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Story of improving quickly to near-pro level

How I Spent 12 Months Improving From A Fourth-Division Player To Competing A Step Away From Professionals

Just 12 months ago, I was a fourth-division provincial player. After 500+ hours of applying the tips I’ll share with you now, I have risen to the second division. That puts me just a step below all the professional players and national team members here in Argentina.

In these past 2-3 years, I’ve progressed from a lower intermediate player to now playing at an advanced level. Every year, my improvement rate has accelerated as I learned more about the sport and gained more momentum.

If you want to speed up the pace of your improvement, this is the article to read. There is no doubt in my mind that, if you apply these tips, you will be able to get anywhere you want within the sport.

Take Yourself Seriously

Most, if not all of this article will revolve around this one tip. The main difference between how I think and act now compared to all of my previous versions is that I take myself a lot more seriously now.

What do I mean by this? Taking yourself seriously means giving your absolute best at everything concerning table tennis. It means consistently holding yourself to higher and higher standards to achieve better results.

You see, when I was a fourth-division player I used to think like this:

“I can skip training one day per week, I’m already training more than most people”

“I don’t need to practice serves very often, my serves are already good enough for my division”

“There’s no need to give 100% focus when blocking for my partner, I can return the ball well enough regardless”

“I won’t be able to beat this higher-rated player, he’s just better than me”

“As long as I show up to training, I will improve. There’s no need to focus on every single exercise. Giving 70% of my focus and energy is good enough.”

Does any of this resonate with you?

Here’s how I think now:

“I can’t skip training under any circumstances. My training plan is well-detailed and it must be followed strictly”

“If I practice my serves more now, they’ll still be effective in the future when I have to play against even stronger players”

“If I give all of my attention when blocking for my partner, I will be able to block many more balls when I’m playing in a tournament. If I miss the table, I lose the point!’

“I can beat this higher-rated player. I give all of myself for this sport. I can beat him because of the effort I put in every week”

“I have to focus 100% for every single round of the exercise. If I miss, I lose the point, and it can mean losing a tournament final”

As you can see, the difference is massive. When I was a fourth-division player, I thought that giving 60 or 70% of my potential energy was good enough. Hence, my playing level was a 6 or 7, exactly what I put in! Table tennis is incredibly fair in this respect.

Now, I make sure to focus all of my energy when training and competing, and giving my all to the sport. 

There is no doubt in my mind that I will achieve my goals because I’m doing everything in my power to get there. This is how I gained two divisions in a year and this is also the strategy I’ll use to progress up to the division of the professionals and semi-professionals.

Even if you’re a beginner or intermediate-level player, try to train and compete to the absolute best of your abilities, every single time. 

Many people don’t feel as motivated because they’re beginners or intermediate-level players and they’re “already too old”. They think that because they didn’t start playing before 10 years old, they can’t reach anything “meaningful”, so they don’t even try their hardest.

As I said at the beginning of the article, I was a lower intermediate player at 20 years old. I knew from the start that I was never going to be a professional player or be at the very top of the Argentine rankings. 

2 years later, however, I have reached an advanced level and I’m in the top 100 of my country. I have won many, many tournaments, and lots of people within the circuit know who I am. 

I have also traveled to many places to play tournaments, I have played in the Argentine Open, and I have beaten players I would never even have thought I could get games off of. 

I also make a living from table tennis! Table tennis is my passion and being able to share it with you by writing on this website is what pays for my table tennis expenses – and some.

In addition, I can become a coach in the future as a side job (or even a full-time job) if I study and earn coaching certifications. I have exceeded my expectations by a long shot. 

When I was a lower intermediate player I thought it just wasn’t possible for me because I had never gotten to a very high level in 5 years of training, and thus, I didn’t give 100% of my energy and focus.

Take yourself seriously, train, and compete as if your salary depended on your results, and you’ll see results in no time. Strive for the best, and don’t settle for less!

I can assure you that if you give 100% of your focus and energy, you will also exceed your own expectations. Don’t expect immediate results, though, go one week at a time, and over months and years you’ll reach places you never thought you would at the beginning.

Practice

In this section, we’ll go over our two main tips related to practice: practicing more, and practicing better.

Practicing more

One of the deciding factors of my rapid improvement was simply that I started training more. I upped my training from 6-8 hours per week to 10-16 hours per week.

I was talking to my coach one day (a former Argentine top junior player) and he concluded that, if you want to get to a very high level, you need to train at least 15 hours per week.

Then, it dawned on me. I was training about half of that! I then decided to up my training to 10-12 hours, and I saw massive improvements. 

These past 2 months, I’ve been training around the golden 15-hour-per-week mark, and I immediately noticed the difference as well!

