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Table Tennis Drills - Plan to Be Random

Drill this into your head...plan some spontaneity in your table tennis training!

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If you are at all like me, you probably don't get to train for table tennis as much as you would like (or as much as you need!). So today I'd like to suggest an idea to help you get more out of the limited training time that you do have - using drills with random variations as part of your overall training plan.

What Exactly is a Random Drill?

Good question. As far as I define it, a random drill is similar to a fixed drill (where the pattern of balls repeats), but includes the ability for one or both players to vary some aspect of the drill whenever he wishes. Examples include:

  • Stroke variation - such as:
    • Type of stroke - player A forehand blocks to player B's forehand topspin - player A can randomly loop the ball back to player B's forehand, while player B must continue to topspin.
    • Spin of stroke - player A pushes light chops to player B, who also pushes the ball back with light backspin. At random intervals player A will use a heavy chop to player B, who must continue to use light backspin.
    • Speed of stroke - player A forehand counterhits to player B's forehand topspin. Every so often player A will use a faster counterhit to try to catch player B off-guard.

  • Placement variation
    • Sideways placement - player A forehand blocks to player B's forehand loop, putting the ball in the middle of the forehand half. At random intervals player A will place the ball at player B's body, then go back to putting the ball in the middle of player B's forehand half.
    • Depth placement - player A forehand blocks to player B's forehand loop, putting the ball deep. On occasion player A will block the ball short near the net, but on the same line of play.

These variations can be used individually or in combination. There is also the alternative to return to the main pattern after the variation has been made, or to go to open play to finish the point. An example of the second type would be as follows:

Player A forehand chops to player B's forehand, who loops the ball back to player A's forehand. Every so often player A will attempt to counterloop player B's loop, and from this moment on the point is open for any stroke to be played. Once the point has been won, the next point begins back on the main pattern of forehand chop to forehand loop.

Sounds OK - But What's Wrong With My Usual Fixed Drills?

Another good question. After all, you do see many table tennis players training exclusively with fixed drills - maybe by doing some forehand looping from 2 positions against a block, or even the old reliable Falkenberg drill (1 BH, 1 FH from the BH side, 1 FH down the line, all to the opponent's BH). While these type of exercises (where you know where the next ball is going to be) are good for perfecting your technique and grooving your footwork, they do have some limitations as well.

  • Encourages lack of concentration - since you always know where the next ball in the sequence is going to be, it is easy to turn your brain off and go into automatic pilot. This can lead to sloppy technique and lazy footwork, which is something you don't want to be doing.

  • Can develop bad habits - such as moving straight to where you know the next ball is going, and getting ready earlier than you really should for the next ball. Do this in a match and you'll find your opponent changing direction on you, since you will have moved and telegraphed what shot you are about to play before he has hit the ball.

  • Doesn't simulate real match conditions - how many players have you seen that look great in the warm up but are a level lower in actual match play? Too many drills where you always know where the ball is going can contribute to this. You need to be able to make quick decisions and react accordingly (and correctly).

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