Training with Weaker Players
Make it an enjoyable experience
by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.
From time to time on the various forums that I frequent, I read posts from table tennis players complaining about having to play against weaker players and wasting their time. So today I'm going to talk about how to get the most benefit from those times when a player much worse than you comes up and says "How about a game?"
Check what they want
The first thing to do is make sure you know what they are after when weaker players ask for some of your time. Some may simply want to give a better player a game for the fun of it, or to judge their standard against yours. Others may be hoping that you can give them some tips to help them with their own play. And there are those that may be thinking that they are better than you, and be out to prove it!
So, assuming that the person asking you is quite a bit weaker than you are, ask them what they would like to do. If they are looking for a serious game of table tennis, give them one. Some people say that you should play as hard as you can, while others say that you should let them play a few rallies and have some fun. I personally am of the second school of thought - show them some of your best stuff to give them an idea of what can be done, and then let them have a few rallies so that they can enjoy themselves. Those opponents who want you to play hard all the time will let you know straight away if they think you are taking it easy.
If they are looking to improve their game or get some tips, then you can ask them whether they would mind if you use the time to do some training in return for giving them some help and advice. If they are agreeable, then there are many things you can do that will help them learn something and enjoy themselves while you still get some training done.
What do you want to do today?
Provided you have a weaker player that is willing to let you train in exchange for some help, you have a wealth of options at your disposal. Possible choices include:
Play to their strengths, and avoid their weaknesses. By allowing your opponent to play his best game against you, you will be forced to work harder at your own game, and be forced to look for other ways to win than just the obvious. You are in effect lifting your opponent's level to that of his best shots - which can really make you work hard. Imagine your opponent is a good blocker but weak against pushed balls. By sticking to mainly topspin returns, you will improve your game against blocks and be forced to find a way to penetrate his blocking using only your topspin game - which can be useful when you are playing another good player who blocks well but doesn't have any obvious weaknesses.
Playing only with your forehand side. You will have to use good footwork and smart tactics to avoid getting caught out on your backhand too often.
Combination bat players might like to try playing only with their normal side, but allow themselves to twiddle the bat.
Play to the same location for your opponent. By playing only to his forehand, your opponent has a much better idea where the ball will be going, and should be able to prepare much more easily. Against better weaker players (!? - oh, you know what I mean!) you can serve and return the ball to the same location, then play out the point.
Serve only no-spin balls, or only long serves. This works well for an opponent who can play strokes but can't return serves well.
Serve only one type of serve - this allows you to practice your serve and allows your opponent to know what type of serve to expect.
Serve a side-topspin and side-backspin variation of the same serve - you get to practice your serve, and your opponent gets to practice reading serves without having too many services to worry about.
Refuse to push. By using flicks and topspin shots only, you will make it easier for your opponent to attack you and put you under pressure.
Refuse to attack - an option for defensive players.
But what if he says no?
Against a weaker player who wants to play you but doesn't want to help you train, there are still things you can do to get some benefit, without offending your opponent.
Change your tactics - try using an advanced tactic that you have seen better players use (or have had used against you!). You will have more chance to practice it against a weaker player, where a better player would stop you from using it. An example of this would be serving long on purpose to get a weak loop return, then attempting to counterloop the ball. A better player would smoke it past you, but against a weaker player you have a bit more time and margin for error.
Use some of the techniques mentioned above, just don't make it as obvious or as often. For example, serving mainly long to give your opponent a chance to attack, but mixed in with enough short balls so that he doesn't realise that you are doing it on purpose. A little bit of diplomacy goes a long way.
Take the edge off your game and focus more on technique and placement. By throttling back on your power, you can use the match as a training exercise for your technique in a match play situation. Try to hit every ball in perfect form rather than just blasting through your opponent.
Cut out your best serves and serve returns - quite often just doing this alone will be enough to allow a weaker player to give you a good game. Most weaker players will have better rallying strokes than their serve and receive game.
Use matches against weaker players to concentrate on how to play a winning game. Players that only play stronger opposition sometimes forget how to win - they are always trying not to lose. A few games against a weaker opponent can help you focus on winning points rather than just trying not to be embarrassed by your stronger opponents.
Relax and enjoy it! Playing some games without the constant pressure applied by a better opponent allows you to try some new things and have some fun without being constantly punished for every little error you make.
Change your attitude
It might also help if you change your attitude to playing weaker players. Remember, at any typical club, if you are the strongest player you will have to play all weaker players, and vice versa. If you are in the top 25% of players at your club, then 75% of your possible opponents will be worse than you. You can't expect to only be playing the ones better than you - otherwise why can't they expect the same and not want to play you?
Some players also hate to play weaker players because they see them as possible competition in the future. Try to think of these players as future practice partners instead - the quicker you help them improve the more good practice partners you will have!
Unless you are the worst table tennis player in the world, sooner or later you'll have to hit or play games with someone who is worse than you are. Using some of the techniques above can make playing against weaker players an enjoyable experience for both you and your opponent, rather than something that must be endured.
© 2005-2019 Greg Letts
You may also read Greg's blog and purchase Australian TT videos from Greg's own website
How to play against blockers
Table Tennis: Getting a Grip
Building a Better Umpire
How to Scout your Opponent
Back to Base-ics
The Guide to Serving in Table Tennis
Wobbling the ball with Long Pimples
Playing with Long Pimples (Part 2)
Playing with Long Pimples (Part 1)
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