Winning the game: Brain processes in expert, young elite and amateur table tennis players

Sebastian Wolf, Ellen Brölz, David Scholz, Ander Ramos-Murguialday, Philipp M. Keune, Martin Hautzinger, Niels Birbaumer, Ute Strehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study tested two hypotheses: (1) compared with amateurs and young elite, expert table tennis players are characterized by enhanced cortical activation in the motor and fronto-parietal cortex during motor imagery in response to table tennis videos; (2) in elite athletes, world rank points are associated with stronger cortical activation. To this aim, electroencephalographic data were recorded in 14 expert, 15 amateur and 15 young elite right-handed table tennis players. All subjects watched videos of a serve and imagined themselves responding with a specific table tennis stroke. With reference to a baseline period, power decrease/increase of the sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) during the pretask- and task period indexed the cortical activation/deactivation (event-related desynchronization/synchronization, ERD/ERS). Regarding hypothesis (1), 8-10 Hz SMR ERD was stronger in elite athletes than in amateurs with an intermediate ERD in young elite athletes in the motor cortex. Regarding hypothesis (2), there was no correlation between ERD/ERS in the motor cortex and world rank points in elite experts, but a weaker ERD in the fronto-parietal cortex was associated with higher world rank points. These results suggest that motor skill in table tennis is associated with focused excitability of the motor cortex during reaction, movement planning and execution with high attentional demands. Among elite experts, less activation of the fronto-parietal attention network may be necessary to become a world champion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number370
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue numberOctober
Publication statusPublished - Oct 27 2014


  • EEG
  • Elite athletes
  • Motor efficiency
  • Motor skill
  • Sensorimotor rhythm
  • Table tennis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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