Losing in Table Tennis

Newgy Robo-Pong

I have received this particular question from over 50 of my followers.  I decided that it was time to answer it.  This week, Luis Sergio Chavez wrote, “It would be great if you could cover also the mental strength aspects or techniques to mentally recover from 0-4 where you are the one who made 4 mistakes in a row.  I would love to learn from your experience and knowledge on how to get back on track.”

This is an interesting question.  As I said, many table tennis players are asking this.  It is similar to saying, “I don’t know the answer to the first 4 questions on my math exam, can you please tell me the answer?”  Of course, I would say, “Please tell me the problems, and I’ll give you the answers.”  You see, without me being there and knowing HOW you lost those 4 consecutive points, it is absolutely impossible for me to give you a solution.  Furthermore, do you even remember how you lost them?

Many table tennis players say, I was winning 10-6 in the 5th game and lost six in a row, what did I do wrong?  I always respond with, what happened?  They don’t know.  They don’t remember what they served, how they received, what shots they used, or where they hit.  Here is the key…  If you want to stop a momentum swing in the score, you need to realize what is going on.

Did you change your placement and start feeding his forehand?

Did he suddenly start lobbing?

Did he change his serve?

Did you lose confidence in your attack and begin full table backhand pushing?

Once you can understand the problem, you are then on the right track for finding a solution.  Consider reading a previous article that I wrote last year called “The Think Circle.”  Check it out below…

The Think Circle

Between pitches in baseball, the batter steps out of the batter’s box to re-focus.

The same thing is true in table tennis; the pros often call this the “think circle.”

Between points, step back about 4-6 feet away from the table and draw an imaginary circle around yourself and collect your thoughts in your think circle.  Every professional athlete has a different method of processing the points, relaxing, and gearing up for the next point, but I’m going to give you the method that I personally use.

#1 Ask yourself the question, “What just happened?”

While the point is fresh in your mind, you should replay the details of each hit.  If you can’t remember how you messed up, you will likely make the same mistake again.  If you can’t remember how you scored, then you won’t likely be able to capitalize on your opponent’s weak points.

#2 Remind yourself of your primary tactics.

From the first few points of the table tennis match, you should be forming some specific tactics based on your strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses.  Point by point, you should be willing to adjust your primary tactics, especially if you are losing.

#3 Breath deeply.

Deep breathing has a calming effect allowing you to forget about that missed smash, calm your anger, and come back focused for the next point. 

#4 Ask yourself the question, “What’s next?”

If you are serving, first determine exactly what you plan to serve and what the possible returns will be.  If you are receiving, then ask yourself how you plan to deal with fast serve, how you plan to deal with short backspin serves, how you plan to deal with no-spin serves.  Remember, you must stay fairly neutral when receiving and be ready for anything while at the same time, having general tactics against various serves.

This method that I briefly explained is the method that I use to analyze the point, remind myself of the plan, calm myself down, and get to the specifics.  I would encourage you to develop your own method and be consistent at using it during drills, club play, leagues, and tournaments.  As with any skill, it takes time to develop, but it is definitely worth the effort!

Samson Dubina

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Devastate the “Cheater” in Table Tennis

Newgy Robo-Pong

In competitive sports, there are always athletes who want to win so badly, that they will do absolutely anything to accomplish that goal.  Yes, there are cheaters in the sport of table tennis too.  Instead of giving you dozens of examples of how cheaters get away with it, I’m going to give you a more general perspective on how you can properly handle any situation that arises.

The number one most important aspect when dealing with a fair-playing opponent or a cheater, is to give your best!  If you say, “I was playing great until he did this…. or that…”  You need to be mentally strong, shake it off, and re-focus on the task at hand.  If you say, “It was a close battle, BUT when he started cheating, I got mad and crushed him!”  Then you need to have the same level of determination and focus regardless if your opponent is cheating or playing fair, regardless if you are up against a competitor, a practice partner, or a complete stranger.

Here are some closing comments that might help you through the situation.  The first two comments are pre table tennis tournament ideas, the next four comments are in-the-moment ideas, and the final comment is a post table tennis match idea:

#1 Expect Some Drama

As you prepare for a table tennis tournament, just expect some cheating from your opponent.  In the upcoming weeks and months leading toward the U.S. Nationals, you need to mentally be prepared for it.  Like I mentioned (without being specific), there are dozens of different ways to cheat.  You need to expect it and actually ask your coach to apply some of the cheating methods during your table tennis training sessions.