Table tennis improvement isn’t quantum physics. It’s a matter of training more if you aren’t training enough, and training better.

However, you can’t always train more. All of us have lives and obligations outside of table tennis, and that’s perfectly fine. If you can’t train more, you can always train better, so keep reading if you’re interested in that and other tips.

I highly suggest you train even an hour or two more if you can fit it into your schedule, and also, train upwards of 10 hours each week if it’s possible for you. I can guarantee it’ll make a world of difference.

Make sure that the increase in hours is gradual. 15 hours per week should be the end goal. Train two hours more than you’re training right now and see how it feels, and keep increasing your training hours if you feel like you can handle it.

Training 10, 15, or even more hours per week is very demanding on the body, though, so I want to give a brief explanation about load management and why it’s important.

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Load management

Load management refers to knowing when to stop a practice session and knowing how to prevent fatigue or deal with it accordingly.

As we said before, we recommend training around 15 hours per week, if possible. That would be the equivalent of 5 training sessions per week of 3 hours each.

If you follow this training plan or even a 10-hour-per-week training regimen, you might find that your muscles are sore all the time or that you are tired before even going to training.

This is why load management is so important. With proper load management, we can prevent this from happening.

In my opinion, you should never leave a training session completely exhausted. Always leave 20-30% in the tank.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give 100%. You should give 100% of your energy, your focus, and your physical abilities for as long as you can, and once you feel like you’re quite tired, but not completely exhausted, you should stop training and stretch.

Stretching is the other key factor in this equation. Stretching is your best friend. 

Stretching helps us feel fresher, it helps loosen up the muscles, and it even helps us not feel as sore the day after training, enabling us to feel fresh before every training session.

If you’re at the club, you have already trained for 2-3 hours and you’re quite tired, don’t start mindlessly playing matches.

These matches won’t help you that much because you won’t be able to play at 100%, and all they’ll do is tire you even more. You’ll get fatigued and you’ll probably limit your capacity to train the following day and the day after that!

Try to listen to your body and stop once you’ve exhausted 70-80% of your energy. 

The last 20% of energy you have should be preserved not only because of load management but also because it yields the least results.

When you’ve only got 20% left in the tank, your movement will be slower and it’ll be harder to focus. Hence, it will be very difficult for you to get quality practice in this state. This is the time to call it quits, stretch, and recover for the following day.

I don’t think you should ever get to the point where it’s hard to walk after a training session because you’ll accumulate fatigue very rapidly and you will probably pick up injuries if you train like this day after day.

Practicing better

Practicing better is the other key factor in this equation. But how do you do it? It’s quite simple. You just have to pay more attention to it, every step of the way.

In my opinion, the three most important factors to improving the quality of your training sessions are to focus better, target your weaknesses, and always look to improve your training environment.

Focusing better 

This year, I had a moment of realization. A moment in which everything clicked.

This happened one day when I arrived just 20 minutes before a tournament. I like getting to the tournament venue up to an hour early to warm up and do some quick mobility and coordination drills, but that day, I had very little time.

I quickly warmed up my forehand and my backhand. After that, I only had like 5 or 10 minutes left so I decided to do some rounds of a mobility drill: backhand, middle, backhand, wide forehand.

As I had so little time, I decided that consistency would be the key. I needed to get as many rounds of the exercise in as possible to play my best in my first match. 

In addition, I needed to do the exercise as well as I could in terms of technique. If I did the exercise with poor technique and I didn’t move correctly, that would definitely affect my upcoming matches, so I put all of my attention into doing the exercise with perfect technique.

I focused on consistency. I paid a lot of attention to the spin and the placement of the ball. I paid attention to the feeling of friction of the ball with the rubber. I made sure to move correctly and to always hit my backhand behind the ball.

I did the exercise and I felt like I couldn’t miss. I couldn’t believe it, as, a few days prior, I had done this very same exercise with much worse results. This was when it all clicked. 

I was trying my absolute best to do the exercise as well as I possibly could. I gave everything in my power to do the exercise to the best of my abilities.

Alvaro-Munno
Training with focus and attention.

After I realized that I hadn’t normally been training with this level of attention, I decided to start focusing a lot more on my training exercises, and the results have been incredible.

Since that moment, I have been doing every exercise as if each round was a point in a tournament match. If you miss, you lose the point.

This way of thinking has made me train to my fullest potential, and this way, I have been able to reap the most benefits out of every single exercise I did. 

Targeting your weaknesses

You should always keep in mind what your weaknesses are and aim to correct them. These may be technical mistakes, tactical mistakes, or mistakes derived from a lack of consistency.

