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Table Tennis Things I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then...

Don't Make the Same Mistakes!


Training Drill Photo

Learn From My Mistakes!

© 2007 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
I think all of us can look back at times in our lives and wish that we had known then what we know now from bitter experience. Table tennis is no different, and in this article I'm going to share some of the lessons I learned the hard way since I first began playing seriously back in 1986. Don't make the same mistakes I did - needless to say, I look back now and wish that I had grasped these concepts back when I first started - I know I'd be a much better player today if I had!

Table Tennis Lessons I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then...

  • Serve and Serve Return is Crucial. I spent too many years in denial of this fact, and lost a lot of games that I might have won if I had woken up sooner. I was too busy consoling myself that I really deserved to win since I was better in the rallies, and all my opponents had were good serves. Instead of kidding myself, I should have been out there on the table practicing my serves to level the playing field.

  • Start Early. I didn't start playing ping-pong seriously until I was 15, and by then I had to play catchup with the other juniors. I really wish I had taken the sport up at around 8 or 9 years old - an extra 6 years of table tennis during those formative years would have really helped. Parents, if your kid enjoys table tennis, get him into training straight away!

  • Get Help. I should have spent the money to hire a personal coach to help me learn the sport correctly right from the start. Since I didn't, I wasted a number of years correcting flaws in my technique that I had developed by playing without any close supervision.

  • Ask More Questions. Besides getting some coaching, I should also have asked the top local players a lot more questions about the sport. Because I thought I could work things out myself, I wasted a lot of time struggling to learn what a more experienced player or coach could have explained in minutes.

  • Write Things Down. I can't recall the number of times I've corrected a flaw, only to realize months later that I've started doing it again. By writing down each new lesson I learned, I could have had a ready made checklist of things to watch out for when my game went off the boil a little. The number of times I have realized that I am once again gone back to using a narrow stance is too embarrassing to admit here.

  • Master the Basics First. Like many players, I got caught up in the exciting high level aspects of the game (e.g. looping and for me, long distance chopping), and I tried to master these aspects before I had a solid foundation in the basics. Because of this, I ended up with serious technique issues in both my forehand loop (incorrect grip, too much muscle tension) and long distance chopping (incorrect body motion, lack of ability to spin the ball), that I'm only now starting to get rid of. Slowing down at the beginning and taking another year to master basic techniques would have saved me a lot of time in the long run.

  • Get A Grip. Speaking of mastering the basics, I spent over 15 years swapping grips between my forehand and backhand strokes, simply because I was too stubborn to listen to good advice and develop a relatively neutral grip, that didn't need adjusting. It took me around three months to get comfortable with it, but changing to a neutral grip was one of the best decisions I have made to improve my table tennis. Naturally enough, it was one of the ones that took me longest to get around to!

  • Plan Your Training. As a defender, I have different techniques and tactics that I need to practice, in comparison to your average attacker. I spent a lot of years making some fundamental mistakes in my training, just because I had never really bothered to sit down and think things through. Training mistakes I made that you can avoid include:
    1. Too much time training what I enjoyed doing, rather than what I needed to practice.

    2. Too much time training what I was good at, instead of the weak areas of my defensive game.

    3. Too much time training tactics and strokes that I wasn't going to use in my matches. As a defender, I very rarely end up in counterlooping rallies 15 feet back from the table. But there I was every week practicing my counterlooping, while my pushing game (which I was relying on in every match) was being neglected!

    4. Not enough time spent developing correct footwork and stance.

    5. I should have been training with more intensity and focus, and then relaxing a bit more in my matches, instead of the other way around.

  • More High Level Competition. While I played in just about every local competition I could, I wish I had played in more tournaments against the best players in Australia. That would have given me valuable experience and feedback that would have helped me improve my game that much faster.

  • You Have More Potential Than You Think. I stopped competing at National level at age 24, because I thought at the time that I had reached my peak. It took me 9 years to get back to National competition again, by which time I had learned that way back at age 24 I had a number of technical and tactical flaws in my game, that if corrected would have allowed me to raise my standard another level or two. By not opening my mind to the possibility that I still had areas that I could improve, I missed out on what could have been some of my best years of table tennis. I'm working on correcting those flaws now, and so at age 38 (as of December 2008) I'm playing my best table tennis ever!


If you've read this far, you might come to the conclusion that I'm a bit of a slow learner! I'm not a complete idiot, but I could have avoided a lot of the problems I encountered just by keeping my mind open to new possibilities and advice, asking more questions (and listening to the answers!), and being willing to try things out instead of making assumptions that they won't work. If you can do what I failed to do, then you won't have to learn everything the hard way, and you'll progress faster than you might believe possible. Trust me!

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