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I'm not improving

On Improvement, Practice & Practice Partners

'I'm Not Improving'


I'm sick of hearing players sobbing and complaining that they don't improve. They always complain on the same things (which very often are the WRONG things), while the real reasons why they are not improving are left unattended. There are certain things that have a lot of influence on most players improvement:

  1. They choose inadequate equipment. The faster the equipment, the slower they'll learn to handle it, if ever.

  2. They do ROBOTIC practice drills, MORONIC exercises and SILLY practice matches with a wrong & biased mentality. Instead of working on his weaknesses, they work ONLY on his strengths. They play for winning on practice matches, and don't use them to practice.

  3. They choose the wrong practice partners by the wrong reasons. A partner can be adequate / inadequate for lots of different reasons, as you'll see below.

This article focus in points (2) and (3).

As you see, I believe that the responsibility for improvement is strongly dependant on the player himself. If you wake up one morning and find that your game sucks, I have three things to say:

  1. It's YOUR fault. Hence...

  2. You DESERVE it. But don't worry, as...

  3. You can do ... to FIX it.

If you want to improve, instead of asking 'why I'm not improving?' you could ask yourself 'why should I improve?' ('What am I doing that is making me improve?' and 'Does it really work?'). If you are not improving, your practice sessions LACK something. Spending hours at the table (playing / drilling) will probably make you improve, but when you have a somehow developed game, you need a lot of practice time to notice even a slight improvement. At this point, you need a partner (or coach) that forces you to play at your best, and to polish your strokes, footwork, tactics, whatever.

What's more: finding a partner (just ONE) is no good, unless he's a very good player.What you really need is A WIDE SET of partners so you can hit with all of them. The more different his styles / equipment / personality / tactics / strengths & weaknesses, the better. You have to do FOCUSED practice: Improving a weak point is much easy and quick than improving a strong point. You have to work on your weaknesses: Some players have no backhand, and a pretty decent decent forehand - guess what are they training? they spend (let's say) 4 hours / week ripping forehands. If they practiced 2 hours BH and 2 hours FH per week, they would improve A LOT his overall game.

Inability to rally, to handle (play against) long pips / short pips / antispin / OX rubbers / reglued sponges, to push (yes - there are players than can loop but can't push), or to return serves are huge weaknesses that you can improve. Playing against your buddy, which is always feeding you with that CANDY balls so you can loop SO EASY will make you improve, BUT MUCH LESS than looping against that chopper at your club with those dangerous long pips, who will be chopping and floating POISONED balls to you.

You probably have some 'advanced weaknesses', such as weak handling of elbow balls, inability to flip, or no BH slow loop. All this weaknesses can be improved by specific drills, or by focused rallying (you have to be willing to use your weak strokes when you see the chance to it - i.e.: flip all those short balls to improve your flip stroke). To develop any well rounded, steady style, I strongly recommend rallying instead of drilling, because it is much closer to playing a match. To get profit of a rallying practice, you need a partner that can play for control, and that gives you a bit more than you can handle all the time: A well rounded partner that can play for spin variation, push, block and loop (kinda Waldner) is a precious thing. Once you find it, you have to tell this player what gives you the most problems, so he 'spices' the rally with the 'scenarios' that you need to face in order to practice. If he's smart, you don't need to tell nothing to him, as he'll find it out quickly. Defensive or tactical players can be good partners too.

You already know what are your strong and weak points. You also know what gives you the most troubles. If you don't want to face it, and refuse (by any reason) to learn to handle whatever gives you problems, it's FINE. You can do what you want, and have the right to do so. Just DON'T COMPLAIN that you don't improve.

Alright - now let's pee on your beloved practice partners...

Choosing Practice Partners

Some things I believe that should be taken in consideration when choosing practice partners:

A BAD practice partner...

A GOOD practice partner...

Is always the same guy (unless he's way better than you -then you could be a bad practice partner for him-, or he's a good coach).

Is a constantly changing face. The more styles and equipment you play against, the better.

Wants to FH to FH loop, all at the same pace for 40 minutes before doing another thing.

Warms up all possible strokes / spins / placement / pace combination: Is not a one-dimensional player.

Goes for robotic drills. (like 'OK. Now you loop 1 BH and 1 FH, and I'll block' crosscourt). Allows non-thinking, robotic playing.

Goes for tight rallies, or drills that allow to develop control and counter control, and forces you to think and take (tactical) decisions during rallies.

Is a player who you are very used to play against.

Is a player who (by ANY reason) gives you a hard time when playing matches.

Favors speed (and not pace). He kills so hard when practicing, that you never have a chance to return (to learn to return) those balls.

Favors spin, placement and pace. He forces you to play for control. Makes you practice your footwork and play the ball.

