Table tennis tournaments are intense, high-stakes events.
Many table tennis players want to compete and climb up the rankings by beating stronger players. There’s no doubt that to achieve this, you must nail your tournament preparation.
Most players will show up to their first tournaments without having prepared properly, so they don’t end up achieving the results they wanted.
From having competed in more than a hundred tournaments, I’ll share with you my top tips regarding tournament preparation.
We will tell you how to deal with nervousness, what things you should take to the venue, what to do the day before a tournament, and many other key tips.
What to bring to a Table Tennis tournament
If you want to have a good tournament run, you’ll need to bring several things.
We have compiled a list of all the objects you’ll need to have with you on the day of the tournament.
We highly recommend preparing your bag the day before so that you don’t forget anything.
It goes without saying that you’ll need to bring your racket to the tournament. However, there are some key points to keep in mind regarding your tournament racket.
If you’re playing an important tournament, your rubbers must be ITTF-approved and they should be in good condition.
Some players like to play tournaments with brand new rubbers, while others prefer playing with 1-2 month-old rubbers.
If you’re in doubt, I’d say changing your rubbers 2-3 weeks before a tournament is a good middle point.
You’ll have new rubbers but they will have broken in a bit and you’ll also have enough time to adapt to them.
You should never change your rubbers and play a tournament without having tried them beforehand.
As for the speed level of your racket, I personally like playing with a racket a notch slower than what I feel I can control. This usually gives me an advantage when playing in tournaments.
You could probably get away with using a faster racket in your club, but in a tournament setting, you’re playing against players you don’t know.
You’ll have to receive different serves than what you’re used to and you’ll play in a different hall than usual. In addition to this, you’ll be somewhat nervous on tournament day.
Your racket should be controllable enough that you can get the ball on the table consistently even in these situations.
Some players use a very fast racket and they can train well with it, but when they play in tournaments, their serve receives always drift long and they miss many open-ups and topspin shots.
This is not to say that you should play with a slow racket, but rather, one you feel like you can control very well. Your racket should be an extension of your arm.
If you’re a high-level player and you feel you need extra performance from your racket, boosting your rubbers a few days before a tournament can make a huge difference, but make sure you have a spare racket in case you’re not happy with how the boosting process turned out.
The second key item you need to bring to a tournament is a towel.
It doesn’t matter which kind, you don’t need the towel because of its physical properties. You need it because of its significance.
If you didn’t know, you can use your towel every 6 points to dry your head and hands.
However, the importance of the so-called towel break isn’t drying yourself, but rather, having a short rest to think about your tactics and reset your mental state.
Table tennis tournaments are super intense. Every point is worth a fortune. Many players in the hall will be shouting and spectators will be clapping.
Having a towel break every 6 points allows you to relax and think about your tactics calmly.
The third thing you need to bring to a table tennis tournament is water or a sports drink.
My blood pressure and my energy levels often go down during long tournaments, so I like bringing sports drinks with me.
The sugar keeps me up and they don’t have as much gas as sodas so they come in handy during tournaments.
Something that’s overlooked by many players is taking food to tournaments.
If you’re doing well, tournaments can drag on for hours, so you’ll need food to keep your energy levels up and to deal with hunger.
I recommend taking nutritious snacks such as bananas, apples, or nuts.
I once attended a tournament that played the semi-final at 7 pm having started at 9 am that morning. Two of my friends played against each other but both had only packed for lunch. With no extra food at the venue, both players struggled to play their best in a low-quality match.
The moral of that story is to bring more than you think you’ll need, or check that there’s extra food at the venue.
Comfy and legal clothing
Another recommendation of mine is to play with the comfiest clothes you have.
Make sure to prepare a t-shirt that fits you well and allows a good range of motion, shorts that let you move freely, and comfortable socks.
It’s also a good idea to bring some extra t-shirts to a tournament, especially if you’re playing in hot conditions.
