Featured Image – Sascha Düser
While Table Tennis is a sport played by at least two people, there are lots of ways that you can improve their skills without a training partner. Time away from the table is just as important as regular training, so we’ll cover every way you can get better at the game while practising on your own.
According to most Table Tennis professionals, serve and receive are the most important shots in the entire game. Given that the average table tennis rally is between 3 to 5 shots, having a good service can be the difference between winning or losing a match.
Therefore, serving should be practised regularly. As your playing level improves, so should your serves, since you’ll be facing tougher opposition that will receive your serves more competently. It’s no use having powerful strokes if you can’t set them up using your serve.
If you incorporate serve training in your routine, you’ll realize that the quality of your serves will improve dramatically, and you’ll have better results in your matches. Practising serves can be boring, but you’ll be glad you put in the work when your opponents struggle to receive them!
If you don’t have a Table Tennis table, you can still practise your serves! You can serve on a regular table and look at the spin you’re putting on the ball. Ideally, this should be as close to 30 inches (76cm) high as possible. You can also serve on the floor and see where the ball is moving, you want to get as much spin as possible.
Experiment with different serves, taking your playstyle into account. Using myself as an example, a forehand looper, I love to throw in some fast reverse pendulum serves every so often. The element of surprise means opponents often return a relatively high ball to my forehand, setting up my best stroke. If you’re good at opening up, then serve backspin.
When practising, make sure to serve then get ready for the next ball, exactly as you would in a real match. You should also practise variations for the serves that you’re planning to do. For example, if you’re practising a short backspin serve, try to practise doing a no-spin short serve using the same motion.
When practising your backspin serve, try to brush underneath the ball and get the most spin possible. For the no-spin, come from underneath the ball as you would do on a backspin serve, but hit the ball at the moment of contact instead of brushing. This gives the opponent the illusion that it’s a backspin serve when it’s not, and forces easy mistakes out of them. If you’re varying the spin of your serves while doing the same motion, your opponents won’t know what’s coming at them.
2. Video analysing yourself
When not playing, it’s extremely beneficial to think about the game. It’s very hard to improve if we don’t know what we could be doing better, and the only way to figure that out is via game analysis.
A good way to spark these ideas is by watching videos of yourself playing while trying to recognize mistakes at a tactical, technical, and mental level.
Analyze the reasons both for your points won and your points lost. You want to be doing more of what wins you points and less of what makes you lose them:
- Are you having trouble with unforced errors?
- Are your serves effective, or do you need to work on them?
- Are you moving properly and crouching down?
- How’s your serve receive?
Keep your weaknesses in mind and do specific drills to correct them.
Look at your body language, and the things you’re saying. You should be concentrated while maintaining a winner’s attitude. It’s a lot harder to beat a player who stays calm and positive, as opposed to someone who gets angry or gives up when things go south.
Think of what you could have done differently to achieve a better result. When watching videos, you will notice details you missed when playing the match, pay attention and you’ll learn lots of things that will help you in your matches moving forward.
If you’re having trouble recognizing your mistakes, then write down the reason for every point you lost. When that’s done, it’ll be easier to pinpoint what to work on.
3. Video analysing professional players
You should watch videos of professional players and try to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Table Tennis pros have studied the sport thoroughly over the years with the help of top tier coaches. If you get to understand the thought process behind every shot and the techniques used by them, you’ll gain valuable insight that you can extrapolate to your own matches.
It’s even better if you can find a pro that has a similar playstyle as yours, since you’ll see your own tactics executed at the highest level, giving you valuable information about what you need to improve to make your style viable moving forward. If you want to hit everything with your forehand at a high level, you’ll need the footwork of Ryu Seung Min!
Another tip is to watch videos of your rivals playing. If you got eliminated in your last tournament, search for video footage of whoever beat you. Pay attention to what they’re doing. Chances are that you’ll learn more tactics and plays you can make use of to beat him next time, and you’ll also be able to use those tactics when you meet someone with a similar playstyle.
4. Practising with a robot
Practising table tennis with a robot is the nearest you can get to training with a partner, and it’s very convenient since you can basically play Table Tennis at home, anytime you want. The robot will shoot balls at your half of the table every few seconds, so it translates quite well to real matches.
