Common Mistakes in Table Tennis

12 Common Mistakes in Table Tennis and How To Fix Them

Table Tennis is one of the most demanding sports there is, both physically and mentally. In order to progress in Table Tennis, players will need to improve in countless different areas.

However, the coaches at Racket Insight have spotted several common errors that prevent driven Table Tennis players from reaching their goals.

We have compiled a list of the 12 most common recurring mistakes among Table Tennis players, and we’ll tell you practical solutions for each of them!

1. Not having the right attitude

Every Table Tennis player has to work on their attitude, even the most motivated ones. 

Some players are too determined for their own good. These players are often too hard on themselves. Over time, they grow frustrated at their mistakes and feel very discouraged when they lose. It happened to me and to many people I know.

It’s perfectly fine to take the sport seriously, but remember, Table Tennis is a hobby to 99% of players. It’s not your job, and putting pressure on yourself will be counterproductive to your goals.

When Table Tennis stops being about having fun and starts revolving around winning, it’s maybe time to take a step back. When you inevitably lose matches, you’ll be a lot more frustrated than the rest. Unfortunately, many players quit the sport because of this.

I have seen people kick the table, throw their rackets, even snap them in half. These players can’t contain their frustration and feel the urge to hit things. Others just swallow their frustration, and this is just as bad. 

Coaches Tip

The best way to deal with this is by not putting pressure on yourself in the first place. Remember that you play the game because you enjoy it. It wouldn’t be fun if you won every game! 

Try to adopt this mentality: In Table Tennis, you cannot lose. Either you win, or you learn!

2. Holding the racket incorrectly

Almost all Table Tennis players I know have never thought about their grip. They just hold the racket the way it feels the most natural to them

There are many ways to hold the racket incorrectly. Some players have an improper grip because they place their fingers incorrectly, others have a wrong grip because they hold the racket using the wrong fingers, whilst others hold it too tight or too loose.

There are 3 primary different grips used by table tennis players. For this article, we’ll share some helpful tips on using the most common grip, Shakehand.

Table Tennis racket handles have a small slope near the rubber where you should rest your thumb. Placing your thumb there gives you more feeling, control, and stability on your strokes.

Pongfinity Racket Example
Photo: Pongfinity Sensei.
Ma Long Grip Example
Ma Long’s grip

After you’ve placed your thumb correctly, then rest your index finger on the other side like so:

Table Tennis Grip Example

It’s important that the index finger is parallel to the handle, and not raised.

As for the middle, ring and pinky, wrap them around the handle, but you should hold the racket with the thumb and index mainly. If you hold your racket this way, you’ll loosen up the wrist so as to spin the ball and feel it properly.

Your grip should be loose, yet firm. How do you achieve this?¨By pinching the racket with your thumb and index, and resting your other fingers on the handle. 

You should also vary how strong your grip is depending on the shot you’ll play. For example, if you have to block a heavy topspin ball, then you must close the racket angle and hold it as loose as you can to soak up the energy.

On the other hand, if you want to flat hit a high ball, then you should hold your racket with more force to provide the shot with more strength and stability.

Coaches Tip

Starting from the basics and holding the racket correctly will give you a much stronger foundation for becoming a better player in the future.

3. Misjudging the ball 

Most points lost in Table Tennis come from misjudging the ball. Be it a misread serve, a block hit long or an open up that went into the net, all of these come as a result of misjudging the ball.

To start judging the ball correctly, you have to stop playing in “autopilot” mode. It’s very easy to fall into this trap, just playing shots by muscle memory. But this will lose you lots of easy points.

Coaches Tip

It’s crucial that you look at the flight of the ball as it’s coming towards you. Some players look at their opponent or the other side of the table, and thus they lose lots of critical information that they’d gain by looking at the ball.

You should analyze the amount of spin, speed, and depth of the ball and your brain will automatically respond. But you must have that information in the first place.

4. Not warming up and stretching

Everyone knows how important it is to warm up before playing any sport and stretch when you finish. However, few Table Tennis players do this. This is a huge error.

