Wang: Hey Bob, how are you doing this table tennis tournament?
Bob: This is the worst I have ever played! I haven’t touched a racket for two weeks then on my first table tennis match that long-pips guys messed up my stroke and now I don’t know what to do.
Wang: Well, let’s practice.
After the practice…
Wang: Yeah, you aren’t on top of your game.
Bob: My strokes are terrible, I’m just not looping the ball like I used to.
I have heard conversations like this one many times. In fact, there is so much talk about “strokes” going on that I rarely hear table tennis players talk about timing, positioning, contact point, balance, and all the other important aspects of the table tennis game. As it relates to Bob’s problem in the above scenario, it is often due to timing that one’s stroke feels “off”, especially if Bob hadn’t touched a racket for two weeks.
So what do you do when you are in a slump and lose your timing?
Return to the Basics
In order to get the timing correct, it is important that you move into position quickly so that you aren’t diving at the ball. The longer the racket stay in front of your body, the easier it is to “time” the ball. If you take your racket back too quickly and wait for 1.5 seconds in your backswing, then you are likely to whiff the ball, especially against a long-pips-type floating shot. If you take your racket back too far with a huge swing, then you are likely to hit your edge, especially against a fast jumpy topspin block.
Adjust Your Swing
When you backswing, take the swing back based on the actual ball that is coming toward you. If it is a fast block, then adjust your backswing accordingly. If it is a high no-spin block, then adjust your backswing accordingly. With focused practice on having an adjustable stroke, you can even be proficient at hitting off-speed, weird balls.
Let It Happen
Getting back to the basics, re-evaluating your positioning, timing, adjustments, and everything else is good, but sometimes you can overthink it. This happened to me last year with one of my table tennis students. He was coming back to playing table tennis after a long break and couldn’t seem to time the ball very well. I gave him all the textbook answers, it didn’t help. He was getting worse and worse as the lesson progressed. Finally, I told him just to relax and forget about everything that I told him during the last 30 minutes. I told him just to have fun and swing. He began playing 10x better. So what happened? He learned to just LET IT HAPPEN! He was over-thinking it. You see, initially, when beginning table tennis training, a player needs information to be programmed correctly. After the player has been trained properly, then executing often comes from just letting it happen. Sometimes overthinking the stroke will hinder your progress in table tennis.
So the next time your table tennis strokes feel “off” just consider the timing. Be willing to make necessary adjustments while being patient with yourself and enjoying the moment!