Table Tennis - The Point Of No Return

Photo of Ilija Lupulesku

Speaking of the point of no return - the photo of this point looks like no return I've ever seen! Ilija Lupulesku doing it the hard way at the 2004 Olympic Games.

Photo by: Mariann Domonkos, courtesy www.ittf.com

Have you had a bit of a plateau in your table tennis level recently? Been looking for a way to break out of that rut and get a lift in your rating, but don't have any more spare time to train? Then read on, for today I'm writing about one aspect of your training that could be holding you back - the point of no return.

What is the Point of No Return?

Well, technically I'm really talking about the law of diminishing returns, but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? The point of no return is when you have reached equilibrium, where the training you are doing is enough to maintain your level but not enough to improve it.

If you are a typical ping-pong player, you have probably got a routine that you follow week after week, with the occasional tournament thrown in. Now and again you try some new equipment in the hope that it will be the miracle cure for your table tennis woes. You get a lift for a short while as you adapt to the new blade or rubber, and then you drift back into the table tennis doldrums. You want to improve, but you just can't train any more than you are doing already, and you can't think of any other options. Sound familiar?

Since you can't just do more training to solve your problem, you are going to have to look at how you can use your training time more efficiently in order to improve your game. I'll assume for the moment that you aren't currently wasting time during your training sessions (if you are, consider yourself smacked upside the head - <smack!> - pull the lead out and stop stuffing around!).

Recommendation #1 - Is Your Strength Really a Weakness?

The first thing I would recommend is to look at the amount of time you spend training your strengths. While it is true that every player needs some strengths in his game, it's probable that you are spending too much training time indulging in the shots you like - you have hit the point of little or no return for that stroke.

Your strengths are already highly developed, so the amount of effort you need to improve them by say 5%, is much more than the amount of effort you would need to improve the biggest game weakness that you have. Try cutting the time you spend training your favorite shot by 30%, and spend that time training the biggest flaw you have that is costing you matches. Do this for a month and see the difference!

I'm going to qualify the above recommendation a little, and ask you to use your common sense here. If you are a two winged attacker, you are probably terrible at chopping, but this does not mean you should spend this time training your defense! Look for the weakness in your game that costs you points, such as the inability to open up off a backspin ball, or an unreliable flick return of serve. Train the relevant weaknesses to your style.

Recommendation #2 - Keep It Real

The second recommendation I would make is to not try to bring your weaknesses up too high. Remember, you have only a limited amount of time, and there is a reason it is a weakness in the first place. You will hit the point of no return at a much lower level for a flaw, simply because you are not naturally any good at it. Trying to raise it too much further will take too much time that could be valuably used elsewhere. Don't try to make it a strength - just make it hard for an opponent to exploit.

Recommendation #3 - Think About It

The third recommendation is to use your brain. Is there any way you can use different tactics in your game that will make the most of your strengths and minimize your weaknesses? For example, if you are bad at forehand looping from your backhand corner, either: (i) don't use the standard forehand pendulum serve that naturally kicks the opponent's return towards your backhand; or (ii) use the serve but be ready to open with your backhand, rather than running around to hit a forehand.

There may be a point of no return with using your brain - but it's unlikely that you will hit it - and I mean that in the nicest possible way! <g>

Recommendation #4 - What He Said

The fourth recommendation is to practice your serve and serve return. <Yawn!> Everybody says that, you say! Only because none of you are doing it!

Find a partner who you are willing to show your best serves, and who is willing to show you his. Then spend at least 25% of your training time practicing serves and serve returns. It's an efficient use of your time if you want to win. It'll also probably be the weakest part of your game if you are a typical player - and one of the areas that you can improve in most easily.

It will take a long time to reach the point of no return in your serve and serve receive. How can you compete against the best if you are already at a huge disadvantage as soon as your opponent serves or returns serve?

Recommendation #5 - Shake Things Up

The fifth recommendation I would make is to include more random elements in your training routine. Once you have improved your basic technique and footwork to the point where you would have to train longer for much further progress, bring in a random basis to your training drills. Just having the occasional ball go in an unexpected direction or with different speed or spin will force you to concentrate and make sure that you can actually use that grooved technique and footwork under match conditions. Don't overdo it - as you get better you can increase the amount of randomness - start small and work up.

Don't be one of those players who looks like a million dollars warming up but falls apart once the match starts.

Recommendation #6 - Seek Professional Advice

The sixth and final recommendation is to get yourself a coach. A coach will be able to watch you train and pick up your strengths and weaknesses much faster than you or your training partner will be able to, since he can focus on you alone during the training. He will be able to correct your mistakes before they become habits, and encourage you to keep doing those things that you are doing right.

Conclusion

So there you are, a cool half-dozen ways to bring a plateau to an end (in the right direction!). If you are in danger of flat-lining in your table tennis level, use these techniques faithfully for a month and I'll bet dollars to donuts that you'll have improved in level by the end of that time. And don't skip the service practice!!

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