Warming up before playing ensures we’re ready for physical activity. It redirects blood flow to our joints and muscles, raises their temperature, reduces stress on our bodies (particularly our heart), and helps prevent injury.

Coaches Tip

Warming up before playing ensures we’re ready for physical activity. It redirects blood flow to our joints and muscles, raises their temperature, reduces stress on our bodies (particularly our heart), and helps prevent injury.

As for stretching, it makes us more flexible and releases the tension on our muscles, also reducing the odds of injury. It also shortens the recovery time for your muscles. You’ll feel a lot better after playing if you stretch than if you don’t.

5. Hitting the ball too hard

Table Tennis players often hit too hard for their own good. This results in balls going long, bad technique, and slow recovery for the next ball.

It’s common to think the fastest or hardest shot is the best one. However, this couldn’t be further than the truth. It’s far more important to think about the game strategically and play to your opponents’ weaknesses, pushing them into positions where they have a high chance of making a mistake.

Coaches Tip

This means you should only hit as hard as your footwork and technique allows you to. It’s no use hitting hard if 30% of your shots go long, and you can’t recover in time to hit the next one.

If you’re hitting too hard, and you start hitting just a bit more slowly, you’ll notice that you’ll still be hitting hard enough to compromise your opponent, but your recovery times, movement, and form will all improve drastically.

6. Not having a strategy

Lots of players go into their matches without a plan. This is one of the biggest errors any competitive player can make. 

When you’re about to play a match, you must go into it with a game plan in mind. If you don’t, then you aren’t going to be proactive, since you don’t know what you want to do. In every match, you want to play to your strengths.

I’m personally good at opening up against backspin and have a strong forehand. My game plan is always to serve backspin or no-spin. The backspin balls I can open up, and the no-spin ones I can loop for easy points.

You have to give your game stability with set plays you can rely on. Your points won should have a clear pattern to them. I know I’m playing at a good level if I win 5 points from forehand attacks per set. 

Coaches Tip

If the points you win don’t have a clear pattern, that means you aren’t exploiting your strengths enough. You must think of specific tactics to make full use of them.

7. Strokes too long and inefficient 

One common mistake among beginners is that they tend to have long strokes. This is because they want to hit harder, but they’re trying to do so the wrong way.

You must try to shorten your strokes as much as possible. It’s no use hitting fast, aggressive shots if you can’t recover in time to hit the next one.

In Table Tennis, swing velocity doesn’t matter that much. What matters most is acceleration. It’s important to be able to accelerate explosively at the right moment. 

Coaches Tip

Achieve this by bending the forearm explosively and using the weight transfer from your legs and hips at the moment of impact. All your body should work as one to accelerate at the right moment.

It’s a similar concept as Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch

Bruce Lee 1 Inch Punch

He could generate amazing power by accelerating at the moment of impact while using all his body in an incredibly short motion. That’s what you want to replicate.

8. Reaching for balls

Another common mistake is reaching for returns. In Table Tennis, it’s crucial that you move towards the ball instead of reaching.

If you don’t move properly, then you’re going to be hitting different, inconsistent shots every time, instead of moving towards the ball to execute the stroke you trained.

By reaching for the ball, you’ll always be forced to block instead of attacking. There’s no way to attack consistently while reaching. You might hit some unbelievable shots and win points but the overall percentages mean you’re likely to lose the match.

Coaches Tip

To correct this mistake, we recommend that you fix your elbow in place at around 10-15 centimeters away from your body. This way, you’ll be forced to move to get the ball. You won’t be able to just swing your arm and get to it without moving. 

If you’re having trouble with your footwork, we recommend incorporating 2 exercises into your routine: Shadow play and ladder drills. We go into more detail in our article covering ways to practice Table Tennis alone.

When shadow playing, perform mobility drills such as the Falkenberg while keeping the elbow in place. Perform this exercise weekly and you’ll soon notice you’ll start moving to the ball instead of reaching.

