adversely affect blockers, but they also affect Good job!

choppers as well. The new plastic ball has less spin than the old celluloid ball, which decreases

the effectiveness of the chopper’s strategy. Choppers typically use a special kind of rubber that

reverses the spin of the ball. For example, if a topspin ball were hit to a chopper, they would give

it back with underspin. Returning a long underspin ball with uses a considerable amount of

strength as one must counteract the underspin (with more topspin) and lift the ball over the net.

The strategy of the chopper is simply to put the ball back on the table with underspin until the

opponent gets tired and misses. The problem with this strategy is that it again depends on the

opponent’s spin. With the change to the new plastic ball, overall spin is decreased. Now, when

topspin balls are hit to choppers, they have less spin on them. Consequently, the amount of
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underspin on the ball returned is significantly less. This decreases the effort required to hit a

underspin ball, which makes it very easy for the opponent to continue attacking the returns and

eventually win the point. The most iconic chopper, Joo se Hyuk, was greatly disadvantaged with

the introduction of the new plastic ball. In 2013, he was ranked 11th in the world. After the

introduction of the plastic ball, his ranking began to drop slowly to where it now sits at a world

ranking of 292 (ITTF). Therefore, the introduction of the new plastic ball in table tennis has had

a measurable adverse impact on choppers in table tennis.

Although the change from the old celluloid ball to the new plastic ball may have seemed

inconsequential and uninnovative, it disrupted the sport of table tennis. The plastic ball has more

speed, less spin, and a less linear trajectory, all of which serve to disadvantage blockers and

choppers. As evidenced by the sudden drop in rankings of blockers and choppers, the new plastic

ball has marked the beginning of a new era for table tennis. In order for blockers and choppers to

remain relevant in modern table tennis, they will have to adapt to the ball. One such possibility is

to incorporate more offensive techniques into their playstyles. This would give them a greater

variety of shots which would make it difficult for opponents to predict the path and type of ball

returned. Although the new plastic ball has disrupted the sport of table tennis, only time will tell

if the blockers and choppers will continue to coexist with attackers or if the game will have lost

its diversity. Commented [JCH6]: Great conclusions!


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Works Cited

Fullen, Rowden. "Table Tennis: Fastest Ball Sport?" Pro Table Tennis,

protabletennis.net/content/table-tennis-fastest-ball-sport. Accessed 19 Sept. 2018.

Inaba, Yuki, et al. "Effect of Changing Table Tennis Ball Material from Celluloid to Plastic on

the Post-Collision Ball Trajectory." Journal of Human Kinetics, vol. 55, no. 1, 30 Jan.

2017. MEDLINE, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5304273/. Accessed 19 Sept.

2018.

International Table Tennis Federation. "Rankings." Ittf.com, www.ittf.com/rankings/. Accessed

19 Sept. 2018.

Russell, Andrew, and Lee Vinsel. "Hail the Maintainers." Aeon.com, aeon.co/essays/innovation-

is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more. Accessed 19 Sept. 2018.

Shyam,

This is a fantastic paper! You do an excellent job of using a specific definition of

innovation to craft a clear, unified argument throughout your essay. You also do an excellent job

of finding lots of specific evidence to support your claims, and explaining that evidence to the

reader in terms that are easy to understand for the reader. The introduction and conclusion to the

paper also do an excellent job of establishing the problem and looking forward to its

significance.

The one significant thing to work on is your proofreading. There are lots of sentences

that were obviously revised, but had variations of the old sentence still included. As a result,

there were lots of tiny little grammar mistakes and unnecessary words. While it didn’t diminish

the argument of the paper, it’s definitely something to watch for in the future. Still, great work!

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