#2 Evaluate Yourself

Sometimes you might not even realize if you yourself are cheating.  Take an hour to read through the official table tennis rules, applying each rule to yourself. 

#3 Stay Calm

During the table tennis tournament, if someone is cheating, try to stay calm.  Most cheaters want you to get worked up, tight, angry, trying to muscle the ball because you are mad.  Go back to your think circle, think about your tactics, and play your best.

#4 Evaluate the Advantage

This is one of the main points.  If the cheating doesn’t give any advantage, then why get all worked up over the cheating?  You are in a match against a 3’ tall kid who is wearing white shorts.  He always stays close to the table and the white shorts are never visible during the point.  Ok, what is the big deal?  Why are you red-in-the-face angry about this six-year-old cheater who isn’t getting an advantage from his white shorts.  Evaluating the advantage is basically stepping back and saying, “Is he getting any advantage to his cheating?”

#5 Seek Help

If your opponent is getting an advantage, then ask for a tournament umpire.  The umpire will know the rules and will deal with the situation.  Please keep in mind that the umpire will be evaluating both of you.  There are many situations where the umpire comes and finds both table tennis players to be cheating.

#6 Agree With the Decision

This is the toughest point.  Once the umpire has made a decision, agree with it.  You might not like it, but agree with it.  If you stay positive and agree with his decision, you will be able to regain your focus and continue playing well throughout the tournament.  If you keep fighting with a bad call in your mind, it will mess up your match and possibly even mess up your entire tournament.  Many bad performances can be traced back to one bad call.  Let it go, agree with it, and perform your best!

#7 Forget It

After the table tennis match, should you remember it or forget it?  In every match, you need to be able to somewhat remember the main tactics and briefly analyze your performance.  On the other hand, you need to forget about the cheater and forget about the incident.  If you continue racing around the tournament loudly declaring what that guy did to you and how much of a cheater he really is…  then it will not be good for you, not be good for your performance, not be good for the cheater, and really not be good for the sport.  Forget it, move on, and play your best in the next match.

Samson Dubina

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Table Tennis Tip ― Devastate the “Top Dog”

Jena Newgarden

Everyone wants to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament – that is everyone’s aspiration when entering a table tennis tournament.  In this article, I’m going to outline some of the major tactics that can turn your dream into a reality.

Forget About It

Forget about winning, just play your best.  You have about 4-7 seconds between points during the table tennis match.  Instead of spending those 4-7 seconds on calculating your new rating with the big rating adjustment you will get, focus your attention on your performance.  Are you moving well?  Are you spinning the ball? Are you adjusting?  Are you making good decisions?

Expect a Fight

You need to expect this table tennis match to be a huge battle.  Hoping that your opponent will be injured or hoping that his racket fails the thickness test won’t put you in the best mindset for an upset.  Of course, things do happen – elite table tennis players get cramps, get injured, get into arguments and have equipment problems – these external factors could seriously help you with a win – but you shouldn’t be hoping for these traumatic events to happen to your opponent.

Take Some Risk

If you play normal and your high-level opponent plays normal, then you will likely lose.  Especially in the beginning of the table tennis match, you must take measured risks to put pressure on your opponent and steal the first table tennis game.

Don’t Be Risky

Ok, I thought that I was supposed to be risky?  I’m going to re-emphasize the point I just said……       …..MEASURED RISK!  MEASURED RISK!  About 90% of elite table tennis players don’t need to perform against the low guy because the low guy goes for too much risk.  Please don’t try to smash every serve, please don’t try to smash every loop.  Don’t be TOO risky!

Continue to Adjust

For sure, the elite table tennis player is smart.  If he starts losing, you might make some adjustments.  As the table tennis match progresses, continue to think of tactics between points and make the necessary adjustments.  Just because a particular tactic won the first table tennis game 11-2, doesn’t mean that it will continue to work.

