Tactical Table Tennis
In the past month I have learnt an awful lot. I am now, most certainly, an "intermediate" table tennis player. I am nowhere near the level I am aspiring for when the league starts and I am still making a large amount of mistakes in my overall game. However, my biggest failing is the tactical side of the game.
Table tennis is simple, hit the ball on to your opponents side and hope it doesn't come back. Yet, what happens if it does come back? What of the many different options should you take? It is likely your opponent has already ruled out some options with the speed and spin of the ball but have you noticed it? Is this shot going to be a winner or a shot aimed at keeping you in the rally? Are you going to change the spin? Where on the table will you put it? Are you in the right place to put your desired return into action? Are you confident?
All the questions above are asked on every single return. Most of them are asked on the serve as well but the options can be dictated and decided on more slowly. In the middle of the game there is no luxury of time, no re-positioning, there is only a split second to make all the choices and pray they are correct. The choices aren't conscious ones, or at least they shouldn't be, they are some of the many choices that need to be made sub-consciously to make every single shot.
Choices are some of the fundamental things that make us human. Without choices I would probably
be a fly. Who, even still, probably makes choices. The issue is that we don't like making extra sub-conscious choices. Humans can be a bit like robots. We want loads and loads of data and loads and loads of time to process that data and loads and loads of time to get a decision based on the variables. So if we feel we don't have the time to process that data we don't make a choice or we panic. Indecision is the biggest killer in table tennis. I struggle with it and I am sure that every single player has done. If I am in a tense point, it is 10-9 on my serve I serve, its returned and I don't know what to do. Really, what I am saying is "I want more time to make sure this is perfect" what I actually do it panic, make a half choice and maybe put the ball off the table and into the net.
So as a developing player I am looking to process that data quickly and also be aware that making a decision to do something with the ball is better than nothing. One of the biggest things I have learnt from older players (perhaps 60+) is to make decisions that adapt to what your limitations are and the opponent. The older players have so much knowledge, so much data and a years of well honed processing that everything is sub-conscious. They very rarely make half baked decisions, they are rarely caught frozen. I, on the other hand, am always caught in those sort of positions. I get so focused on everything else that I overload on the data and forget to process and, therefore, come to a decision.
This comes nicely on to the next point, fulfilling decisions. Tactics are malleable. They develop and change as a game progresses. I always go into a game with the hope of playing an attacking topspin game. Sometimes a player will love playing against that and may need a different type of game. Sometimes I might just need to win and I might need to play a safer game. There can be any number of reasons that may change my game but I need to be ready to play any style of game if required. The problem is I am not ready. In fact, I am making my own topspin game harder because of pushing. I mentioned this in my last blog, the surprise I found at how bad I was at it. I am trying to do a bit every single session. I am really making an effort to improve. That ability that pushing gives you to dictate both the spin and table position is a huge asset. Particularly if your opponent is constantly closing down the options in regards to looping. Therefore, I might be processing the data but I might be lacking the execution.
If I was going to do my first 8 and a half months again I would definitely recommend learning pushing more deeply. I have been focusing so much on the forehands and the backhands that I have never really practiced pushing. I hadn't even done a forehand push until I worked with Ben. He has noted to me before that he can win against beginner players 21-0 consistently just but using the skills pushing and chopping give you. It basically creates "no risk" table tennis. A lady at my league club told me that was how she beat me the other day, she just out pushed me. She stopped me from playing a "big" game and made me play a small game which I was useless at.
I guess tactics are all about how you position a player and how you make them play the game you want to play. It also makes games tons easier when you know that you can bring every type of gun to the table not just a potato gun and a bazooka because the bazooka will kill you both and the potato gun, well it just fires potatoes! The key to all of this is practice. The reason the older players are good at that stuff is they have practiced longer than everyone else. Likewise, the reason pushing becomes easy is because it is a skill that has been learnt and it can be learnt simply and easily, as long as you have the time. Hopefully, my next update will be there to tell you how much this side of my game has improved.
Follow on Instagram