Monday, 14 November 2016

How to Recover Table Tennis Form and Confidence in Training

Table Tennis is a sport of reflexes, speed, delicate techniques and automation along with split-second timing. When one of these things goes out the window it can create a less than pleasing shift in balance and cause errors and flow-on effects like lost confidence. How many times have we played a match and thought or said out loud, "I just can't play a forehand today" or "My backhand just isn't working." This can occur in matches or in training.

You can read my blog on 'How to Deal with Losing Confidence When Your Best Shots Start Going Wrong' or check out more free and useful articles from my Coaching Blog.

The mighty Chinese Team training
Image from TTDaily
Losing 'Form' or 'Shots' in Training:

We've all been there before, you get into your regular training session and something just doesn't feel right. Maybe you keep putting your forehand in the net, maybe you miss all of your long fast serves. Something is broken. At least that's what you convince yourself. But what do you do when that happens? Most players either keep on soldiering on and hope for the best, or they focus on something else. Is that the best solution? Not really. If you are in a match and your forehand has problems, can you avoid playing forehand? Not if you want to win. These issues are something you should learn to solve during practice so you will have the experience to deal with them in a match.

Losing form or shots can be down to any number of things, perhaps your timing is a little bit off, maybe your body is sore and you are a little too tense, sometimes you may not be completely focused, other things on your mind. Table Tennis is a sport where any number of small things can have an amplified effect on your came, you tighten up a tiny bit too much and your shot is out the window.

A good example is a player who gets angry easily. A lot of the time if your opposition is mad they tend to take bigger swings and can't control, their touch is lost because they are just too tense. This is why it pays not to become frustrated by small things in your game.

Identify the Problem:

First you need to try and focus on the source of the problem, work backwards. Troubleshooting plays a very important role in table tennis. Are your shots hitting the top edge? Going in the net or off the end? Isolate the problem first based on the most common outcomes.

You can even delve further and try and take one step backwards and try and find the cause of the problem, say for example I'm hitting the top edge on my forehand, is my angle too closed? Am I contacting the ball inline or behind my body instead of driving into it? Perhaps I'm hitting too early or reaching for the ball, maybe my swing is too big or too tight. There can be a number of problems but to fix the technical problems you need to identify the root cause.

On occasions you can narrow a surface problem back through layers of cause and effects to identify the most seemingly insignificant problem, for example one toe was pointing too much sideways instead of forward and that caused a little too much rotation away from the table, the ball contact was late and in-line with the body etc. etc.

Simplify the Techniques to the Core:

The core of a technique is the absolute basic stroke, usually if you strip back the stroke to its most basic form it becomes easier to identify problems. This means reducing the pace to say 50-60% and just going through the motions. Often just by reducing the pace this can help you relax and focus more on consistency.

Usually if you can go back to simple techniques it will help repair your timing and mechanics and after a number of repetitions you can slowly pick back up into regular pace.

Also working at a slower and more basic pace can help you build back some rhythm and also make sure your footwork is efficient, allowing for better positioning for each ball.

Constantly Evaluate:

As you begin to repair the stroke, make sure to constantly evaluate and really focus on mechanics, timing and positioning. Most of the time a player who is able to effectively concentrate on their game, form and tactics and ignore negativity from missing strokes is the one who is able to consistently perform and maintain a good standard of reliable shots.

This is no different than evaluating tactics in a match, frustrating will distract from your goals. If you go through training constantly thinking or complaining about your shot not working then you are not going to receive a miracle solution, you need to be actively focused on analysis during training and matches. Analysis of strokes, tactics and opponent/training partner.

Gain confidence from high number of successful repetitions

The Confidence Drill:

This is one of my favourite concepts and one which has helped me a lot in maintaining a strong training ethic and form in practice. It's called a confidence drill.

What is a Confidence Drill? 

A confidence drill is a training exercise which you have a high success rate and reliability with, usually centering around the strengths in your game. This is the go-to drill when your confidence begins to dwindle.

An example for me is my preference for anchoring on my backhand corner and playing backhand and pivot forehands across the whole table. My confidence drill is backhand to backhand and I choose a random ball and pivot forehand anywhere. Why is this my confidence drill? Simple.

Backhand to backhand is simple and controlled, it has a very low error rate no matter how bad my form is, as a coach playing backhand control is something I can do in my sleep. I can choose any ball I want to pivot, this gives me a lot of freedom to pick the best ball to move and attack on and also gives me the element of making the first attack. Finally I am playing the ball with my forehand, my stronger stroke and anywhere on the table, this makes it very difficult for my training partner to anticipate where I'm going and make a quality return.

The end result is success. I usually win the 'point' 80% of the time. I get through the drills-set to the forehand ball on almost every occasion and if I make the opening forehand anywhere I don't need to play hard, I just focus on reliability and placement. As a result I land a great number of forehands and win a lot of points and my confidence increases dramatically.

Now you take that added confidence and get back into your regular training drills and you will find it can make a significant difference to your training form.

Avoid Negative Self-Talk and Personal Critique:

Often you are your own biggest critic during training and matches. Negative mentality can have such a big impact on all aspects of your table tennis; decisiveness, confidence, decision making, patience, timing and touch among many other things.

I wrote an article here on 'Attitude is the Make or Break of Sports' which demonstrates that fact. Avoid criticising yourself and remember, as cliche as it sounds, believing in your ability and your techniques can make a big difference.

Hope today's blog has helped some of you struggling with inconsistent training out there. Please don't hesitate to email mhtabletennis@gmail.com for any questions :)

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