Table tennis clubs in England can reopen again from 17 May. Hooray!
Most people have not been able to play at a club since the end of October 2020, a 7 month break. And of course many others haven’t played table tennis since before March 2020, a 14 month break.
Do you remember when it was going to be just three weeks to “flatten the curve”? Well it didn’t quite work out like that. But hopefully the worst is behind us and we can look forward to playing the sport we love in the next few weeks and months.
I have been coaching for the past three weeks, so I have a bit of a head start. The players I coach are delighted to be playing again. Yes, we are all a little slower and a little softer around the stomachs, but most players have retained their skills and in some instances the enforced break seems to have helped their game.
In this article, I share my 7 top tips to help you return to play and quickly get back into your table tennis groove.
1. Do a proper warm-up
Yes, I know, warm-ups are boring. We all know we should do them, but most of us never do, do we? Well, if there is one time in your life when you should do a proper warm-up, it is now.
Before your first table tennis session, spend 10 minutes warming-up your body. Some light jogging, side-steps, running on the spot, dynamic stretches or some shadow play will be fine.
Your goal is to get your muscles active and ready for table tennis exercise. Most of us have lost some table tennis fitness over the past year. Our muscles are a little weaker. So a good warm-up will help loosen the body and prepare you for your table tennis session.
The last thing you want to do is injure yourself during your first session playing table tennis again. So do that warm-up. You promise me? Good.
2. Start slow
You may feel the temptation to get to the table and start unleashing your big shots straight away. Well, just park that urge for the time being. You need to ease yourself back to playing and also be kind to your training partner, who may not have played for some time either.
Just start slowly. Spend a little more time than usual playing forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand. Start the rallies at 50% of your usual speed and reconnect with your bat, the ball and the table. When you find a consistent rhythm, then you can speed up a little. Your main focus is to keep the ball on the table and hit a lot of balls.
3. Regain your sharpness
When you haven’t played for a long while, you probably won’t feel very sharp to begin with. Your reactions will be slower. Your feet will be heavier. You will find it harder to cope with random play. This is very usual. I experienced this when I returned to playing. Most of the players I coach also lacked sharpness to begin with.
To help you regain your sharpness, I recommend doing some irregular rallying drills. These are drills where you are not quite sure where the ball is going to go. An example of this could be playing forehand to forehand and your partner makes a random switch to your backhand. This type of drill forces you to watch your opponent closely, make a quick movement with your feet and switch between forehand and backhand strokes.
Here’s a video with some examples of irregular rallying drills. I have been doing all of these drills with the players I coach and it helps enormously with regaining sharpness.
4. Forget matches for the time being
In your first two or three training sessions, it’s not really worth playing any matches. It will probably be a frustrating experience. Your level may not be what it was, with too many poor shots and unforced errors. It’s a waste of time really.
But it is definitely worth doing some serve and receive exercises, where you play out the point (without keeping score). This will help prepare you for when you do start playing matches again.
An example of this would be doing a short backspin serve, your partner pushes to your forehand, you do a forehand loop and then you play out the point.
Another example would be your partner serving either short backspin or long topspin and you have to return the serve to your partner’s backhand and then play out the point.
There are loads of different drills you can do. But the key focus is to get used to playing these first five shots in the rally again – serve, receive, 3rd ball, 4th ball, 5th ball. This will sharpen your match-play skills, without the pressure of counting points.
5. Find your happy place
This past year has been fairly joyless, so please enjoy the experience of playing again. Don’t worry if your skills have deteriorated a little. You will quickly catch-up.
And don’t take your first session too seriously. Just take pleasure in playing again. Your goal is to have a physical work-out, hit lots of balls and regain some consistency.
Play with a smile on your face!
6. Take time to talk
Human beings are social creatures by nature. Enforced isolation over several months is not great for mental health. I’m sure we have all suffered in some way. I know I have. So take time to chat to your training partner. Reconnect with humanity!
Part of the joy of coaching again these past three weeks has been to talk to people I have not seen for several months. I like listening to what they have been up to, understanding hardships they have encountered and being inspired by positive changes which have occurred in their lives.
Part of returning to play is about learning to be social again. And what a wondrous thing that is, when it has been denied for so long.
7. Stretch, stretch and stretch some more
When you finish playing (and chatting), make some time to do some stretches. Much like the warm-up this is something we all know we should do, but most of us don’t bother with.
Well this time is different. You will be using muscles you have not used for a while and they will be tired. Ten minutes of stretching will make you feel less sore the next day. Your body will thank you!
Check your rubbers
So that’s my 7 top tips to get back into your table tennis grove. I will briefly mention equipment. If you have not played for several months (or over a year), you should check the condition of your table tennis bat. If your rubbers need replacing, then now is the time to purchase. You can get your new rubbers ready in time for when clubs reopen. If you are in the UK I highly recommend buying your rubbers from Bribar Table Tennis. If you are in the USA, I recommend purchasing new rubbers for Megaspin.
I am very excited about playing at my club again. I will also be posting new videos and writing new articles from June onwards. Let’s get back to that table and hit some balls!