Remember It

After the upset, you can go back to the table tennis club the following week.  Instead of just remembering the look on your opponent’s face, you should remember the tactics that you used, remember the mindset that you had, remember the aggressiveness or consistency that you played.  My game is structured around my upsets.  When I had my biggest upsets, I was able to mentally list the factors that contributed to the upset and continue to restructure my game around those aspects.  You can do it too – just remember, write it down and train accordingly!

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Table Tennis Tip – Devastate the Offensive Chopper

Jena Newgarden

There are many different types of choppers in table tennis; however, I’m going to lump all the choppers together into two categories ― offensive choppers and defensive choppers.  Today, I’ll be talking about the offensive chopper ― he likes to move back from the ping pong table, chopping with pips on his backhand, while fishing and counter looping with his forehand.  Even though he is away from the table, he is looking for the opportunity to move in and smash with his backhand or loop with his forehand.  He wins about half of his points with consistency and half with his power shots.  If you are having a difficult time picturing this style, I recommend that you watch some YouTube videos of Hou Yingchao or Chen Weixing.  Watch how they win points with offense and defense and watch how they are looking for every opportunity to step in and rip a winner.

Tactics:

Rubber – Before starting the table tennis match, make sure that you inspect your opponent’s rubber – especially the backhand side to see if he is using short pips or long pips and to see if it has sponge and to see if it has friction or not.  Also, during the course of the match, watch your opponent carefully to see which side of the table tennis racket he is using.  Choppers are very good at twiddling so that they can use inverted or pips on the backhand.

Consistency – At the start of the table tennis match, try to evaluate your own consistency as well as your opponent’s consistency.  If you are more consistent, then focus on playing steady and allow the chopper to panic while going for wild shots.  If your opponent is more consistent, then you will need to find ways to finish the point early or give enough variations to lower his consistency.

Opportunity – Choppers prefer to push, chop, and loop deep.  It is vitally important that you be able to move in-and-out against a chopper.  If he mistakenly chops a ball short, you should see the opportunity and move in for a stronger loop.  If he fishes or counter loops, you will likely need to move back slightly to continue looping, if he chops again, you will need to move forehand to continue looping.  This is one of the main differences of playing a chopper vs playing an offensive looper.  Typically when playing topspin, you prefer to stay about the same distance from the table.  When playing a chopper, you often need to move in-and-out, out-and-in, in-and-out, out-and-in based on which shot he plays and the depth, height, and spin quality of the shot.

Transition Point – When attacking, the main location to loop the ball is spinny to the middle transition point.  Sometime it will take about 8-10 loops to win a point spinning over and over again to the backhand.  Sometimes you may not want to risk going to the wide forehand because you are afraid of the counter loop, so often the middle will be your preferred location.  When you loop spinny and deep to the middle and your opponent decides to backhand chop, he will then be slightly out-of-position for the next ball.  The next ball you should loop slightly further to the forehand (about 3-4” further to the forehand) or possibly target the wide angle backhand.  Regardless of what you choose next, you are forcing him to move into an awkward position in the middle.  When you loop spinning and deep to the middle and your opponent decides to forehand counter loop, this will again be an awkward ball for him because he is contacting the spinniest back location on the ball.  Most counter looping choppers prefer to reach to the forehand and contact the side of the ball for a lateral sidespin counter loop; this makes is much easier to counter loop because they will only be feeling about 50% of the spin when contacting the side of the ball.  For this reason, most of your loops should be spinny to the transition point.

Short Forehand – It is difficult and sometimes unnecessary to continually loop over and over again.  Sometime you need to push short to bring the chopper in.  If you push short and low to the forehand, the chopper will have an awkward time smashing the low ball.  Once you bring him forward, then try to attack the middle or wide backhand.

Deep Backhand – If you loop deep and he chops deep, it will be difficult for you to push short.  If you choose to push and can’t go short, then usually pushing deep to the backhand is preferred.  Even if the chopper knows how to backhand loop, it is very difficult to move in from 12’ back and backhand loop.  The only time that I would recommend pushing deep to the forehand is when the chopper is looking to pivot from the backhand side and play a strong forehand loop from the backhand.

Plan B – Typically, the offensive chopper can adjust his style playing more aggressively with his forehand counter loop, more passively with fishing and chopping, or even go to blocking from near the table.  As the table tennis match progresses, you also need to be willing to evaluate and re-evaluate the situation.  Just because you won the first game 11-1, doesn’t necessarily mean that that particular tactic will work the entire match.  Take your time between points, re-evaluate, and play smart to beat the offensive chopper.

