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.

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  1. I think at the start of your TT-Journey you should not be too focused on tactics (you are a novice ,don´t Forget !) but tackle your objectives strategically.
    So you Need to learn quick and build strong foundations .
    What is the advantage of fooling yourself beeing prepared to tackle experienced Players only to get ripped to pieces? Sure you get somewhat bulletproof as you collect defeats like trophies... and it will test your will to succeed and love for this Sport .
    Realistically it is a damn Long journey to achieve a competent Level in this Sport - I´m not sure but could imagine 5000 hours of Quality practise may be a good number to set out.
    So to get into Position for actually challenging competitive Players with experience you Need a set of strong strokes including very good serves to .You Need to be a lot better in Terms of Fitness and quickness and concentration .Get the random -maybe soft factors right -most decent Players suck in this area.
    if you have a choice of say 10 orr 15 strokes but you have not mastered any of them to perfection , what is it you are doing when you are at the receiving side of the table and the balls are rushing at you? I think the coaches should start with the important strokes which enable you to actively score Points in a short Rally -so for a beginner being able to do a competent spinny serve is always going to be bring you in Position to win direct Points .Being able to Loop and brush a ball is of utmost importance -getting you more balls on the table ,second it will demand a lot more Expertise from your Opponent to return your ball...and will therefore require your Opponent to be able to Play a Quality 4th or 5th ball...and this is where the seasoned non technicallly competent Players really suck at -but in contrast to you the beginner they will be able to put the ball on the table ,not much Quality ,ok but on the table.

    I´d think it´s a good idea to try and put the experienced Opponent under pressure with Quality serves and Quality opening Loops and flicks .instead of playing the waiting game.You will always loose out against a seasoned Player if you are just trying to Keep the ball in the match ,so better attack with Quality not thinking too much ,destabilize by applying pressure . Sure you might lose ,but it feels better to lose by making an error attacking then losing out being pushed to death ..of course pushing can be done quite agressively so this may be an Option if flicking or babana Flicks are not your Cup of tea....Watching my kid Play it is rather obvious that s soon as she is trying to Play safe ,her game falls apart ...this does not imply she has no onsistency : In practise warmup she is easily around the best and most consistent ones Ioften Count 100+ Forehand hits on the table without miss followed up 100 backhand hits on the table.In our Club i don´t know anybody apart from the headcoach who can do that effortless.

    1. Hi Marcus, I am in slight disagreement because of the way people play at local league level. Tactics are vital to make sure you are set up to take the big topspin loops and smashes. Anyone who plays with me knows that my foundations are becoming stronger and stronger but I also need to make sure that I can win games and that is where tactics can often play a big part. At my level you still make mistakes a lot so in game it is important to create an adaptive strategy that works against other players.

      In regards to the service and "main" strokes. That isn't my issue. I can loop and attack effectively. I have spent a long time working on perfecting my forehand and backhand drives and loops and I am becoming pretty competent. However, as I mentioned I still lose simple points i.e. I will put pushes into the next or miss a long push as I didn't anticipate it. That is why I feel tactics and anticipation are so vital.

      I think safety is being confused with defensiveness. Safety just means the ball goes on the table where you want. Topsin is safe, for example, because it helps the ball stay on the table. Likewise, a smash can be safe as it keeps the opponent on the back foot. Pushing is also safe, not because it is keeping you from attacking but it is keeping the opponent from attacking you. Therefore, on a 3rd, 5th or perhaps even later, ball you can attack the opponent from a position of strength. A push is used to allow me to attack and make sure the opponent doesn't. The moment the opportunity comes, like in all professional games that you watch, then I will bring a big open up.

    2. I agree .TT is so complicated I often forget as a bystander to acknowledge the guy on the other side of the table has some sort of brain and Agenda you have to adapt to....I ´d think it is hard to plan your moves as you play a Rally and maybe this is where we get closer to what it is all about. Without experience you lack the variety of Patterns you are able to Play in a Rally so you either stick to what you know -which may not work against your Opponent or you adhust your game to not practised reactions wich do not come naturally ,compromising your fluidness and Efficiency as you have to think too much .
      I think the element of surprise is what sets off ,especialy if you can come up with things the other guy could not imagine Happening right there in front of his eyes....be it net rollers ,edge or balls curving around the net instead of making it over it...playing a shot behind the back or changing the playhand during a set are obvious other surprises many Players simply have no answer to even when the ball itself is anything but out of this world you can see them stopping and staring at what happens as the game does not follow practised Patterns.
      As a Player of less experience you obviously will arrive much quicker at the Point of being surprised and cought off-guard in fact the longer a Rally the less likely it is to make the Point ....

      To bury the seamingly easy ones into the net -I have seen this a lot in youth games , not just from my own daughter .Either pushing with Quality is not as easy as we all think or we just lack concentration and precision when executing these "easy strokes" .
      For Caro a big source of confusion with pushes is the two possible aproaches coaches are trying to bring home on her: One camp says: don´t go under the ball but take the ball at bigger height and push the bat downwards to almost hit the table the other camp says : rubbish -you Need to go under the ball and apply lots of backspin to Keep the ball low ..
      Being unsure in the Moment you should be totally commited is a road to Desaster and every push in the net is carrying you away from the necessary state of mind -unwavering belief in your ability to perform a Quality stroke...

    3. Exactly, a couple of my bigger wins over the last week have basically come from out manoeuvring my opponents and them playing my big loops etc. rather than just focusing on attacking instantly.

      I think it is vital to have randomised drills. This week I will ask my coach to set up a multi-ball session where I need to get from one side of the table to the other and react to the type of spin (& speed) that has been put on the ball. It is stuff like that which really helps.

      When it comes to pushing I think all us can do it too an extent but the best people are not only pushing the ball long or short they are adjusting their opponent slightly each time to make it easier to score the point when they attack with a loop.

      That is really interesting as I had the exact same issue with my coach and another coach who are in these different camps. In my opinion taking the ball earlier is harder but in the long run it makes for a more accurate and more decisive push. My coach also says to apply your own spin to every shot, this includes the push. I think the addition of a little bit of backspin with every push helps keep the ball short and therefore stops your opponent gaining the upper hand. So if I was Caro I would go with the second camp take the ball as early as possible i.e. before the peak of the bounce and apply backspin as much as possible.

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