Last weekend, I was having lunch with a friend of mine as we discussed the state of table tennis players in our group.
Among many other topics, the subject of being a tactical player came up. An interesting point was illustrated. “How can anyone become one if they haven’t learned?”
Everyone knows that there are many styles of playing table tennis.
There are players who have attacking or defensive styles as their primary strategy.
Then there are players who mix up their style. For instance, I prefer the style of having an attacking forehand and a chopping backhand for defense.
Don’t forget about players who hunt for rallies, hope that opponents make a mistake quicker, and players who rely on spin. However, don’t confuse this with making sound decisions.
So what’s the difference between tactical decisions and styles? To make it easier, here are a few examples of how to make a tactical decision:
- Where to place the shot?
- What spin should be used?
- Will a change of play cause the opponent to make mistakes?
A tactical game is a game where the players are doing everything possible, by putting into action every tactic or strategy learned, to win the match. Simply put!
A tactical player is a player who has developed their game to a point where they know how to perform every style. This player will have to be able to create combinations of styles of play at any given moment and do so in order to win the match. Keep in mind that changing styles is as simple as switching up one stroke.
When is the best time to switch up styles? Here are three thoughts to consider first before doing so:
• A tactical player doesn’t change their style of play because their current style isn’t working. This means that this player must dictate the game instead of succumbing to it.
Sometimes there are moments that can’t be helped but these must be controlled to a bare minimum. You must be the one who changes your style of play first in order to put your opponent in trouble.
• A tactical player must be able to think and react fast. They must also be able to be aware of the flow of the match.
This means that if your opponent shoots a screamer down the middle, then you must be able to respond with the correct stroke to set you up.
• A tactical player must also be a master of both defensive moves as well as explosive shots. This means that not only should you master forehand shots but you should be strong using your backhand as well.
Developing a Tactical Thought Process
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 are something which can be aided by a bench coach who may have observed different things from the outside to what you see in the 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 minimize your losses. Realizing why you lose points is often much more difficult and requires a 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 analyzing your opponent’s 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 counter-looping 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 cause 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.