In addition to this, make sure that your clothing is legal, that is, don’t attend the tournament wearing white clothing or tank tops.
If you want to learn more, we have written a complete guide on what to wear playing table tennis.
Table tennis balls
I always recommend taking table tennis balls to tournaments.
Some tournaments won’t give you balls to warm up, so make sure to take your own with you.
Optional: Tripod and phone/camera
In my opinion, having a tripod is crucial, since filming your matches will then help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses.
You can film your matches with your smartphone attached to a tripod and they’ll be usually high enough quality.
If you just play and don’t film yourself, you’ll remember how the match went in broad terms, but you won’t catch some key details.
There are lots of things that we don’t notice while playing but we do when we’re watching back our matches a few days later.
However, I wouldn’t advise bringing your tripod to a tournament if you feel like filming yourself playing adds pressure to the situation.
It’s also another thing to worry about since you’ll have to set it up, start and stop filming and watch that nobody moves it accidentally.
I’d recommend you get used to how being filmed feels in practice so that you don’t try anything new on the day of the tournament.
Now that you know everything you need to bring, let’s move on to other important tournament preparation tips.
Managing your nerves
In terms of nerves, there’s lots to talk about. Feeling nervous is by far the main problem players face when playing in tournaments.
Nerves don’t allow players to perform as well as they could, but there are some tips to keep in mind that will greatly help you.
Have you ever felt like you get very nervous when playing against players at your level or below?
However, when you play tougher opposition, you play freely, you aren’t nearly as nervous, everything just flows and you play a lot better.
This is because against players at your level or below your level, you are expected to win, but there’s no pressure on you to beat a stronger player. The pressure’s on them.
The thing is, nerves come from your expectations. It’s normal to feel nervous because you want to win.
Once you apply these next 4 tips you’ll be able to manage your nerves and play a lot better as a result.
Focus on the process rather than the outcome
We have explained this tip in our “psychology of table tennis” article.
In tournaments, and even when playing at your club, you’ll feel nervous because you want to win.
However, I’m a strong believer that you shouldn’t put winning as your main priority. You should strive to play well. This, in turn, will grant you wins.
You see, there are factors you can’t control. You don’t know who you’re going to come up against and what kind of day they’re going to have. Whether you win or you lose isn’t something you can wholly control.
However, you can control whether you play well or not. If you focus on playing well rather than thinking “I have to win this match”, you’ll stop feeling as nervous.
You’re redirecting your brain’s attention, in a sense. Instead of tunnel visioning on the goal (winning), which is what makes you feel nervous, you’re thinking about how to play good table tennis.
We’re table tennis players, not winning machines. Play good table tennis, have fun and the results will come.
Be prepared to take losses
This is related to our previous point. Our nervousness stems from the pressure of wanting to win.
The best balance, and one I took years to find, is that you should fight for every point and try to play as well as you can while knowing that you might be defeated, even if you do everything in your power to win.
In table tennis, someone has to lose for their opponent to win. It’s how it works.
Once you internalize this, you’ll learn that losing is not the end of the world. It’s not even that bad, really.
You won’t fear losing so you’ll stop feeling quite as nervous.
You can then work on some strategies to win more table tennis matches in the future.
Take your time
A good way to avoid letting your nerves get to you is to take your time between points and use your towel every 6 points.
Lots of players will rush when they’re nervous. The natural response when a player is nervous is to try and get the match over as soon as possible.
When playing a match, take around 10 seconds between points, breathe, use your towel, etc.
If you missed the first receive of your opponent’s serving turn, don’t give the ball straight back to your opponent.
Conversely, take a step back, dry your hands on the side of the table, and take a deep breath.
These actions help slow down the pace of the game and create a more controlled game state, which is what you want.
Take your time, don’t rush it.
Enjoy the competition
A good way to avoid feeling too nervous is to try and enjoy the matches you’re playing.
I was recently playing a very important tournament and my opponent and I played a great point.