As for myself, I’m currently working on rotating my body more on my forehand loop (technical) and getting used to pivoting in backhand-backhand rallies to enable my forehand (tactical).

It is important to be mindful of your weaknesses so that you can focus your attention on them while you’re training.

Your strengths are the way you win points, whereas your weaknesses are the areas that your opponents can exploit to win points themselves.

When training, try to improve your strengths and “bulletproof” your game by working on your weaknesses as well.

If you think about it, every table tennis player on Earth has weaknesses, even the best of the best. However, they have worked so much on these weaknesses that they’re so subtle they become very difficult to exploit. This is what you should aim for.

You should aim to achieve a bulletproof game by working on your weaknesses one at a time so that there is no easy way to win points when playing against you. 

Strive to improve your training environment

Improving my training environment has been the other deciding factor that made me improve so rapidly in such a short period.

For my first 5 years of training, I trained at the club that was nearest to home. However, I always recognized that the quality of the training sessions wasn’t very good.

I was merely an intermediate-level player, and yet, there were only 2-3 players that were as good as I was. This meant that I had to do about half of my training exercises with beginners who couldn’t block the ball properly for me.

In addition, the coaches at the club didn’t give us many training tips, and there were only 2-3 training days. 

Even though I gave all of myself, my environment was my limiting factor. Training at that club was like trying to water a rock and expecting a plant to grow out of it.

I felt frustrated at the situation, so I looked for a change, and that was the stepping stone for everything that would happen later. 

After 5 years at that club, I decided to switch clubs from the nearest one to one that was 1 hour away from home, and that was by far the best decision I ever took in my table tennis journey. 

This upped my available training hours from 4 to 9, and I now had a proper coach who would correct my technique. 

This got me from a lower intermediate level to an intermediate one. After this, I decided to invest in getting private lessons with my coach. This made me improve even further.

1 year later, I got notice that my previous club was in a much better state, so I decided to sign up and train at both clubs at the same time. I am currently training at both clubs, with 6 days of group sessions plus private lessons.

In the beginning, it was nearly impossible to improve, given the training environment I was in.

Now, it is nearly impossible NOT to improve. This is the importance of being in the proper environment.

Improving at table tennis is equal parts giving it your all as it is being in the proper environment.

I highly recommend you make friends with other players in your area and ask if they want to train with you – you can invite them over to your house if you have a table, go over to theirs, or rent a table at a table tennis club.

Keep in mind that you can also practice table tennis alone in various ways. If you want to get more training at the table but you can’t train with a partner, it may be a good idea to invest in a robot or a return board

Match play

Now that we’ve covered how to practice effectively for optimal improvement, we’ll look at how to improve match play.

The thing with matches is that most people focus solely on playing the match. However, if you want to improve long-term, it’s not about just playing the match. There are more steps involved!

You see, in business, and every project in life, there are at least 3 very important steps: Planning, executing, and monitoring. 

Playing the match is just the execution phase of the whole process. However, the other 2 steps are just as important for long-term success. We’ll now go over how to improve match play integrally.

Planning

If you want to win matches, you need a winning plan

It’s important to devise a game plan that focuses on your strengths as much as possible. When playing, you should feel like you’re doing the things you’re good at over and over again. That’s when you know your planning was on point.

Devising a winning game plan starts from the ground up: the serve and receive. 

You should have serves that give you opportunities to win points outright or make points develop in your favor (or both, ideally).

When receiving, you should know what you’re going to do in any situation before it even presents itself.

Table Tennis Player

When thinking about my own game, I know my plan:

  1. If my opponent serves long or half long, I open up or loop.
  2. If my opponent serves short topspin/no-spin, I target their backhand and step around with my forehand on the next ball. 
  3. If my opponent serves short backspin, I touch short 70% of the time and push long to their backhands 30% of the time, then step around with my forehand. 

This reduces “chaos” and unexpected situations greatly.

Before going and playing the match, I already know that I’ll be serving in ways that help my game, and I’m mentally prepared to receive any serve that could be thrown at me. 

Once you’re playing the match, you will notice that some things will work better than others. 

Maybe my opponent isn’t feeling confident with their backhand so I’ll push long and serve long to their backhands more often, maybe they’re having trouble with my open-ups so I’ll serve backspin and open up more often, etc. 

It’s very important to strike the right balance between having a very solid game plan before playing and adapting that game plan as required during the match. 

Another thing that can be very beneficial is analyzing your opponents before the match. 

If you can find videos of them playing or you can see them playing in the venue, pay attention to their playstyle, their serves, and their receives.

This will give you a very good indication of what their game plan is and what you can do to impose your game over theirs. 

