What does it take to go from the club level to the elite level in table tennis? This is the question hundreds of table tennis players are asking. Before giving you the answer, I’m going to refute two myths.
Myth #1 – The Formula
The first myth that is always mentioned in table tennis circles is the formula. People often say, “Well, if you grow up in the right environment and get table tennis coaching from a young age and have the right table tennis equipment and have everything right, then you are guaranteed to reach a top level. There are many kids in many table tennis training center around the world that have the formula right, but don’t rise to the top. Even here in the U.S., you might hear about superstars arising from ICC or LYTTC or WCTTA or other centers. However, you must also realize that there are many kids in the right environment who don’t rise to the top. These are the kids that you don’t hear about. This is the reality.
Myth #2 – The Hours
The second myth that is always mentioned in table tennis circles is the necessary hours. People often say, “Well, if you do 10,000 hours of anything in life, you WILL reach perfection.” Again, this is not totally true as well. Some of my friends who have played 10,000 hours of table tennis are still USATT rated 1300 and some of them are over 2600.
There are many factors that go into play for an athlete to reach a top level. Here are the main factors.
It seems that the learning curve is the strongest between ages 9-15. The world’s best table tennis players are usually beginning to make very good progress during this time period. With that said, I personally started at 12, got a little coaching at 14, and got 3 years of professional training at age 21, and I recently broke 2600 at age 32 boosting my national ranking to #3 in the U.S. So, age isn’t everything. Also, Andre Grubba started at age 15 and reached the top 10 in the world. Also, Sameh Awadallah started at age 21 and reached 2600 level. So training a lot between ages 9-15 is great, but progress can be made outside of that age range as well.
I would say that the table tennis coach is the most significant factor. The training structure laid down by the coach is important for the player to know what to practice and how to practice it. The best coach will have a plan and know when to teach what skills and will help to implement it through private lessons, group lessons, and match play. Many people say that they will get a professional coach once they reach 1500. I’m sorry, it is too late! It is way too late! A professional table tennis coach is absolutely necessary from day 1 if you want to reach a top level. It is much easier to develop a new habit than to break a bad habit. Practice makes permanent – and you don’t want permanent bad habits!
Getting quality hours of table tennis practice over a long period of time will be another huge factor. I know many players who want to go to Asia or Europe and play every day for three months. This is great. However, you must be in it for the long haul. You must realize that consistent practice over a long period of time will be the best way to improve. Have a long-term plan and stick with it. By long-term, I mean 8-10 years.
Getting the moral and financial support to train from age 8 to age 28 is a huge factor. This is one area that the coach can assist with. Each elite table tennis player with dreams of making the Olympics must have the right moral support from family and friends, as well as the right financial support from sponsors.
So why is it that thousands of kids in Europe and Asia aren’t rising to the top? With many hours on the table, some of them are still at a low level. Sometimes work ethic is a problem. Table tennis players must work hard regardless if the coach is watching.
For me personally, my priorities are God – wife – family – kids – job (table tennis) – friends – others. If you choose to put table tennis as the first priority in your life, you will often be left feeling empty and hopeless. If you keep your priorities right, then you will be able to work hard in table tennis, while keeping a good perspective on all other things in life.
As I mentioned in the beginning, there are many elements necessary to getting to 2600 level in table tennis. Work hard to apply several principles that I mentioned and be in it for the long-haul. Don’t give up after 2-3 years of losing. Keep working to apply what you learn, and look for awesome results within 8-10 years.