Why are we spending hours doing forehands and backhands? Why would players engage in games where the only shots that are allowed must have backspin? What is the point of repetitive footwork drills? How is it that players successfully execute twenty successive forehand loops in training, but fail to loop consistently in matches? The problem seems to be that playing matches is far different than doing structured, or even unstructured drills.
Matches are often decided by service strategy and other nuanced skills. If there is such a difference between match experience and training, what was the point of all the repetitive drills? The case can be made that we are spending too much time on structured drills. That is not necessarily my point. Structured drills are essential for new players, and remain important for more advanced players. There is however a point, where players have mastered the basic shots, but somehow fail to use them in matches.
The purpose of practicing the routine shots is so when you have the opportunity to make a routine shot, it will in fact, feel routine. Not every shot has to be extraordinary. There are times when a well placed forehand drive or backhand push might be perfect, if not spectacular. When players are pressured they often forget that they have worked to have quality shots, and feel like every shot needs a little extra. The little extra could be just enough to win the point, or it could be enough to miss the table. The routine shot is not a passive shot. It is a shot that has been repeated so often that there should be a great deal of confidence that it will be effective. Confident players are alert, but not alarmed. They are relaxed, but not lazy. They get used to winning, because it’s just routine.