Executing

Executing refers to actually playing the match – ie. to try and put your game plan into action.

Some of our top tips in regards to playing matches better are to:

  • Focus and look at the ball at all times during the point.
  • Try to be as active with your feet as possible.
  • Between points, try to relax and think about tactics.
  • Try to impose your game plan with clever serves and receives.

Above all, try to put into practice what you’ve been training during the week. Execute your set plays, and play to your strengths.

If you want to learn more about how to play matches better and win more table tennis matches, we have written a separate article with important match strategies for table tennis players that you can read.

Monitoring

Monitoring refers to the act of controlling and reviewing your matches. This step is where you can learn many things that you may have missed during the match. 

I highly recommend recording all of your tournament matches so that you can watch them again and analyze them at home. 

It’s also a very good idea to ask your coach or higher-rated players to watch your matches and tell you their thoughts.

Using these recordings, you can write down what you did well, what you didn’t do well, and what you should have done more of. 

After watching many of your matches, you’ll start to see many patterns in your play, both positive and negative. 

It’s very important to write down all of these ideas and work on both the strengths and weaknesses during practice. 

It’s crucial that you work on the things that are setting you back so that you don’t have recurring problems that lose you matches time and time again. 

When I look at matches of mine I played a year ago, I lost time and time again when my opponents realized that I struggled a lot with heavy topspin serves.

I had to take a step back, recognize that this was happening, and voice this concern to my coach. We worked on this during our training sessions and it was never an issue again.

Table Tennis Coaching
Discussing ideas with your coach is crucial

As you improve, more strengths and weaknesses will surface, so you’ll have to work on different things at every step of your development. It’s important to always be on the lookout for what you can improve so that you’re always working on something to become a better player.

5 Steps You Can Take Today

I’ve written this article aiming to be a small source of inspiration to players across the world who want to become better table tennis players.

Improving isn’t easy. It takes many hours of dedication and hard work, utilizing both physical and mental effort. If you’re ready to take on that journey, these are the 5 things I would recommend you kick-start from today:

  1. Start taking yourself more seriously and hold yourself to higher standards.
  2. Add 1 or 2 training hours to your weekly routine.
  3. Focus better when you’re doing every exercise, if you miss the table, you lose the point.
  4. Look for opportunities to improve your training environment.
  5. Ideate a winning game plan with the help of your coach, record your matches, analyze them, and write down your strengths and weaknesses to work on them at the club.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop us a comment below if this article has helped you.

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The Controller

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 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: Butterfly Fan Zhendong ALC | Forehand: Butterfly Dignics 09c | Backhand: Butterfly Rozena
Playstyle: The Controller

4 thoughts on “How I Spent 12 Months Improving From A Fourth-Division Player To Competing A Step Away From Professionals”

  1. Erriza Shalahuddin

    Splendid article! I learned many things from this and it makes me to be even more motivated to get better! Although I’m already at my 30s, improving is something I believe can be done by everyone. I especially like the idea to give your focus 100% in every practice. Different players may have different resources available to them, but giving focus is a thing you’re fully responsible and capable of. And I think focus is the least talked about aspect of improving in table tennis, so I’ll start with that and recommend other players to start from it too.

    1. Hello Erriza,

      I know of many people who started at their 30s and reached very, very high playing levels. My experience with the sport has shown me time and time again that there are no limits to what you can achieve, you just have to defy yourself more and more and be in the right environment and you’ll never stop improving.

      As long as the process is improving, the result will improve as well 🙂

      Thanks for the nice words!

      Cheers,
      Álvaro

  2. One of the best articles I’ve read so far!
    I still remember the quote ‘Going to the club for training doesn’t mean you’re actually training’. Playing with rookies without addressing weaknesses, doesn’t yield improvements.

    Most clubs in my town suffer similar training environment problems. Most ‘better’ players are avoiding beginners like a pest disease, so they never improved. When I started, my partners were hence mostly recreational players. Still there are some motivated beginners there, who are willing to improve (especially the Chinese ones). Most clubs here have no coaches for adults. Only for kids. So I decided to get private coaching and after few months the ‘better’ players (not the very best) starting to train with me. However private coaching is not financially sustainable for a very long term.

    Any tips you can give?

    1. Hello Daniel, thanks for the nice words!

      If you’re training now with the “better” players, try to keep improving with them, and also look to train with the more motivated beginners. It’s important to train and play with like-minded people, even if their level is a bit lower.

      You can also look at this article: https://racketinsight.com/table-tennis/plan-effective-training-sessions/

      That will help you plan your training sessions and give you ideas on which exercises to do to keep improving.

      Cheers!
      Álvaro

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