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Table Tennis Tips for Competition Play

These tips will help you improve your game and give you a competitive edge at tournaments.

Tactics Cheat Sheet

Here is a Tactics Cheat Sheet for you to print and bring to competitions.
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Training

Here are a few tips when preparing for a competition:

1. Get the most out of your training. Do this by setting clear goals for each training session and planning drills accordingly.

2. Utilize resources to maximize training efficiency and to perfect your game. Some of the best resources include instructional videos, coaches, tapes of elite competitions, and clinics.

3. Vary your training in order be at your best when a competition arrives. Known as Cycle Training, it's a means to schedule aerobic exercise, footwork and stroking drills, and strengthening workouts such that you are at your most competitive level immediately before a tournament.

Strategy

Devising and using a tactic against an opponent is often key to winning, especially against an evenly matched opponent. Working an opponent's weaknesses and utilizing your own strengths can help you to defeat opponents who otherwise posses better strokes and footwork than you.

The first step is to gather all the information you can about an opponent. Try to observe an opponent play a match against another player and ask yourself questions such as: How will I return each of their serves? How are they likely to return mine? What's their strength? Their weakness?

Let's start by analyzing some of the more common styles of players.

Control Control players generally don't like taking chances. They try to get the ball on the table more often than they take a chance of smashing for a winner.
Defensive Defensive players try to outlast their opponents, either by avoiding their own mistakes or by provoking opponents into making mistakes.
Offensive Aggressive players emphasize topspin and consistency, but the actual style can vary greatly between players. Some concentrate on provoking errors by attacking and blocking, while others simply like to outlast their opponents while playing aggressively. Aggressive players generally have very good ball control and placement as well as a clear understanding of spin. This style of player will generally deliver heavy spin on both the serve and service return.
Power As the name implies, Power players try to win points almost entirely through the speed of the shots they generate.

How To Play Each Style

Of course, players may also be best described by the type of stroke (see definitions of the strokes) they favor and are most comfortable with. Generally, play one of these types in the following way:

Counterdrivers - When playing a skillful counterdriver, avoid topspin rallies since this is their strength. Use heavy spin on both under- and topspin shots. Counterdrivers are most comfortable with light spin. If the opponent lacks good footwork, work the middle of the table. By forcing them to quickly decide between a forehand or backhand return, you can succeed in jamming them. Try using chops and pushes to slow down the game and rally for position.

Choppers - When playing a chopper, be patient. Defensive choppers succeed when you become impatient and make mistakes. Alternate your use of shots, favoring deep loops, and short pushes. This will often throw the chopper off enough to return a high ball which you can put away with a smash. The chopper is likely to try to force you to make errors by using a variety of amounts of underspin. Expect the chops to vary from no spin to light spin to very heavy underspin. Finally, work the chopper down the middle more than side to side. The sides are often a chopper's strength while many have problems with shots hit down the middle. Move the ball in and out and use the drop shot, especially to their forehand side.

Blockers - Blockers, just like choppers, are often defensive players. They try to get into a rhythm and move you out of position. As with the chopper, break their rhythm by varying the shots. Hit one deep and hard and then alternate with a short shot. Favor a high, spinny loop because blockers often like to use the power of their opponents to win points. Again, be patient, use just one power shot at a time, and sometimes trick the blocker into initiating an attack, in which they are usually weak.

Loopers - When playing a looper, especially a consistent one, patience is out the door. Beat an aggressive looper with aggressiveness. Do all you can to initiate the attack. Your goal is to put the looper on the defense, where they usually are weak. As with choppers, work the middle to keep the ball away from their strength- the sides.

Penholders - Penholders tend to heavily favor their forehand since the grip itself gives their forehand stroke a big advantage. The obvious strategy would seem to be to exploit their weaker backhand, but since many penholders display superb footwork, this is not as easy as it might seem. To work their backhand, you need to move the ball around, especially out wide. Do this in random fashion so they can't predict where you will direct the ball next.

Tactics Against All Opponents

There are a few general guidelines that hold true versus all styles of opponents. These include varying the spin and strokes and placing your shots.

Varying Spin and Strokes
Most players like and even thrive off returns that are hit to them consistently. When an opponent is continuously fed shots with similar spin, speed, and ball placement, they can adjust their game to take advantage of your returns and often control the pace of the game. If however, you vary your shots, you will prevent them from anticipating returns and will keep them "on their toes". They will have to get back into a neutral ready position after each return and thus not be able to setup as well for aggressive shots.

By varying the types of strokes, you force your opponent to deal with and adjust to various spins, speeds, and heights of the ball. This way, they must continuously read the spin and often react to your shots (and not initiate attacks). The other variation you should be using is ball placement, which we cover below.

Ball Placement
In addition to thriving off consistent returns, players also like returns that are hit into one of their "Power Zones". These are regions on the table in which a player is most comfortable hitting a shot without having to move to the ball. For most players with a "western" ("shakehands") grip, these zones include a zone on the forehand side within arms reach, and another zone located closer to the body on the backhand side. This leaves three zones outside the power zones: one in the middle favoring the forehand, and two others wide on each side of the table.

By playing down the middle, you force your opponent to quickly decide between a backhand and forehand return- a tactic sometimes successful in itself to force a weak return. It also cuts down the angle they can play on their return. Shots out wide, on the other hand, test your opponent's footwork while moving them to either side of the table and possibly out of reach for a follow-up shot. As a general rule, try to find a weak zone and play it most often while randomly hitting to the two other zones for unpredictability.

Eating and Drinking

Eating and drinking properly, even several days before the start of a competition, could mean the difference between playing up to your ability versus feeling tired and moving slowly. Since table tennis is a very fast-paced sport, being alert is key to good footwork and properly executing your strokes.