One Year In - Lessons for the Beginner Table Tennis Player

After a little constructive criticism I thought I would end future blog posts with a brief summary and a few headers in the body to break up my spiel which may make it all a bit easier. Thanks to Anthony Zi Xian Zhao for highlighting it.

What is a Beginner?

When I came to the sport, I knew I was unlike other beginners. Firstly, most beginners will have played table tennis at least a bit before. They will have played it on holiday or have a table in the garage or have done it at school. They will also be young or old.That is because, both the young and the old have free time to experience new things, and both have the means to do so. I, as a guy in my mid-twenties, was not a quintessential beginner. Yet, the lessons I have learnt can apply to almost anyone trying anything new.

My first ever attempt at table tennis!

Tip 1: Be Prepared to Fail 

The first day I played table tennis I sucked. I lost and lost again. However, I knew that would happen and I was completely prepared for it. I was almost happy to lose as I just kept messing around and trying to learn. Three or four months later and I was not quite as glad to be losing as I was on the first day. Yet, my relative time on the table was insignificant next to anyone else I had played with. I was training 3 or 4 times a week and barely making a dent into how much I needed to learn (at this point Ben wasn't in my life, sadly). 

It is about this point I have watched everyone else quit, especially those who come down on their own. They just see no improvement in their results. They lose and lose and lose without anything to show for it. After a couple of months of it, it can become draining. My advice is accept that table tennis will be this way for a year or so if you are new to a club. Most people won't be like me and manage to get as much table time and improvement as I have done. It will be a slower process and require a lot of perseverance. Make sure you don't get too fearful and end up playing a defensive game it may seem like the easy option to win a few games against your mates but you won't ever progress past the first stage of table tennis and, believe me, the more of the basics you can learn, the more table tennis will open up to you.

Tip 2: Get a Buddy

Failing on your own sucks. I would recommend everyone to try and find someone to partner up with. In my first couple of months I had my friend Ollie. He helped me so much and now I have Karl and Ben who both coach me and help me keep going when things get tough. I honestly don't know what I would do without them. It is so much better when you can share the good and the bad times with someone. 

If you can find someone of your own ability but maybe slightly better that is a huge help. It gives you someone to chase and it gives you someone to partner up with in drills. There are three guys who come down to one of my clubs are have a great balance. The group mentality keeps them motivated and they always have someone to play with which is not always the case when you are a beginner. Good players don't want to play with you because you are boring to play against. Even when you start to improve the perception of you may still be that you are still that beginner table tennis player they first knew.

My Support Network: Karl and Ben!

Tip 3: Ask Then Watch Ask Then Watch

If you have read my previous blog 'The State of the Game' you will know that I think coaching isn't as freely available as it should be. Therefore, you cannot just go to a club and expect there to be somebody who is going to turn you into a professional over night. The best way to improve is to pick one or two of the best players to watch and then ask them to play with you. They will, if asked, love to share their experiences and give you tips. If that fails you can always go to Table Tennis University or another YouTube based coaching set up (some are free some are not so free!) or even drop messages to the forums. There are numerous ways of getting advice but make sure you stick to a couple of sources. I have ended up in a complete mess as I tried to follow conflicting pieces of advice. Pick the guys with the style that looks most like the pro's i.e. a topspin game with good movement. It is easy to adapt your game to anything once you have learnt the basic style. (see video below)

Tip 4: Don't Worry Too Much About Equipment

Equipment never won a table tennis match. Don't get my wrong a decent beginner bat is an absolute essential (don't try and play with the old bat that came with the table from the garage). I started off with a palio bat, all of which are pretty decent. I would, of course, recommend an Eastfield Allrounder as the best possible bat for a beginner. It is spinney enough and quick enough for a beginner without creating an issue whereby they hit everything of the end of the table. Of course I am a little biased but the point stands that having tried a number of bats the Eastfield one stands out.

Aside from that, it is best not to worry at all. Blades, rubbers, balls, tables, surfaces, go on any table tennis forum and this stuff dominates the chat. It is all anyone can talk about. Even now I ignore all of it. Equipment beyond a certain point is unlikely to make the athlete.

One thing I do subscribe to is the look good, feel good mentality. I do like to dress in what I feel comfortable in (most people will note my ridiculously short shorts) and I implore everyone to make sure they feel good with both what they wear and their equipment. It may sound like a minor thing but as a beginner feeling comfortable is really important in what can be a very uncomfortable setting.

Tip 5: Don't Set Big Long Term Goals

I know, I am one to talk right? In my first few months learning a new sport should of been fun and enjoyable. Seriousness would come when it came to the league or to the tournaments but I forgot it. In fact I still forget it. I have this big goal and I roughly know how quickly I need to progress. If I feel like I am getting behind or I take a few losses then it seems like the ground will swallow me up.

I often live 2 months in the future or even a year in the future. I forget to enjoy what I am doing. I have to say when I have most enjoyed table tennis I have had my best performances. It is always in that order. So, yes, goals are great. Just try and set small short term ones and don't worry if you miss them or are a little behind in your expectations. You will catch up and you will develop quickly but try and enjoy the process and the journey. I often wish I had done a better job of that.

Bonus Tip (For Adults): Play on your Knees

Seriously just try it is the best thing for any adult beginner. See video below:

Basic Tips are the Best

These tips aren't rocket science. It is just that in all the rush to learn a new sport you can often forget a few things. It is like your mum (mom!) telling you to pack your lunch on the first day of school. You know you need to do it but a gentle reminder never hurts. Table tennis can be a little 'nerdy' in places as well so it is good to remember that having no knowledge is fine. I have very little compared to most people. In my league matches I constantly make gaffs and I am always getting frowned at by the old guys. However, everyone started somewhere and it is just that they have forgotten what it is like. My final bit of advice is if in doubt reach out. I am here to chat so I will always try and help other beginners with the bits I have picked up and if not I know enough people to get you the help you need! So go out there be brave and enjoy it!

  • Things I wish I had known
  • 5 tips for Beginners
  • Play on your knees!
  • Reach out and get the help you need
  • Keep it simple
  • Enjoy it

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