Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of players that have picked up bad habits through being self-taught or badly taught to play table tennis. Many of these players have played table tennis for years without much improvement. This is all too common, and unfortunately, many of these players have no real interest in improving.
Koki Niwa in Action – Image via ITTF Flickr
However, if you want to improve on something you have been doing for a long time, you may need to destroy everything you’ve learnt and have been repeating for years. You will need to return to a beginner state so you can begin to learn. Most people find this very hard to do. Just look at the players in your local league who have been stuck in the same division for donkey’s years without making a single change.
How does this happen that players can stay so technically bad for so long? It is to do with their mindset. They are only focused on the outcome without concentrating on the process of improving and technique. They have repeatedly chosen short-term results over long term success. Rather than focusing on footwork or contacting the ball well; they only concentrate on getting the ball back or hitting the ball hard. Fundamentals/basics should always come first. And, strangely hitting the ball on the other side of the table is not fundamental. It can drastically hinder your progress. If the outcome (getting the ball back) is their focus they will want to repeat the same bad action that achieved that outcome, regardless of technique.
It is much easier to learn from scratch than to unlearn bad habits that have been lingering for a long time. There is no internal resistance to overcome. No competing motor patterns to fight. It is even more difficult if you have achieved some subjective ‘success’ with your existing technique or paradigm. This is a psychological prison that many recreational players occupy.
The problem with long-term recreational players is that what they are doing feels right. Even though it is sub-optimal. And what is actually right feels wrong. This is where the resistance to adopt a new, or significantly change a technique stumbles. Additionally, in the process of changing, the player will often get much worse.
There is only one way to improve if you have been stuck playing technically bad for years:
- Forget everything you’ve learned.
- Prepare for feeling extremely uncomfortable.
- Understand that you’ll get far worse before you slowly begin to improve.
- Lose your results-oriented ego and focus only on the process.
Of course, there are motor patterns to undo and automatic responses to deal with. But, the willingness to change comes from the mind. Although there are new skills to master, the resistance to change is psychological. The incorrect technique will only get you so far before you hit a ceiling in which you won’t be able to break.
Check this video to avoid becoming an average table tennis player…