We acknowledged the point to each other and it made the match feel a lot more natural. I instantly felt more at ease.
When playing, try to remember you’re playing to test your abilities and to have fun in the process. You’re playing table tennis above everything, and table tennis is super fun.
Make sure to rest the day before a tournament. Plan your training sessions around the tournament.
You don’t want to have a training session before the day of the tournament or you’ll be physically and mentally tired. You can practice serves if you want, but we don’t recommend doing anything else.
You want to rest, think about your strategy, and get everything ready. It’s also a good idea to stretch before tournament day so that your muscles feel fresher.
The day before, you can watch footage of your opponents on Youtube and go over your notes to perfect your strategy.
Make sure to think about your serves and your ideas on how you want to play.
I recommend starting with a safe game plan in mind.
If you’re an offensive player, try to get your receives on the table as low as possible, and try to get a safe open-up before your opponent.
When you’re serving, execute your usual plays and go for spin and consistency rather than outright power.
If you’re feeling confident, you can always hit a bit harder, but it’s better to be safe than sorry in the opening stages of a tournament.
When you’re done, get a good night’s sleep.
On the day of the tournament, have a good breakfast. Something to experiment with is caffeine.
It has been proven many times that caffeine can improve sports performance.
I really like having a strong coffee before a tournament as it wakes me up and makes me feel more energetic.
Another thing to experiment with is music. I find that listening to music before an important tournament helps me focus and calm my nerves down.
Go with a coach or a friend
If possible, try to attend the tournament with a coach or a friend.
They will not only keep you company but they’ll also help you think about your matches, cheer for you and make you feel less nervous.
Try to bring someone with you that understands you and believes you can win.
I once had a clubmate of mine come see me play and he was not cheering for me when I was playing a very tough opponent.
I asked him what happened afterward and he told me that he thought I had little chance. During the match, I could tell he didn’t believe in me, and that brought my confidence levels down quite a bit.
Conversely, if you’re playing against tough opposition and your coach claps every point, you’ll feel like you have a real chance of winning, simply because of the fact that someone believes in you other than yourself.
It’s also important that you have a good communication with your coach/friend. Maybe you like them to clap or even shout when you win a point or maybe you prefer them to stay silent.
Make sure to speak about all this before the tournament starts.
Make plans for after a tournament
A great tip I learned from Seth Pech is to make plans for after a tournament.
Many times we’ll think of the tournament as our end goal. We’ll have practiced for weeks or even months and we’re now ready to compete.
However, this way of thinking about the tournament will backfire if you don’t have a good result.
It’s like you trained for the tournament, you lost, and after that, there’s nothing else, so you can’t help but dwell on your loss.
A very good tip is to make a plan for after a tournament, that might be going out to dinner with your friends, exploring the city, or whatever you want.
At one of my previous clubs, we had a ritual to always go for a “victory KFC” at the end of a tournament, no matter what the result. Just using the word victory made us all think about the small and big wins equally.
Having an activity after the tournament will help you take your mind off of table tennis if you lost or celebrate and have fun if you won.
Arrive early and warm up
If you want to do well in a tournament, you’ll need to have a proper warm-up.
We have written a guide on how to warm up before playing table tennis. We recommend warming up as per our guide and then moving on to the table.
You want to arrive at the venue around 30-40 minutes before your tournament starts so that you have 10-15 minutes to do a physical warm-up and you can allocate the remaining minutes to warming up at the table.
A common mistake lots of table tennis players do is to warm up their forehand and backhand static loops for minutes.
What you want to do is to warm up your forehand and your backhand as quickly as possible. Take 5 minutes tops.
If you think about it, you’ll practically never play static loops in your matches.
Instead, focus on warming up your serves, receives, blocks, open-ups, and transitions.
A good tournament warm-up would be like this:
We recommend going with a friend or coach who can warm up with you. If you can’t, then make sure to arrive very early to find a warm-up partner at the venue.
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!