Tactics are of key importance in Table Tennis and for that matter in any sport or competitive activity. You always need to be thinking of HOW to win. Building tactics is very much a trial and error process with constant adaptations during a table tennis match. Building tactics is something which can be aided by a bench coach who may have observed different things from the outside to what you see in first person, but it is important to develop these specific thinking skill sets yourself in order to better your own game.
So let’s break it down into steps:
Why Am I Winning Points?
Every time you win a point you should quickly reflect on the method and combination of strokes and spins used to achieve the point. Did you set the ball up for a winner and hit through your opponent? Did you force an error from them? If I repeat it does it have the same effect or is the response different? (how effective is the tactic over a longer period?)
Is there any way I can improve the point structure to continue the tactic or to make it easier to win points? e.g I serve short no spin and the opponent always push receives, popping the ball up a bit. Can I serve short topspin to make the ball pop up even more? Adapt the tactic.
Why Am I Losing Points?
Much the same way as you need to win points, you also need to minimise your losses. Realising why you lose points is often much more difficult and requires strong mental focus. Firstly it is important not to get wound up in the moment of ‘Oh my god I’m losing’ etc. Set aside that fact and focus on the reason the point was lost. Where you in position? Did you play too long allowing your opponent to attack first? Did you make an unforced error? Did you read the ball correctly? So many things to go through, it’s almost like troubleshooting.
From here you need to cover your weaker areas and reduce the number of errors, this is a constant process of evaluation to see if it is successful throughout the progression of a match.
Tactical Progression of a Match:
Sometimes we have a solid set of tactics to use and a seemingly fail-proof game plan, however we need to constantly be aware of one thing. Change. Remember you are not the only person using a strategy to win. Part of understanding what it takes to win is also analysing your opponents moves. You need to see how they are winning points and also how they are adapting their tactics at different points of the match.
A good example would be if you were playing a chopper and you were winning 2-0, feeling comfortable playing forehand loops to their forehand which has a weaker chop than, say, a long pimple defensive backhand. All of a sudden the defender decides it’s not working and starts counterlooping their forehand or returning the ball with sidespin. Now the pressure falls back on you to attack to the backhand more frequently, where the long pips causes you more trouble.
A small change in tactic but one which could lead to a big change in the match. So be aware that tactics progress and change as a player evaluates their performance over a match. It is both important to adapt your tactics but also to be aware of changes in your opponent’s game.