Won't let you improve your serve return once you are used to his serves.

Should be able to surprise you with new serves.

Plays an ALL to OFF style, (probably looping with inverted). This style is the most common, and it's the less likely to give you troubles, as you are (probably) VERY used to it already.

Plays an unusual, extreme or complex style as twiddling, penholders that BH-loop, choppers with offensive capabilities, unusual combination rackets... You should have some of those players among your practice partners.

Allows you to play at your best, so you both end feeding each other with easy balls so you look like you could play.

Has a destructive style of play, don't allowing you to play comfortable, BUT letting you rally - so you can get used to any spin, change of pace, placement, whatever.

Play tons of silly matches with you one after another. Matches can be won by any of you and by any result, as neither of you is trying hard.

You play less matches, but they are much more intense and tight as every point is fought hard.

Don't like to pick up balls. He doesn't seem to understand that missing shots is part of the game.

Is patient. He will feed you with progressively difficult balls so you can learn to handle those shots that give you problems.

Can't win. Can't loose. Trash talks. Cheats. Judges other people. Thinks he can play (doesn't matter how good is he). Has 'TT prejudices'.

Is an open minded, nice person.

Knows the world class players, TT teams, brand names (or he thinks so)...

Knows the rules. Knows how equipment plays.

Is your TT buddy, and he only wants to play with you.

Wants to play other players too.

You see only at your club and with the sole purpose of practice TT.

Is a friend too.

Don't share his knowledge (like: he won't do his best serves except on the match has started). - How do you want to improve with a guy like this?

Gives advices. Show you his weak points, so you'll try to take profit of them, to force him to improve.

Wants to play his strengths on your strengths to have cool rallies.

Wants to play his weaknesses on your strengths / weaknesses, and viceversa.

Doesn't give you any feedback apart from 'very good'! or 'nice shot'.

Gives you utile, usable feedback.

Thinks he is a good partner.

Tries to be a good partner.


If you still want to practice ONLY with your buddy, go ahead - you can have lots of fun playing with someone at your level when each of you are familiar with the other's style. But if you plan to improve, or plan to play competition (and do it with certain ambition, and willing to win), practicing with the same partner is not be the best choice (to put it mildly).

I'm providing an additional brief list of...

Things That Prevent You From Improving

  1. Irrational beliefs: Long pips are not cheating. Loops are not the only stroke. There isn't any mystic force against you: you miss your own shots. Luck is not illegal, it's part of the game.

    Use your common sense. Most the following points are specific cases of this MENTAL DISEASE lots of TT players seem to suffer.

  2. Avoiding 'lesser' players. That will prevent THEM from improving, but not YOU. Do you like to play with BETTER players than you? (I BET YOU DO) Then why are you refusing to play with WORSE players than you?. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Don't be selfish.

  3. Complaining. Self-speeches. Trash talking. Sobbing. Sorry excuses. Mind games. You don't need that: that's psycho-pong.

  4. Moronic wannabe coaches by your side, with crappy hints that don't offer any effective help ("come on, don't miss those shots" won't help you if you are not taught HOW).

  5. Don't drink or eat those energy drinks, energy bars or nothing that is advertised as 'sport / athletes food'. They're no good, specially for TT (even if they have the STIGA logo on them). If you are tired, get some rest. Drink plain water. Eat a banana.

  6. CHOing. High toss serves (unless you know how to take profit of a high toss). Those poses you copy from top players mean nothing.

  7. New equipment. You can't expect to spend money and play better. As your equipment is REASONABLY APPROPRIATE for your style and skill, I'm sorry, but you WON'T improve buying new equipment. You have to find reasonable equipment FOR YOU though. Experimentation with equipment (the process of rationalizing your own technique, learning to adapt your strokes to control the new equipment and play the ball properly with it) should definitely make you improve.

  8. Speed gluing. Some players get benefited when gluing. Some players don't. Do not assume that glue will make you play better for sure. Instead, glue will make you play faster and spinier (which can be good or not for your style and skill).

  9. How a player is dressed or looks has NO influence on his play. Accept it.

  10. Buying TT books. What will make you improve is reading, understanding and practicing what the book says, not HAVING it on your home library. Same goes to TT videos.

  11. Inappropriate external conditions such as light, floor, table, ball, temperature, humidity, available room for playing, background noises, casual people / spectators / your opponent's teammates / your own teammates, etc... will be there. Some of this conditions can affect your game (there's no way to deny a slippery floor hurts your play if you spend more time laying on the floor than playing), but you shouldn't let them to affect your mind (don't start sobbing and complaining on the floor), which is FUTILE and USELESS (floor won't change) and not good for your concentration and performance.


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Last Update : 06 November, 2002

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