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    1. Top | #1
      lVegita is online now
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      Mental checklist for Table Tennis

      When I played StarCraft, I learned a nice concept from a guy named Sean Plott, or Day[9]. It was the "mental checklist". Basically, a list of core things you should loop trough your head while playing. Doing this, you don't forget the things you should pay attention to, and you have your next action already triggered.

      I adapted this concept to poker with good results, so I was thinking about trying it with table tennis.

      I did some starter examples, as I am still a starting player, but I felt it is a good exercise just to think about it.

      Feel free to comment, edit, ignore, post your own, or just bash any of the steps/lists.

      It may seem a lot of steps, but I believe most of you already do some of it unconsciously. The idea is not to do it forever, but to make it automatic.


      Checklist for serving

      • Don't rush the serve, take your time
      • Choose a serve
      o Remember your serving history in this match
      o Which serves/placement gave your opponent more trouble?
      o Which serve he may be expecting now?
      o Does the position of your opponent favor any placement?
      o What kind of return do you want?
      o …?
      • Think about the most likely 3rd ball from your opponent and what you will do with that
      • Serve
      • Get in position for your 3rd ball


      Checklist for receiving

      • Get in position
      • Look for tells or patterns from your opponent previous services
      o Does the positioning change?
      o Does the grip change?
      o Does the height of the toss change?
      o …?
      • Look for the direction of your opponent's racket during the contact with the ball, to read the spin
      • Chose a return
      o What kind of return does your opponent expect with that serve?
      o Is your opponent rushing to a pre-planned position?
      o …?
      • Return the ball
      • Get in position for his 3rd ball


      Checklist for general playing

      • Don't wait for the ball to hit your face to decide what to do
      • Watch the direction of the ball while leaving your opponent's racket and
      • Try to get in position before the ball hits your side of the table
      • Choose your move and the height of the ball/stage of the bounce that you want to hit
      • Choose a placement and aim to it, don’t just return the ball anywhere
      • Don't rush your swing, if you got there in time, you will have the time to do it properly
      • Reset you position for the next ball


      Obs: the formatting got screwed on Tapatalk
      Last edited by lVegita; 08-13-2019 at 10:40 PM.

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    3. Top | #2
      lVegita is online now
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      If anyone is interested:

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    5. Top | #3
      Loopadoop is offline
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      Every player can use these adapted to their strengths and weaknesses.

    6. Top | #4
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    7. Top | #5
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      Quote Originally Posted by lVegita View Post
      When I played StarCraft, I learned a nice concept from a guy named Sean Plott, or Day[9]. It was the "mental checklist". Basically, a list of core things you should loop trough your head while playing. Doing this, you don't forget the things you should pay attention to, and you have your next action already triggered.

      I adapted this concept to poker with good results, so I was thinking about trying it with table tennis.

      I did some starter examples, as I am still a starting player, but I felt it is a good exercise just to think about it.

      Feel free to comment, edit, ignore, post your own, or just bash any of the steps/lists.

      It may seem a lot of steps, but I believe most of you already do some of it unconsciously. The idea is not to do it forever, but to make it automatic.


      Checklist for serving

      • Don't rush the serve, take your time
      • Choose a serve
      o Remember your serving history in this match
      o Which serves/placement gave your opponent more trouble?
      o Which serve he may be expecting now?
      o Does the position of your opponent favor any placement?
      o What kind of return do you want?
      o …?
      • Think about the most likely 3rd ball from your opponent and what you will do with that
      • Serve
      • Get in position for your 3rd ball


      Checklist for receiving

      • Get in position
      • Look for tells or patterns from your opponent previous services
      o Does the positioning change?
      o Does the grip change?
      o Does the height of the toss change?
      o …?
      • Look for the direction of your opponent's racket during the contact with the ball, to read the spin
      • Chose a return
      o What kind of return does your opponent expect with that serve?
      o Is your opponent rushing to a pre-planned position?
      o …?
      • Return the ball
      • Get in position for his 3rd ball


