There are very few shortcuts to success at table tennis. That’s probably not good news if you were hoping for a quick fix to take your game to the next level. While there may not be shortcuts, there is a road that – if followed diligently – can take you as far as your innate abilities will take you. Oddly enough, relatively few players are able to stay on the path that can take them the furthest.
One reason is that the entrance to the path is extremely rocky. New players can easily be overwhelmed and give up after only a few steps. Unlike other sports, a first visit to a good table tennis club means seeing borderline professional players, possibly playing on the next table over. If however, these novices make it through the first miles, the next miles are equally treacherous, as there really does not seem to be any clear path to improvement. The next steps are sure to be down some dark paths leading to dead ends where little progress is made.
The frustration of this phase results in trying to move faster through the maze and asking for help from all the table tennis sherpas who are willing to offer assistance over the next summit. (A table tennis sherpa is best defined as any player with a rating at least one point higher than that of the player he is advising).
Incredibly, some players do make some significant progress through trial and error. But they usually end up settling in at base camp, not really seeing any possible way to the summit. I recently spoke with a 1900-level player who had never been coached or experienced any training. He would be the exception to the rule except for the fact that with his natural ability, the ceiling on his play could quite easily have been 2200 instead of falling just short of the coveted 2000 mark.
If the cliché of the journey consisting of continuing to put one foot in front of another seems a little over-dramatic for an article on improving your ping pong skills, then you may not realize how long the road really can be. The players who often progress the most rapidly are younger players who train frequently, usually under the supervision of a qualified coach. Adults starting out may not have as much time for training. Most could, however, schedule some training sessions. The path to improvement at any age involves some coaching, some match play, some practicing serves, and as much training as possible. Given that there are no short cuts, the only way to reach your goals is to take the most direct route, and while you are at it, enjoy the view.