 

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Table Tennis Tip – Devastate the Defensive Chopper

Jena Newgarden

In table tennis, there are two general types of players.  There are players who win most of their points by hitting strong shots; against these opponents, you need to stop their big guns.  Then, there are players who keep the ball on the table and win most of their points from YOUR errors.  Against these opponents, you need to eliminate mistakes, be selective, be consistent, and look for the right opportunity to dominate with your game.  The defensive chopper falls into the second category.  The defensive chopper might occasionally attack against a very easy ball, but he is looking to win about 9-10 points per game from your errors.  So what if you just pushed and pushed and pushed, would that be a good plan?  Well considering the fact that he specializes in pushing and chopping, you probably won’t outlast him.  So what should be your plan?  The plan is the keep the game simple, eliminate errors, and go for strong smashes and loops AT THE RIGHT TIME.  You can relax knowing that your opponent won’t hurt you.  You have plenty of time to work the point and play tactically.

Equipment – Before you begin the table tennis match, check his table tennis racket to see what type of rubber he is using.  Often times, choppers have inverted on the forehand and pips on the backhand, so be sure to check if he is using long or short pips.  Long pips will give you more of your own spin back when you are looping and short pips will give more variation.

Serve – When serving against the chopper, I would recommend serving deep no spin serves with good placement variation.  Especially deep serves to the middle tend to be difficult to return with quality.  Also, try serving short topspin to the forehand.  If the chops pushes it, it often comes back high.  If the chopper flips it, then you can immediately begin with a quick attack before he has time to get into position.

Receive – Get the ping pong ball on the table.  This player doesn’t attack.  There is no reason to try to rip the heavy backspin serve sharp to his wide backhand.  Just make a simple loop or push with plenty of arc and begin the rally.  REMEMBER, he is counting on YOUR errors in order to win.

Rallies – Again, be consistent in the table tennis rallies mixing up pushes and loops.  Hopefully, within the first 1-5 balls, he will chop high enough for you to hit a power shot.  If he is good at keeping it low, then also consider pushing and looping higher.

Placement – Playing to the middle of the ping pong table and using the angles are often good.  If the chops and pushes are coming deep to you, then attacking the middle is usually better.  If you get a short one, then go for a sharp angle push followed by a sharp angle attack the other direction.

Mindset – You mindset needs to be shifted slightly.  I know that you have programmed yourself to loop all the long balls and to loop low and deep with decent power.  However, if you begin losing then you must change your mindset.  Slow down about 5000 rpms, calm down, take some deep breaths, and remind yourself to work the point longer.

Fatigue – During the long table tennis matches, fatigue might become an issue.  Remember that you as the offensive table tennis player will likely tire out before the chopper.  With this in mind, try to take at least 8-10 seconds between points.  Even if you are winning initially, try to resist the temptation to play the next point fast.  Think of the table tennis match as a marathon, not a sprint.

Practice – As with all the various types of opponents in table tennis, making proper adjustments is important.  With a few minutes of pushing and controlled looping practice before the beginning of the table tennis match, you can physically and mentally be prepared to control the match against the chopper, work the point, and go for it at the right time!

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Decisions in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
In order to slow down your table tennis opponent, you must force him to make a decision.

Let me explain.

During a table tennis match, most of the mental toughness comes between points.  Being mentally tough means:

1. Evaluating the previous point for what you did right
2. Evaluating the previous point for what you did wrong
3. Encouraging yourself
4. Planning some general tactics if you are receiving
5. Planning some specific tactics if you are serving
6. Reminding yourself of your strengths and planning how to implement your strengths
7. Reminding yourself of your opponent’s weak points and planning how to exploit them

Like I said, most of the mental game used is between points.  During the point, it is best to just “let it happen.”  Table tennis is so fast that you really do not have time to think much during the point, especially about your technique.  During a training session, your coach might be continually yelling at you to start your backswing in a different location, using your wrist, change your racket angle, spin the ball, using your waist, complete the stroke, and hundreds of other aspects of your stroke.  However, in table tennis matches, there is absolutely no time for this thought process.  You need to just let it happen – let it happen as you have practiced.