      Checklist for general playing

      • Don't wait for the ball to hit your face to decide what to do
      • Watch the direction of the ball while leaving your opponent's racket and
      • Try to get in position before the ball hits your side of the table
      • Choose your move and the height of the ball/stage of the bounce that you want to hit
      • Choose a placement and aim to it, don’t just return the ball anywhere
      • Don't rush your swing, if you got there in time, you will have the time to do it properly
      • Reset you position for the next ball


      Obs: the formatting got screwed on Tapatalk

      This is very nice. The difficulty is in keeping the focus and going through this in the middle of the game. But I think with a bit of training, this is also achievable.

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    9. Top | #6
      vvk1 is offline
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      My suggestion for receiving check list is to pay attention to the ball's trajectory on the table and to learn to recognize spin from that.

      The reason for this is simple. Ball toss height/grip/positioning/direction of racket angle/etc - all these are a lot of factors - all of which happen in a fraction of the time the ball travels over the table and are thus much harder to observe/develop reflexes for.

      Plus if you condition yourself to look at ball trajectory, then it does not matter what disguising motions are used by your opponent (or even if they are serving illegally).

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    11. Top | #7
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      Let me add mental preparation before the game. If you are feeling a bit tensed, make some relaxation like mental imagery, breathing exercises, etc. If you are feeling a bit down, then warming up and reving up.

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    13. Top | #8
      lVegita is online now
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      Quote Originally Posted by perham View Post
      This is very nice. The difficulty is in keeping the focus and going through this in the middle of the game. But I think with a bit of training, this is also achievable.
      Yep, it is difficult. The cool thing is that you can try to think about/memorize it away from the table, and if you can internalize even one item per training, you will improve. It is like a shadow training for the mind.

      In my first month playing, I would always forget to get back in position after serving. It took a lot of "damn man, just get back in there, it is not that difficult" before I started to think about it before serving, and eventually becoming automatic.

    14. Top | #9
      lVegita is online now
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      Quote Originally Posted by vvk1 View Post
      My suggestion for receiving check list is to pay attention to the ball's trajectory on the table and to learn to recognize spin from that.

      The reason for this is simple. Ball toss height/grip/positioning/direction of racket angle/etc - all these are a lot of factors - all of which happen in a fraction of the time the ball travels over the table and are thus much harder to observe/develop reflexes for.

      Plus if you condition yourself to look at ball trajectory, then it does not matter what disguising motions are used by your opponent (or even if they are serving illegally).
      Oh yeah, this is one thing I always forget to do, I will certainly add this to my list.

      There is a video from Ma Long training receive from LGL hidden serves, I guess he is training exactly that:


    15. Top | #10
      lVegita is online now
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      Quote Originally Posted by yogi_bear View Post
      Let me add mental preparation before the game. If you are feeling a bit tensed, make some relaxation like mental imagery, breathing exercises, etc. If you are feeling a bit down, then warming up and reving up.
      A pre-game checklist is indeed a great thing to do. Didn’t think about that. And I actually heard about a lot of top athletes using mental visualization techniques, I will look that up for sure.

    16. Top | #11
      perham is offline
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      Quote Originally Posted by lVegita View Post
      Yep, it is difficult. The cool thing is that you can try to think about/memorize it away from the table, and if you can internalize even one item per training, you will improve. It is like a shadow training for the mind.

      In my first month playing, I would always forget to get back in position after serving. It took a lot of "damn man, just get back in there, it is not that difficult" before I started to think about it before serving, and eventually becoming automatic.
      Yeah, that and reseting the position after each counter loop, and keeping the weight on the front foot. Sometimes I lose few points in a row before reminding myself what the problem is. Basically every rally I'm telling myself reset, weight forward, go through the ball, start from the back, loosen the wrist, stop in the middle. It was definitely harder in the beginning. Now it's becoming a routine.

