While learning from watching better players is a common (and useful!) table tennis tip, in this two minute table tennis tip I'd like to take a look at the flip side of that piece of advice, and discuss the subject of learning from weaker players.
When watching better players, it's common to pay attention to all the things that they do better than you, so you can see how to incorporate their tactics and techniques into your game.
Conversely, when looking at weaker players, it's usually a good idea to focus on what they are doing wrong, and use this as an object lesson in what to avoid doing yourself. Here's a few things to look for when watching weaker players:
- Stance and Footwork - notice how a poor stance limits their ability to swing with power, and affects their ability to move quickly. Watch for how the forehand stroke is restricted when played with the wrong foot forward. See how often a weaker player either reaches for the ball instead of moving his feet, or actually moves too far and overruns the ball when he does decide to move!
- Recovery - weaker players are notorious for not recovering to a neutral position after each stroke. This is a great chance to observe just how difficult it is to swap to a forehand stroke if you play a backhand stroke and recover in a a backhand position, and vice versa. Look for excessive follow throughs, and take note of how they tend to throw the player off balance and increase the time taken to get ready for the next shot.
- Technique - keeping a close eye on a weaker player's technique can be very good practice for when you watch yourself on video and try to spot your own technique flaws. Quite often, it's easy to spot that something is wrong with a beginner's technique, but much more difficult to work out exactly what the problem is. Once you have identified the problem, take things one step further and try to work out the cause of the problem - is that weaker player's poor forehand due to his grip, his stance, his back swing, his body turn, his contact point, or his follow through? All of this is great mental practice for when the time comes to check your own form.
- Tactics - watching lower level players is a great way to reinforce the importance of good tactical play. Observe how a beginner with poor technique but with the ability to carry out a couple of useful tactics can give a hard time to a player with better technique but poor tactical ability.
- Fun - one other thing to learn from weaker players is their attitude to the game. New players to the sport have an enjoyment of the game, an enthusiasm to learn, and a willingness to accept that they will make some mistakes along the way. As a more experienced player, it's sometimes easy to get tunnel vision about your results in competition, and forget the simple joy of playing ping-pong that attracted you to the sport in the first place.