Sunday 22 June 2014

How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players

This is a very good and typically asked question from Lachy Harris 'How do I consistently beat lower players than me?' A number of players find lower players harder to play against and you will often hear people saying they always play better against higher level players when there is no pressure to win than against lower players where they are expected to win the match. See more from my Coaching Blog.

How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players
So first of all it is important to recognise that it is mostly psychological and that being the 'higher player' generally implies that you have had better results and also have a more developed skillset. It is about how you use your skillset and/or greater experience to your advantage. Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make against lower players and how to avoid falling into the traps:

Don't Play Down to Them: A lot of players will try and make a match out of the occasion by playing down to the other player. In a competition you don't want to leave anything to chance and sometimes you will find yourself playing soft or giving easy balls, toying around a bit and not being very focused. This is an easy way to lose handfuls of points and a small shift in momentum can put a lot of pressure on you in the more important stages of the match. As with most of the psychological situations here and below, the best thing to do is to focus on winning at all times.

Don't Become Complacent: This can also be a big downfall, if you are leading by a long distance and decide to try some creative shots or start playing around then you may find yourself in trouble. A lead can be lost just as quickly as won so you could quickly find things changing direction.

The idea behind both of the two points above is this; often a match is just as much about you than it is about your opponent. Your mentality in a game can determine so much towards the result. This means that in any match situation you should be finding your full mental focus, regardless of who is at the other end. You should bring your A Game to a match with any player, higher or lower.

Here are some more ideas on the topic:

Exercise Efficient Tactics: Lower players can often give away easy points, you need to have tactics to exploit that fact up your sleeve just in case it gets tight and also be using them to build efficient point structures. Lower players will show their weaknesses more than higher players so you need to use your first few serves and receives to find out what those are. Lower players will also find it more difficult to adapt to tactical and variational changes in your game. You need to remain mentally alert during the game, if the opponent is winning points you need to shut down their tactics as early as possible. Remember a lower player is out to get a win against you so if they start winning strings of points then that gives them confidence and also deflates yours a bit.

Keep Positive: The worst thing that you can do against a lower player is get frustrated and negative. As in all situations doubt is the real enemy. If you start losing points or get behind in the match this is often the time when the pressure becomes very high and a player who usually suffers against lower players will start thinking a lot about the possibility of losing. This should never cross your mind. Playing to win is very important, if you get behind you need to focus on how you are losing points and how you are winning points, this is true of any match. Playing safe will only work if it is an effective tactic, some players lose confidence and start playing passively, if this is the wrong tactic then it will lead to defeat.

You should think more about each point and the tactics than the outcome of the match. With confidence you will know that if you play good table tennis and right tactics then you are capable of winning the match.

Practice Against Lower Players with Pressure: Handicap matches are a great way to practice against lower players, take the time to challenge lower players at your table tennis centre. It is good to help your lower level peers and also adds valuable experience against players of all abilities and styles. If you give them a headstart in the match it forces you to consider the most efficient way to win points and also lets you practice cutting down on easy unforced errors against lower level players.

It is important to focus on basic tactics and consistent execution, with both of these and a positive mindset you will perform much better against lower level players. Once you break through the negative barriers you will maintain this confidence and have more experience about how to consistently beat players who you are 'expected' to beat.

This is a great example of a higher level player (Ma Long) executing perfectly against a lower player
here he has great point structures and minimises the amount of energy consumption by efficiently winning points.

There are many other things which can help but the mentality and the execution of basic skills and tactics are the main points which will help you perform at the level you are capable of and let you focus on the higher level opponents you are really aiming to beat. Beating lower players is important for progressing in tournaments and in personal growth and development of your game. Hope this helps and answers your question Lachy! :)

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