During the next year, look to improve one level; this is a great starting point. If your rating is under 1000, then a level is about 300 points. From 1000-2000 rated, a level is about 200 points. From 2000-2600, a level is about 100 points. Over 2600, a level is about 50 points. Your goal should be to improve your game, not your rating. Your USATT rating just gives a starting point to make your goal.
Start out by watching many players who are one level above yours and ask yourself the following questions listed below. Once you have answered these questions, you should have a good idea of what your weaknesses are. It is very important to continue practicing your strengths as well as improving your weaknesses.
How are their serves better than mine?
Do they have more spin?
Do they have better placement?
Do they have more spin/placement variation?
Do they keep with bounce lower?
Do they disguise the backswing, contact point, and follow through better than I do?
Serving practice is one of the fastest ways to improve. You just need a table and a bucket of balls. Focus on keeping your short serves spinny and low with good variation. Focus on keeping your long serves fast as a surprise with good placement.
How are their serve returns better than mine?
Are they able to attack the long serves?
Are they able to control the short serves with a variety of returns – flip, drop, and long push?
Are they able to adjust to different spins?
Are they able to keep the ball low enough?
The best way to progress your serve return game is to play against many different opponents by playing at different table tennis clubs and tournaments. Instead of merely trying to touch the ball back onto the table, learn how to stroke the ball onto the table using spin. Your opponent’s spin will affect you less and you will be making it more difficult for your opponent on the next ball.
How are their attacks better than mine?
Are they able to attack with more power?
Are they able to attack with better placement?
Are they able to attack more consistently?
Are they able to attack with both forehand and backhand?
Are they able to counterattack against an attack?
Are they able to consistently attack both backspin and topspin?
Most likely, power is not the main problem. The main difference is usually ball placement and consistency. If you attempt ten opening loops in the first game and miss five of them, it’s like spotting your opponent five points before the game even begins.
How is their defense better than mine?
Are they able to return many different loops?
Are they able to combine both offense and defense?
Are they able to vary their defense?
Are they able to adjust to different kinds of attacks coming at them?
Many attackers only focus on attacking. In tournaments, you cannot always attack first. In this case, you will need to learn how to block, chop, or counterloop. If you have no defense at all, you probably won’t move to the next level.
How is their footwork better than mine?
Are they able to make small steps and adjust for every ball?
Are they able to make long dives to save a wide ball?
Are they able to move forward and adjust in for the slow block?
Are they able to move in-and-out faster for the short ball?
Footwork is one of the main reasons that top players are very consistent. This takes time to develop. If you improve your balance and footwork, you will see long-term benefits.
How are their game patterns?
Most players have very common patterns that they consistently play again and again. Some players have very fast serves followed by hard smashes. Some have well-placed opening loops followed by killer forehand loops. Some have heavy pushes followed by a wide block. If you have several patterns that you can force onto your opponent, it becomes much easier to win a few cheap points each game.
How are they able to adjust to the playing conditions?
Are they able to quickly adjust to strange tables, balls, floor, and lighting?
Do they have a pre-game warm-up and stretching routine?
Most top players will arrive at a tournament venue three days in advance to adjust to the conditions and prepare well. Even if you can’t arrive three days early, I suggest that you arrive at least two hours early to do some light jogging, stretching, basic warm-up, footwork, points, rest, and then another brief warm-up just prior to your match.
After you have answered these questions, highlight the areas that you feel are keeping you from that level. Each month, take up the task of improving two of your biggest weaknesses. Every month, review these questions and update your answers based on how your game is progressing. Hire a professional coach to give you guidance on how to improve long term. Changes take time, so be persistent in practice and look to have great results within one year.
Remember to also keep practicing your strengths! By keeping your strengths strong and improving your weaknesses, you will be on your way to the next level.