So how can you use this against your opponent?

Your opponent is just smoothly ripping forehands and backhands through you like a knife through butter.  You have absolutely no chance because he is playing out-of-his-mind and swinging freely.  So how do you make him “freeze up?”  You make him freeze up by making him decide.  Force him a make a decision.

How do you force your table tennis opponent to make a decision?

The best way to force him to make a decision is to play to the transition point.  By playing to the place where he must choose whether to play a backhand or forehand, he will need to decide, which will slow him down.  Usually at the transition point, players will be jammed and play the ball later, which gives you more time to react.

Another way to force him to make a decision is to serve half-long. The half-long or in-between serve is defined as the first bounce (obviously) hits your side, the second bounce hits just before the half-way point on the opponent’s side, then the final bounce lands close to the end line.  With this serve, you are forcing your offensive opponent to make a decision to use forehand flip, loop, long push, short push, or backhand banana flip.  On the half-long serve, there are many options, but your opponent might feel “stuck” when trying to make the best choice.

There are dozens of other ways to make him decide as well – vary the spin on your serve, vary the speed of your flip, vary the height of your loop, vary the depth of your chop, vary your shot selection, and many others.  The key point that you must remember is that you are trying to make your opponent indecisive.  Instead of merely trying to play amazing yourself, you are trying to force your opponent to play poorly.  Apply this principle to every table tennis match and your giants won’t seem so tall.

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The Common Theme of Your Table Tennis Losses

Jena Newgarden
If you are similar to many of my table tennis students, you probably have had really bad losses from time to time.  By a bad loss, I mean that you lose to a much lower-level player during a table tennis tournament match.  Perhaps you play about 12 tournaments per year.  In 6 of the 12 tournaments, perhaps you lose to someone whose skillset is definitely inferior to yours.  Instead of blaming it on “bad luck”, I want you to stop for a moment and consider some possibilities.

Not Warmed-Up

When the upsets happen, is it usually the first or second table tennis match of the day?  If so, it might be due to a lack of warm-up or lack of adjusting to the playing conditions.  Consider arriving one day prior and playing in the facility for a few hours on Friday night.  Also, get a practice partner lined up and know what routine you need prior to your first table tennis match.

Too Fatigued

When the upset happens, it is usually at the end of a long day?  If so, it might be due to fatigue.  If this is the case, then obviously you need to work on your fitness.  Also, make sure that you are eating and drinking a sufficient amount during the day of the table tennis tournament.

Different Playing Style

When the upset happens, is it usually against a particular playing style – chopper, looper, blocker, lobber, lefty, little kid, long pips/anti, short pips, or possibly a penhold table tennis player?  If so, then try your best to figure out the exact elements of the playing style that give you trouble and practice according to your findings.  Do you need to wait on the ball longer because it is slower?  Do you need to fight for the first attack?  Do you need to spin the ball more because your opponent continues to deaden the ball?  You need to understand the problematic playing style and master all the tactics against that particular style.

Wrong Mindset

When the upset happens, is it usually when you least expect it?  Do you often lose to players who don’t “look” like a good table tennis player? That big guy is like 80 years old…  That kid can barely see above the table…  That Canadian player was only rated 100…   If so, then try to take significant time to mentally gear up before the table tennis match, take your opponent seriously, and try to form a game-plan from the very first point.

Poor Pre-Tournament Preparation

When the upset happens, is it usually when you don’t prepare well prior to the table tennis tournament?  Good practice doesn’t always = awesome performance.  Lack of practice doesn’t always = poor performance.  However, you need to know yourself personally and what it takes for you to play your best.

In order to have peak performance, how many hours per week should be training 6 months prior to the table tennis tournament?  How many hours per week should be training on the very week of the tournament?  By detailed analysis of your bad losses, you should be able to identify the common themes for your losses and do your absolute best to perform well at 8 am or midnight, against tiny girls and old men, against defensive lobber and against offensive pips, against low-rated opponents and elite opponents.

Remember, tournament performance starts long before the tournament.  To have the best results possible, develop a good table tennis training routine, know what you need for warmup, develop a good level of fitness, know how to play against all playing styles, mentally gear-up before every table tennis match, and work hard to apply what you learn every day!

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