We also recommend doing ladder drills to increase your coordination and footwork speed.

9. Changing equipment too frequently

Some players like changing their equipment all the time. We call them Equipment Junkies (EJ’s).

By changing your racket frequently, you’ll compromise your technique in the process. You’ll never train to improve your technique, you’ll just train to understand your racket. After these players get used to their rackets, they often change it again. 

Slight changes every so often are fine, but radical changes all the time are hugely detrimental to your development as a player. When you change your racket, you must do so knowing what you’ll gain and what you will lose.

There’s no perfect blade or rubbers, and when you change, it won’t be all benefits. Every time you change you’ll lose some of the benefits of the previous equipment and you’ll need to compensate. In particular, choose a blade that suits your style and stick with it.

Most professional players have been playing with the same racket for more than 10 years, and this way, they can get completely used to it. They know every shot they can play and how the racket will react. 

Coaches Tip

To prevent this from happening, always default to buying the same equipment unless you have a specific change you want to make. If you change, give yourself time to get used to the new equipment and be conscious of the different techniques you need to use.

10. Incorrect shot selection

Lots of players suffer from shot selection issues. This means that the shots they’re attempting are not conducive to favorable situations

Some players try to hit shots that end the point outright when they could play a safer shot that compromises their opponent and leads to them gaining an advantage in the point.

It’s important to develop points so that we end up with the upper hand in most scenarios. Hitting a safe deep ball and then going in for the kill is a lot more effective than trying to hit a winner outright.

Many players, such as myself, try to attack first by any means necessary. But this isn’t good in all situations. 

In one particular match, I was serving backspin, the opponent would push long to my backhand, and I would attack. However, my opponent had no trouble blocking my open-ups and I also missed one or two. I lost the set.

Then, my coach told me: You need to stop attacking with your backhand. Just push it back to him, and if you’re comfortable, pivot and open up with your forehand. 

After my coach told me this, the game swung in my favor. By attacking my opponent with my backhand, I was setting myself up for failure

When I’d open up, he had no trouble blocking it back, and in the backhand to backhand rally, he was way better than me. By attacking him, I was entering an unfavorable position. 

Coaches Tip

You must always be thinking if the shots you choose help you progress the point to your advantage, and if they aren’t, you have to find an alternative

11. Not training for matches

Most Table Tennis players don’t vary their training enough. They just perform regular drills for an hour or two, then start playing matches. Whilst this is better than any casual players, it’s not the optimal way to train.

You also need to train what you’re going to do in real games. Instead, many players train strokes that they aren’t going to use in their matches. 

Coaches Tip

Another thing you want to do is work on your weaknesses. If you’re having trouble receiving serves, then work directly on that. It’s no use having a great skillset if a certain weakness is going to lose you matches.

It’s also very important to vary your training sessions enough. If you don’t do this, then your training sessions will be all the same and you’ll stop learning. 

It’s fine to do one or two exercises all the time if they complement your style, but make sure to change your training regimen from session to session.

12. Not analyzing games enough

Table Tennis Tactics Board

A recurring mistake among Table Tennis players is not analyzing their games thoroughly enough. To get to a high level, you must understand everything that goes on in your matches.

After every point, think about the reasons why you won or lost it. This will give you critical information to understand how the match will turn out, and what you can do to sway it in your favor.

Coaches Tip

A great idea is to film your matches to watch them later. You’ll realize a lot of things that you didn’t when playing. You can use this information to work on the things that lose you points when training.

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Tibhar Stratus Power Wood | Forehand: Rakza Z | Backhand: Rakza 7 Soft
Playstyle: Forehand Looper

David's been playing Table Tennis since he was 12, earning his first coaching license in 2012. He's played in national team & individual competitions, although he prefers the more relaxed nature of a local league match! After earning his umpiring qualification in England, David moved to Australia and started Racket Insight to share information about the sport he loves.

Blade: Stiga WRB Offensive Classic | Forehand: Calibra LT | Backhand: Xiom Musa
Playstyle: All-Round Attacker

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