Changing your pushing mindset

Many players I coach come to me with the same issue.

They have a pushing problem.

In matches they will push, push, push, push, push – waiting and hoping the other player will make a mistake.

They aspire to be more attacking, but once the pushing starts in a match, they can’t seem to find a way out. If they do attack, in tends to be erratic and inconsistent, so they go back to push, push, push, push.

Does this sound familiar? Is this something you also struggle with? In this blog post, I will explain how you can change your pushing mindset and become more attacking.

My pushing problem

I know this pushing predicament very well. This is how I played table tennis when I first started.

I had success at a very low level with my pushing game. Against weak players I could keep pushing and they would eventually make a mistake. Or occasionally the ball would pop up high and I could give it a good hit.

Because I was able to hit those loose balls fairly consistently, I was under the illusion that I was more of an attacking player than a pusher.

But, as I started to play stronger players – players who made less mistakes and didn’t give me loose balls to hit – I started pushing more than before. I didn’t know how to attack a tight push, so my only option was to push back.

I reached a ceiling with my pushing game and I couldn’t progress any further. I had to admit that I was a pusher and this was holding me back. This frustrated me greatly.

Learning to loop

Fast forwards 10 years and today I’m a very different player. I’m still happy to push if I need to (tactically it can be a good strategy against some players), but now I attack much more.

There are two very important things I did to change my pushing mindset.

The first was learning to properly attack a backspin ball. Some people call this topspin, others call it a loop, but they are referring to the same thing.

This is a very different stroke to a flat hit. If you flat hit a backspin ball, you will manage to squeeze it over the net occasionally, but it’s very hard to do this consistently.

Instead, you need to spin the ball. The stroke starts low and finishes high and you brush the back of the ball.

A loop is a very different feeling shot to a hit. The timing is different (slightly later). The swing trajectory is different (low to high). The contact is different (brush, not a hit).

Here is a video where I explain the basics of the forehand loop.

And here is another video where I explain how to do a backhand loop.

(Note: I also recommend watching these forehand loop and backhand loop videos I made with Ferenc Horvath. He has excellent technique and a great way of explaining how to execute the shots).

To get these loops to work took me a lot of practice. I’m talking thousands and thousands or repetitions and lots of training drills. I didn’t worry about power too much to begin with. I just wanted to get the feel for spinning the ball up over the net and getting that brushing contact on the ball.

Looping in practice matches

The second thing I did to change my pushing mindset was to approach my practice matches in a completely different way.

Previously, when I played practice matches, I really wanted to win. I wouldn’t take any big risks. So guess what I would do? Yes, that’s right, I would push, push, push, push – reinforcing my pushing mindset.

I knew this had to change.

So I changed my approach to practice matches. A practice match is just practice. The score is irrelevant. Instead of worrying if I won or lost and who had bragging rights at the the club, I simply focused on looping, rather than pushing.

I would judge my performance by how I played, not by how many points I won. If I attempted a loop (rather than push), I was happy.

At first I lost to players I would normally beat, as I was too tense when attempting loops and made a few too many mistakes.

But the more I did it, the more consistent I became. I started beating the same players quite easily and also beating better players who I normally struggled against.

By not worrying if I won or lost – and focusing on looping rather than pushing – I actually started winning more.

When I was able to consistently loop in practice matches, I had the confidence to loop in competitive league matches. I had managed to change my mindset from pushing to looping.

Don’t give up

To begin with, I found it hard. I became worse, as I was trying to use a shot (the loop), which was alien to my game. I made lots of mistakes. I lost to players who were worse than me. It was tempting to give up on the loop and stick to pushing. But I persevered and eventually it started to work.

If you are in a similar position – if you push too much, but want to change – then you have to stick with the looping plan.

How long will this take?

It really does depend. Some players I coach pick it up very quickly and can be looping in matches in just a few weeks. Other players it takes much, much longer.

For me, I think it took a few years to really shift my pushing mindset. Even today, if I’m feeling particularly lazy, I can revert back to pushing a few too many times. But it’s a lot easier for me to snap myself out of it.

If your pushing mindset is really engrained (like mine was), it will take a while to change. But just keep going. Keep on trying to loop. It will transform your game and allow you to play at a higher level.

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