5 alternative match-play exercises to help you improve

During practice sessions it’s quite easy to fall into the same routine every session. What I have witnessed players do over the years (including myself) is this: find a partner, quick knock-up and then matches. Find another partner, quick knock-up and then matches. Find yet another partner, quick knock-up then more matches. Repeat process until the end of the practice session.

This is fine up to a point. You get plenty of match practice (which is good), but you miss out on opportunities for targeted practice.

Sometimes it’s useful to mix things up a bit, especially the match-play element. You don’t always have to play the standard best of 3, 5 or 7 sets up to 11. There are alternative games you can play, which help you to work on weaknesses and strengths, put you outside your comfort zone and keep you focused and engaged.

Here are a five match-play exercises I use as both a coach and a player…

Serve and receive

How to play: Player A serves and the point is played out. Player A keeps on serving until player B (the receiver) wins two consecutive points. Player B now serves and keeps on serving until player A wins two consecutive points.

Benefit of exercise: This is a good exercise for practising different serves, return of serves, 3rd ball, 4th ball and 5th ball attack routines. There is less pressure compared to a match, because no one is keeping score. So you have more freedom to try out new things or take more risks than you normally would. But there is still an element of competition in the exercise – the server doesn’t want to lose to consecutive points and the receiver wants to win two consecutive points – so you still put lots of effort in.

Attack vs defence

How to play: Player A is the attacker. Player B is the defender. The defender is only allowed to push, block, chop and lob. The attacker can play any stroke, but can only win a point by using an attacking stroke (either a clean winner or forcing an error).

Benefit of exercise: This is a good exercise for players who are weak in either their attacking or defensive game. By facing your weakness head-on, you put yourself outside your comfort zone. But it’s actually quite liberating – you have no choice to attack / defend, so there is less decision making to be made. You can really focus on defensive / attacking skills.

If you’re the defender you should focus on pushes to prevent your opponent attacking, blocks to make your opponent move and chops and lobs to force some errors. If you’re not a confident attacker – this exercise can really help. There is less pressure, as you know your opponent not going to attack. Take your time, choose the right balls to attack and your confidence will grow.

This is quite fun to do if you have one player who usually defends being the attacker and one player who usually attacks being the defender. You can give each other tips as you play.

Only one push allowed

How to play: Every rally starts with a backspin serve, but each player is only allowed a maximum of one push shot. After a player has played their push shot, they must either flick (if the ball is short) or topspin (if the ball is long enough). Then play out the rally as normal. If a player plays more than one push, they lose the point.

Benefit of exercise: This is a very useful exercise for players who rely on pushing too much and are cautious to attack. Because you’re only allowed to push one, you are forced to take more risks. You have to attack! As you begin to get more attacks on the table, you will gain more confidence and attacking won’t seem so risky after all.

FH only, BH only

How to play: For the first set, both players are only allowed to use their forehand. If either player uses their backhand they lose the point. In the next set, both players are only allowed to use their backhand. If either player uses their forehand they lose the point.

Benefit of exercise: This is a good exercise to do if you often find your feet planted to the floor and reach for balls. You have no choice but to move your feet to get into position to play either backhand or forehand. It’s also good for working on ball placement. The object shouldn’t be to smash your opponent off the table, try and beat them by moving them around and placing the ball in awkward positions.

+2 points for a flick

How to play: Play up to 15 points, two serves each. Every rally starts with a short backspin serve. If the receiver plays a forehand and backhand flick and wins the rally they get 2 points. If the receiver plays a push and wins the rally, they only get 1 point.

Benefit of exercise: This is a good exercise for focusing on a specific skill. In the example above, the skill is a flick off a short backspin serve. Because the player gets 2 points if they execute a flick and win the rally, it encourages them to use the flick more often, building confidence. You can use this exercise for any attacking stroke – and both players could be working on different things at the same time, e.g. one player gets 2 points for a flick, the other player gets 2 points for a backhand topspin opening attack.

These are just a few of my suggestions. Do you use any other match-play exercises? Share your suggestions in the comment box below.

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