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    18. Top | #12
      lVegita is online now
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      Quote Originally Posted by perham View Post
      Yeah, that and reseting the position after each counter loop, and keeping the weight on the front foot. Sometimes I lose few points in a row before reminding myself what the problem is. Basically every rally I'm telling myself reset, weight forward, go through the ball, start from the back, loosen the wrist, stop in the middle. It was definitely harder in the beginning. Now it's becoming a routine.
      That's a mental checklist right there! I guess everyone does some of it, little by little, as soon as a new lack of skill is identified.
      We are slowly going from the unconscious incompetence to the conscious incompetence and up.

      Click image for larger version. 

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      What I am trying to do, is to create an explicit checklist, with inputs from others, to help reducing the number of unconscious competences and speed up the whole process.

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    20. Top | #13
      tropical is offline
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      I've seen so many players with mental softness lost at critical moments; i.e. 10-8,10-10, etc. Couple high level players I know suggest to imagine 0-0 regardless of score to avoid muscle/mental tense.

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    22. Top | #14
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      Quote Originally Posted by tropical View Post
      I've seen so many players with mental softness lost at critical moments; i.e. 10-8,10-10, etc. Couple high level players I know suggest to imagine 0-0 regardless of score to avoid muscle/mental tense.
      Actually an international player once told me that he always sings a song in his head when he’s playing.

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    24. Top | #15
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      Reset, watch the ball and the opponent before they hit the ball.

      Reset, watch the ball and the opponent.

      Don't think. Just respond. Watch and respond.

      During training, you work on stuff. But in the end, you try and make those things automatic so you do them without even realizing you are doing them.
      Spin Everything.

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    26. Top | #16
      lVegita is online now
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      Quote Originally Posted by UpSideDownCarl View Post
      Reset, watch the ball and the opponent before they hit the ball.

      Reset, watch the ball and the opponent.

      Don't think. Just respond. Watch and respond.

      During training, you work on stuff. But in the end, you try and make those things automatic so you do them without even realizing you are doing them.
      That’s the final goal, that’s the unconscious competence.
      But in order to get there, we need to know what to do and do it consciously first. That’s the reason for the checklist. It is just a tool to get to the "Don't think. Just respond" state with time.

      Trying to read the spin from the ball itself, as vvk1 said, is something I always forget to do, so I still have to tell myself to do that. Same for what perham said.

      And I pretty sure that there is a lot of things I should be paying attention to in game, that I’m not even aware of

    27. Top | #17
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      Quote Originally Posted by lVegita View Post
      That’s the final goal, that’s the unconscious competence.
      But in order to get there, we need to know what to do and do it consciously first. That’s the reason for the checklist. It is just a tool to get to the "Don't think. Just respond" state with time.

      Trying to read the spin from the ball itself, as vvk1 said, is something I always forget to do, so I still have to tell myself to do that. Same for what perham said.

      And I pretty sure that there is a lot of things I should be paying attention to in game, that I’m not even aware of
      In training and practice, you work on things. 1 or 2 at a time is good. Too many things at once and they all go out the window.

      Once you are in a match, let autopilot take over as much as possible. If you are trying to think too much, it blocks you from using autopilot productively. Often, adults are good at the thinking and planning and cluttering the mind stuff. But not so good at letting the training you have do the the talking so that you are free to respond to whatever comes up.

      Practicing being free to respond to whatever comes up, practicing getting your mind clear, open, ready, is worth it.

      At lower levels, people think of TT as being about developing the skills, the strokes, the techniques. As you get to higher levels, you learn that being clear, focused and aware of what your opponent is doing is crucial to what you will be able to do to the incoming ball.

      I do think the comments about learning to read the spin from the trajectory of the ball are important. That would be part of being open and observing. I totally agree with that. You can train that. You can practice that. You don't even need to be at a table to practice that. Have a look at Brett Clarke's TTEdge App that trains you to read the spin on serves better by playing a video game and watching.

      He also has videos of people serving to watch to learn to read the spin better.

