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Ten Tactical Timeout Tips in Table Tennis

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Many international table tennis matches have been won or lost based on WHEN the timeout was called and WHAT was said during the timeout.  In this short article, I’m going to give some brief tips about timeouts.

#1 Call It Early

Most table tennis players play better when they are leading in games and leading in points – head up, loud choooing, high confidence.  If your player is a good front runner, I would recommend calling timeout in the 2nd or 3rd table tennis game.  In the first game, the players and coaches are getting a feel for the match.  The 2nd game is often huge.  Up 1-0 in game is leading 7-1, you player loses a bit of momentum and now lead 7-6.  Maybe it is time for a slight tactical adjustment to gain the 2-0 lead.  Of course there are exceptions, but generally calling timeout in the 2nd or 3rd game is best to gain the 2-0 or 2-1 lead or avoid the 0-2 or 1-2 deficit. 

#2 Downcast Player

Regardless of the score, if you feel that your player is downcast and frustrated, be willing to call timeout.  Your player lost the first table tennis game and starts off 0-1, 0-2, 0-3 down in the second.  His head is down, frustrated, kicking the barriers, and it looks like he is hungover, laid off work, or attending a funeral, call timeout.

#3 Momentum from the Opponent

Regardless of the score, if you feel that the opponent is gaining momentum, call timeout.  Two equal table tennis players should have a 50/50 chance of winning each point.  However, momentum swings are so critical, that it sometimes feels that the opponent has an 80/20 chance to win the point – in this situation, call timeout.

#4 What to Say

Most of what you say should be in reference to the opponent.  Most trained table tennis players are very aware of their own shots, placement, serves, mistakes, etc...  Typically, most players are less aware of their opponent.  If you give them reminders about the opponent’s weaker points, this is usually the most helpful during a timeout.

#5 Repeat It

This might sound funny but many players who listen to the table tennis coach, don’t actually hear the advice.  Just after giving advice, ask the player, “So, what is the plan?”  If the player gives you blank stare, you need to repeat it again.  If the player is about to verbalize the plan back to you, then you know they “got it”.

#6 When to Say it?

When you or your player calls timeout, you know that you have the full 60 seconds, so take your time.  When the opponent or opponent’s coach calls timeout, you don’t know how long you have.  They can call time-in anytime.  In this situation, you must say the most significant advice within the first 5-10 seconds.  If you wait, you might lose your opportunity.

#7 Who Will Call It?

Both the table tennis players and the coaches are allowed to call timeout.  However, if the coach calls timeout, the player is allowed to shrug it off and not take it.  Some players like to call timeout themselves.  Others prefer if the coach calls timeout.  You need to decide ahead of time who will call it or if either of you will call it.  I have seen many table tennis matches where the coach called timeout, the player called it off.  However, the player was so distracted and the coach was so flustered, that it changed the dimensions of the match and the player played worse and worse.  This can be avoided by proper planning ahead of time.

#8 New Coach

There are situations where the player and coach don’t know each other well.  In these situations, it is important that there be some pre-match communication.  The player needs to explain what kinds of general reminders he needs.  During the table tennis match, the coach can also ask more questions and be less demanding.

#9 Team Events

In a table tennis team event, the coach plus the entire team can give advice.  For the player, this seems overwhelming at times.  In this situation, I would recommend that only 1 person talk at a time.  Remember, this is a time to encourage your player, not roast your player.

#10 Wasted Timeout

With the new coaching rule, the coach can signal or call-out to the player anytime between points.  If the coach is merely going to give general advice, like keep-moving or think-about-your-placement or spin-the-ball, then it is better to just shout out the advice.  During timeouts and between games, you can give more detailed tactics so that the opponent doesn’t hear it.  If you are going to give general encouragement, just shout it out and don’t waist your one and only timeout.

Samson Dubina

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