What does it take to become a competent table tennis player? I don’t necessarily mean an Olympian, or a professional, just a solid player, who plays well, and wins often. If you’re thinking in terms of ratings, perhaps at least a USATT rating of 1700 is what I have in mind. Most of us don’t train full time, or have the time to play every day. That might keep us from playing professionally, but it shouldn’t be a roadblock to playing a fundamentally sound game.
To get into the ranks of good part-time players, basic fundamentals will need to be sound. Simply being able to execute basic strokes, and be in the right position for them, would likely take you to a 1500 rating. Add in some decent serves, and maybe a good put away shot, and you should be able to take aim at making it to 2000. Many players get bogged down at a certain level because the foundation of their game is shaky. Some of the most common mistakes come from neglecting working on serve returns, footwork, and placement. But sometimes the problem comes from failing to make a simple shot, and opting for a complicated one.
To make the case that table tennis is not as complicated as we often make it, I only have to site how often coaches repeat the same things. Good coaches can say it in different ways, but the same messages can be heard anywhere someone is trying to teach table tennis. Slow down. Get a wider stance. Spin the ball. Get lower. Accelerate into the ball. Move to the ball. Get set. Don’t try to kill the ball. Assume the ball is coming back. Focus! Table tennis is not easy, but it’s probably less complicated than we make it.
The path to playing better is no secret. It’s not complicated. For most players it will involve improving on the basic shots, movements, and serves. The creative shot can be a great addition to your game, but it can’t be part of the foundation. A good player will need to be able to attack, but it will need to be a controlled, and well timed attack. Some players may be at the point where they need to add new and more advanced skills to their game. Other players might need to simplify their approach and focus on the basics. I’ve recently felt like I’ve played more consistently by simplifying my serve patterns. For the most part I now serve only backhand serves, and simply vary the spin and placement. This seems to create predictable patterns, and compliments my game. At the very least, it has made me feel more confident when playing.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle for intermediate level players is failing to have the right mix of offense and defense. Offensive players will need to mix in some amount of defense. Defensive players need to know when to go on the offensive. Table tennis requires a good appreciation for Yin and Yang . Table tennis really does not have to be complicated. Improvement does take time. Sometimes breakthroughs seem to come when we least expect them. Sometimes we just need to keep it simple.