As time has progressed and technology has improved, robots have become quite affordable. Basic ones can be purchased for under $200. Almost every robot can shoot different spins and oscillate, so you can drill with them and improve swiftly, without the need of a partner.
Robots are also remarkably effective when practising the mechanics of one particular stroke. For example, if you’re having trouble opening up with your forehand against backspin, set the robot to backspin mode and aim it to your forehand, and you will be able to train for as long as you please. Practising the same stroke over and over again will yield great results! Your technique will become muscle memory and it will show when playing matches.
We also advise filming yourself while practising with the robot to correct your technique. Over time, try to use more acceleration and body rotation, while shortening your strokes.
5. Shadow play
Shadow play is a very powerful tool when it comes to correcting stroke motions, and working on balance, agility, and coordination. It consists of playing table tennis alone, without using a ball.
You simply play as you would in training or in a real match, just without the ball. Shadow play is great for table tennis development because you can focus solely on your technique and footwork, without worrying about hitting the ball and keeping the point alive.
Shadow play is especially great for beginners and for correcting mistakes. Repeating a certain stroke multiple times in a row, even without the ball, will help your muscle memory, and it will improve your game tremendously. Shadow play helps automatise your strokes while minimizing bad habits since you’re not worried about hitting the ball and getting it on the table. While shadow playing, we can play at a faster pace and with perfect technique, which will ultimately translate into real matches.
If done properly, it’s also good exercise. Try a combination of your favourite drills and match-specific situations, like getting into the table to touch short then coming back out for an open up. It’s good to imagine playing matches, adding an element of randomness to your workout.
Remember to stand on the tip of your toes so that you’re active with your feet, and make sure to perform weight transfers correctly.
It’s even better if you record yourself and then watch the footage to analyze what you’re doing wrong at a technical level, or even better, shadow play in front of a mirror to correct your technique in real-time.
Having good stamina and endurance makes a world of difference in Table Tennis. You’ll notice you’ll be lighter on your feet and have a more explosive first step. If you have good stamina, you won’t get nearly as tired during training and tournaments.
We recommend including at least a 30-minute session weekly, like a 5km jog or pedalling on a bike to maintain good aerobic performance. Doing cardio is also very good for your health and mind!
Doing short sprints is equally as beneficial. It’s a good idea to perform 25, 50, and 100-metre sprints to emulate the short bursts of energy that table tennis requires, aiding with your overall explosiveness.
It’s also crucial to maintain a good, balanced diet, with lots of fruits, vegetables, and sufficient protein. It does impact your recovery time and your energy levels quite a bit and helps you stay healthy.
7. Ladder drills
Ladder drills are excellent for Table Tennis since it requires a very high level of leg coordination, agility, and speed. They’ll make your footwork quicker and more precise, and you don’t even need a ladder to practise these drills, these exercises can be done while using floor tiles as a reference.
I quite like this Youtube video as a good reference point for 11 different ladder drills although they could do with showing each drill a little slower at first.
Incorporate 5-10 minutes of ladder drills into your routine and you’ll notice the results, especially when coming in and out of the table, or reaching for wide shots. They also strengthen your joints, ligaments, and tendons, so you’ll have more structural support and fewer injuries down the line.
8. Feeding multiball
If you want to improve your touch, then practise feeding multiball, even if there’s no one there to hit the balls you’re feeding. Multiball is an intensive type of training in which the coach feeds balls to the player at a high pace. If you act as the coach, hitting the ball repeatedly, with different spins and to different places will improve your feeling in no time.
In order to feed multiball, you’ll need a lot of balls and a bucket. Place the bucket on the table and start hitting the ball with a loose wrist, and focus on feeling the ball every time you hit it. This repeated motion of hitting the ball in different ways will give you the ability to control the spin you impart on the ball.
Try hitting fast topspins, touching short, pushing long, and flat hitting. By feeding multiball, you’ll learn how to control the ball and how to impart different spins using short motions. It also helps with understanding our equipment better. If you just bought a new racket, then make sure to feed multiball, you’ll get used to it a lot more quickly!
To sum up, there are plenty of ways to get better at the game without actually playing it, and creating good habits outside of the table can give us key advantages that will contribute greatly to our development as players. I hope these tips help you become a better player and allow you to practise table tennis alone.
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!