      Those are skills to train. When you train them effectively, you start doing that stuff subconsciously and responding faster to it. So, sure, train that stuff. But definitely work on letting your mind be clear, relaxed and EMPTY so you can respond to whatever you see.

      That is a skill to try and cultivate that will do a lot for you in match play. More than you realize. Because we know more than we realize and block a lot of it by overthinking things.

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    29. Top | #18
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      BTW: I used to train a lot with a friend who is a lefty and has a mean lefty hook on his loop.

      I remember there was a point when I could not really tell where the ball was. I could see it. But my brain had trouble processing the info and even though I was seeing it, in a certain way, I wasn't. And I would swing and not be quite where the ball was fairly often.

      I remember a point where I started seeing the trajectory of the ball, as he was contacting the ball. It was weird. It was cool. By practicing and sticking with it, my brain put the pieces of the puzzle together so I could see the arc of the ball and where it would end up, before the ball got over the net.

      Now, this guy could hook but he also could straight topspin or fade. So it wasn't just that I got used to the hook because he always gave the hook. It was that I started seeing the shot and which spin was on it much quicker. I didn't think about it. In fact, the harder I tried, the worse off I was. But at a certain point, without trying, my brain put the pieces together and gave me the picture so I could see what was coming much better, much faster.

      Then, I remember playing with a guy who was a lefty who was pretty high level: 2500+. Now I am not a very high level. I am a mediocre player who does some things well. So he was much higher than me. I was just hitting with this guy, warming him up for the guy he was getting ready to train with (who was, at the moment giving a lesson). His training partner (who was giving the lesson) recommended he hit with me to warm up. At first this guy was not all that happy at the suggestion because he knew my level and most righties at my level cannot handle his (lefty) hook. His has much more spin than my training partner because he is a much higher level player.

      But after he started looping and I was blocking for him, he was very happy. He also noticed I had no problem turning to my FH and counterlooping his hooks. That is a skill most people my level would not be able to do to his loop. Anyway, he had fun warming up with me and after he asked how I was able to handle his hook when so many righties, even at his level, have more trouble with it than I seemed to have.

      I told him that one of my favorite training partners was a lefty with a pretty good loop who was a couple of levels higher than me. Then he understood. I had played against it enough to read the spin and be comfortable responding to it without needing to think about it.

      You do the practice. But when it is show time, a clear mind is a very valuable thing. So, learning how to keep your mind clear and open is valuable.

      That was the same idea when I was performing in the circus.
      Last edited by UpSideDownCarl; 08-15-2019 at 02:43 PM.

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    31. Top | #19
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      Quote Originally Posted by UpSideDownCarl View Post
      You don't even need to be at a table to practice that. Have a look at Brett Clarke's TTEdge App that trains you to read the spin on serves better by playing a video game and watching.

      He also has videos of people serving to watch to learn to read the spin better.
      I was thinking about looking for something like that yesterday! Unfortunately, it seems the app is no longer available for android. I would love to try that. I will still look for the videos though. Thanks for pointing that out!

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      One time there was a video of me playing a match and someone who watched the video said something like: "what the heck is Carl doing? Is it legal to let your forearm rest on the table like that before you serve?"

      I got the idea from a friend who helped me improve. He told me to do it. He said, when I was serving, I was tossing to fast and not taking my time to get ready mentally. When whoever asked the question about whether it was legal to rest your forearm on the table, someone posted this photo of Ma Long doing the same. All I can tell you is, starting from there does a host of things:

      1) You darn sure are as low as is legal. To have your forearm there you have to get down low.
      2) By having the forearm on the table and angled back so your hand is behind the end line, you are ensuring that you are not starting your toss below the table or over the back of the table.
      3) By doing this, you ensure there is a position you can pause in to take a moment and focus, to not rush.

      Then you don't need the item on the checklist that says: "don't rush the serve." Because you have something physical that gives you the tools to slow down before you serve.

      Try it.

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