What Does Match Practice Help Develop?
Match practice is crucial for developing experience in a number of areas, being able to execute skills in pressure situations, learning to adapt to different styles and tactical changes, learning to develop reliable skills and tactics in competition and many other things.
Having strong match skills can be a make or break even against players who may be technically and physically above your level, knowing how to win is a great skill to have. Without a satisfactory amount of match practice, players can become technically very strong and have a good skill base but unable to perform well in matches, this can be a big downfall for athletes.
Types of Match Practice:
The best place to start is to practice full matches as often as you can. It doesn't even matter what the level of your opposition is. A lot of people say you can't improve by playing with lower players, this is absolutely not true. I play with lower players regularly especially in match practice, as being able to consistently win against lower players is important to keep stability in your progress. I wrote a blog here on How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players.
Playing full matches is the benchmark for match practice, you can figure out areas you need to improve on and modify your matches accordingly with some ideas from below.
A great way to add some pressure is to give lower players a score handicap, i.e they start on 4-0. This makes playing almost any player of any level somewhat difficult. Even if you play somebody way below your level, with a 9-0 or 10-0 handicap that puts a lot of pressure on you. What you can learn from these matches is:
- How to maintain confidence when you are losing during a game
- How to win points efficiently and execute set plays and winning tactics
- How to be stable and not make unforced errors
If you can perform well in these matches it will help you cut down on errors, make more efficient plays and learn how to raise your game and try and constantly play your best table tennis, no matter who your opponent is.
Serve and Receive Games:
I've covered this area before, working on serve game or receive focus can help with your game a lot. You can play whole games or whole matches where only one player serves. If you are the server you can work on structuring points from your service and making sure the execution of your serves is successful. If the other player is receiving you can work on how to stop them from initiating offensive play.
You can read my blogs here on:
- Why a Strong Service Game is Important
- Tips for Effective Serve Receiving
- The Ultimatum in Service Receive - Shut Down or Initiate
These are absolutely fundamentally important if you want to become strong match players, serve and receive are paramount skills to build and constantly improve on.
Team Matches or Ladders:
Team matches or ladder matches give you a good chance to play for something and strive for results, representing a team in practice or having ladder challenges force you to bring out your best game. You can include rewards for winners or punishments for the losers to add an extra edge.
Team matches and Ladder games also give you a chance to play a variety of different styles and levels to help you gain experience, which is my next point!
Matches with Styles:
Try and play practice matches with a range of players, left and right handers, attackers, choppers, blockers, long and short pimple users, anti players. Often a lack of exposure to some of these styles can result in poor performances in tournaments. I have seen high level offensive players make mince out of other offensive players and then come up against a chopper and perform miserably. You need to build experience against less conventional players so you have more understanding of how they play, how the ball reacts to their shots and how to adapt your game and tactics to take advantage of their style.
An underexposed style has awkward traits which become strengths, if you have experience and have been exposed to that style more, those strengths become exploitable and turn into weaknesses.
Compete in Different Types of Matches:
I recommend playing as many tournaments as possible. In the peak of my activity level during University I played 15-20 tournaments during the year. In some places (like the New York area) there is a tournament every weekend. If you can expose yourself to the highest level of matches as frequently as possible you will learn and gain valuable experience from it.
Also if you have a chance to join school teams, local or professional leagues etc, make the most of it. You will notice that most professional players started out playing leagues whether it be the Chinese League from the lower divisions or German, Polish, French leagues etc. The players strive to work their way up through the divisions to reach the highest echelons of the sport, you can set these goals too.
Essentially the more matches you are exposed to in different environments and events, the more goals you can set with regard to your performance.
So hopefully this has helped you realise that just training drills won't necessarily help you become a higher level player. Above is a video of the best of the 2013/2014 German League season. Enjoy and for further questions or new topics email me at firstname.lastname@example.org