Golden Web Award


21 tips to success


5 x U.S. Champion, 2 x Olympic Team Member

  1. Set Goals. - Goals are necessary for improvement at every level. Set both short and long-term goals. For example: I will win Class C at the next local tournament. Or I will break 1800 by the 2000 US Open. On a separate sheet of paper, write down each goal statement accompanied by a five-step strategy to reaching your goal. Keep a copy of these goals in your racket case to be viewed before each practice.

  2. Use quality equipment. - If you want to play like the Pros, you need to use the same high quality equipment they do. Pick a player whose style you would like to emulate and ask The Table Tennis Pioneers what they play with. You'd be surprised that the best don't always play with the fastest on the market! I personally use a Stiga Clipper CR with Stiga Mendo MP 2.0 on both sides.

  3. Stretch. Probably the most important and overlooked area of training in table tennis is stretching. Spend at least 10 minutes before and after each workout, whether on the table or off. Get the body warm by jogging for 5-6 minutes, then start from the head and work your way down to your toes, stretching each group of muscles. Stretching will improve flexibility, reduce possible injuries and get the body ready for fast paced action on the table.

  4. Exercise off the table. Walking, running, swimming, cycling or other aerobic activities are all super ways to improve your table tennis game and general health. Aim for 2 to 3 times a week for 15-20 minutes per workout; being in good shape will make the difference at the end of the tournament. Start out gradually and listen to your body. If you feel any pain, stop and consult your physician.

  5. Find a Teammate. - A teammate is a person you can practice with on a regular basis. The closer their level of play and commitment to improvement is to yours, the better the team will function. Schedule as many practices as possible during the week and plan on going to tournaments together whenever possible. Teamwork through competitive cooperation will lead to success.

  6. Move your Feet. Practice footwork as often as possible; faster footwork will allow greater shot selection during the point. Random placement footwork drills are much better than preset placement drills. Your partner should move the ball around in an open area on the table while you move and hit your favorite shot. Aim for consistency and count the number of shots before missing. Once you are satisfied with your consistency, increase the area to be covered. Footwork practice will help your goals come true.

  7. Practice serving. Serving is one skill that can be done without a practice partner. Simply obtain a large quantity of balls and an empty table. Use mostly wrist and try to produce a variety of spins (chop, topspin and no-spin) out of the same motion. Short serves stop your opponent from attacking, while long serves are used to surprise and keep your foe off-balance. Don't forget to incorporate no-spin serves into your game. The more original and deceptive your serves are, the easier the third ball will be to attack.

  8. Practice Returning Serves. Have your teammate serve all over the table with as many different types of spin as possible. Against long serves or serves that only bounce once on the table, attack the ball by looping. Short serves can be returned short with a push or attacked with a well-placed flip. Flipping uses a balance of quick wrist movement and a mini-forearm stroke. Don't forget to get close to the ball on the backhand flip and to the side of the ball when using your forehand.

  9. Loop. The most widely used stroke in the modern game is the loop. The three parts to a successful loop are: backswing, contact and follow-through. During the backswing, get your feet into proper position and relax your arm. If the ball has underspin you'll need to backswing below the ball; if topspin is coming at you, stay closer to ball height. Without slowing down the stroke, swing forward and contact the ball while shifting your weight (from back foot to front) and turning your shoulders and waist together. Let your forearm and wrist snap while grazing the ball to get maximum spin. The follow-through consists of letting your body weight transfer in the direction where you want the ball to go. Afterwards, quickly return to your normal ready position for the next shot.

  10. Play Smart. Before you serve, think how you intend to play the point. Don't put the ball into play until you feel comfortable with your opponent's most likely return. When returning serve, have at least your first shot in mind while watching the racket angle during contact. Make your opponent play your game, don't be forced to play theirs. Indecision is worse than poor decision-making.

  11. Contingency Plan. What if your rubber bubbles or racket breaks during a tournament match? Do you have a spare in your racket case? As a player, I always had an identical back-up racket made up and ready to go. If you are going to put in the time to improve and win, why not give yourself the best chance when things go wrong?

  12. Be Positive. Complaining or whining after a point is over will not make the next point any easier. Actually it will make it harder as you will become more tense and uptight. The time between points is too short and valuable to waste. Think about your next serve or serve return. Make mental notes of tendencies played during the last few points. If your opponent made a great shot, don't be afraid to acknowledge it. They might try an even fancier one next time!

  13. Scout Opponents. At big tournaments there are many new players you have never seen before. If you are going up against one of these players, take the time to watch them play before you have to face them. Look for their strengths and weaknesses; this will give you the basis to form a game plan. Don't try watching if they are playing on the adjacent table, let your teammate do the scouting. If video equipment is available, tape your matches and analyze the matches after the tournament to see which tips and tactics to implement next time.

  14. Get coaching advice during game breaks. During a fast paced game, it is difficult to remember all the tactics and strategies that worked well. A coach is your best bet to help organize your game plan or to make suggestions for modification. The coach should be familiar with your mental approach and your capabilities. Have your coach focus on one or two tactics, listening to two minutes of rambling will only confuse you. Keep it simple.

  15. Keep a diary of your opponents. After each match, it is a smart idea to jot down some notes on what worked and what didn't. List the type of serves your opponent liked to use and how they dealt with your serves. This is clearly the best time to formulate a better game plan for the next time you'll meet. Sometimes it is helpful to write down their type of rubber if they are combination players.

  16. Encourage yourself. Don't ever put yourself down. Along with being positive, get excited when you are playing well. Use phrases like, "I can do it!" "That's like me" or "Let's Go!" after a point to keep your intensity high. There is nothing wrong with pumping yourself up, just don't go overboard and forget why you are out there in the first place.

  17. Play all Nets and Edges. Every game will have at least 3 or 4 nets and edges. Since many games are decided by less than 5 points you can't afford to let these type of points go. The best way to improve your ability to return these errant balls is to try to return them in practice. After a while you will start returning them automatically. I've found that most net balls are easier than the regular shots if you are ready for them.

  18. Be aggressive. Table tennis is one of the fastest sports played today and offensive players are the most dominant. The first player to attack has a sizable advantage. Always try to attack after your own serve and mix it up on the returns. At the end of the game, don't become passive and hope your opponent will miss - this is the time to seize the initiative and go for it!

  19. Hustle. If you are forced out of position, don't let the ball hit the ground without a swing. Try for every ball no matter what, every point counts. Chopping or lobbing is not the wrong choice if it is your only option. Continued attempts to return balls just out of your reach will eventually lead to faster footwork and quicker reflexes. Opponents will get discouraged if their best shots are returned or they realize you are not going to give away any free points.

  20. Deuce. At 20-20 relax; try to play the point with the same discipline as you would any other. Thinking that it is a "do or die" point will cause tightness and pressure. Go with your strengths or force your opponent into their weak areas. A well-placed push can be as precious as a loop kill if it is done at the right time.

  21. Visit tabletennis.about.com on a daily basis for additional coaching tips and table tennis news. If you have a particular question that has stumped you for a while please post it on the Forum and I'll make sure you get an answer ASAP.  Subscribe to my free electronic newsletter for timely news.  If you would like to chat that option is available also. And don't forget to read my weekly features

Courtesy of Sean O'Neill


Last Update : 06 November, 2002

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