Table tennis is the most difficult and frustrating sport I have ever played

says beginner (rating 700)
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A few years ago, my company had a table tennis tournament and I finished in second place. Then came the pandemic, and we didn't have another tournament until this year.

For the past 6 months, I've been going to the local table tennis club, getting lessons and coaching, thinking that it would put me over the top. I felt like I was improving and learning new skills. Of course, it's easy to do well in drills and practice, when the coach tells you exactly where he'll hit the ball and with what kind of spin. I still struggled in games, because the opponent doesn't tell you that stuff beforehand.

But still, I figured with my new skills I should do well in this year's tournament. One of my coworkers who saw me practicing at the club said he thought I would win the tournament. Then the tournament came and I lost my first and only match! It was definitely a choke job. My normally reliable serve either went into the net or went long countless times. I felt nervous and was afraid to attack and to use the new skills I had learned. Even with all that, I had a 1-0 lead (best of 3) and had a couple match points in the 3rd game. I blew it. Doesn't matter though, even if I had won that match, I don't think I would have won the next match given how scared I was playing.

So it's quite shocking to me that I would spend 6 months training at the club and spend almost $1000, and I have nothing to show for it. In fact, I ended up doing worse than in the last tournament. That is just inconceivable and unfathomable to me.

It's not just in a high pressure tournament where I come up short. Even when I'm playing meaningless games, I haven't done very well. In the days before the company tournament, I was practicing with some coworkers who used to be around my level and who said they hadn't played ping pong in 3 years. I figured with my 6 months of training, I would have put some distance between myself and them. Nope. They were still able to beat me. And at the club, they have you play matches against people around your skill level. I'll watch some of those people play and I'll think "I can definitely beat them", and then of course I lose to them. I end up losing maybe 75% of the time. And there are literally 5 year olds who can beat me.

I'm not trying to become good enough to make the Olympics. I just want to win this stupid office tournament. But now I have to stew for another year. I can't imagine being an Olympic athlete who loses. Then you have to wait FOUR years for your next chance - insanity!

I feel like in order for me to get a lot better (and I just mean to become a very good beginner player), I'd have to spend maybe 8 hours a day, 7 days a week training, and I'd have to spend several thousand dollars. I'm generally good at sports, but table tennis definitely seems like a very difficult sport to become good at, and it has definitely been the most frustrating for me.

I think I'm going to take a break from the lessons/coaching, but I'll still go to the club to play games. I think I need more game experience than lessons at this point. They started me out with a 600 rating, but that may have been too optimistic. I'll probably be under 400 in no time after some more 5-year olds kick my butt.
 
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I feel your pain - it’s very frustrating when you’re on that journey (as I am too)

A lot of it is tightness and tension but it’s also about learning the strokes, timing, positions etc that are required to be a good player but not yet having the consistency or confidence to execute them in matches - this ends up being the worst of both worlds.

I have found, after a year, that I’m getting better at executing in informal matches that matter less, but in important league matches I still struggle to do so. I know I have the shots now but I don’t use them when I should in matches and revert to defensive push play.

Keep at it, it will improve with commitment and time.
 
It sounds like you are taking it too seriously. If the only thing you want to do is to win an office tournament fine, otherwise relax and try to have some fun that’s what counts not the to win or loose.
That said remember that serve and reserve receive is half the game. I changed my rubber to a more difficult one and since then my serve receive suffers so I loose a lot of games that I used to win, but it’s getting slowly better and eventually I will catch up.

Cheers
L-zr
 
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Is your coach actually helping you win at matches or just drilling with strokes? Is he/are you analyzing the videos of your matches to figure out what is going on? Are you using equipment too fast or unsuitable for your style of play? Are you playing like you are training, i'e putting the strokes you are training for vs breaking down and doing something else? Is your coach feeding you balls similar to what you are not getting correctly during your match to practice against? Did your coach tell you anything about the hop hop anticipatory foot work/adjusting your position and distance depending on what your opponent is about to do? Are you keeping low and balanced all during the match? Are you pushing off with the ball of your feet?
 

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No offense, but it sounds like a mental problem that only you can fix for yourself. We all go through this with nerves. The more you have trained and worked actually makes the self-preserve worse.

It's easy to say and hard to do, but the only cure is to play for fun. You will play much better if you relax and don't think about winning and losing. Enjoy the game, do your best to play the new skills you trained, and whatever happens happens.
 
A few years ago, my company had a table tennis tournament and I finished in second place. Then came the pandemic, and we didn't have another tournament until this year.

For the past 6 months, I've been going to the local table tennis club, getting lessons and coaching, thinking that it would put me over the top. I felt like I was improving and learning new skills. Of course, it's easy to do well in drills and practice, when the coach tells you exactly where he'll hit the ball and with what kind of spin. I still struggled in games, because the opponent doesn't tell you that stuff beforehand.

But still, I figured with my new skills I should do well in this year's tournament. One of my coworkers who saw me practicing at the club said he thought I would win the tournament. Then the tournament came and I lost my first and only match! It was definitely a choke job. My normally reliable serve either went into the net or went long countless times. I felt nervous and was afraid to attack and to use the new skills I had learned. Even with all that, I had a 1-0 lead (best of 3) and had a couple match points in the 3rd game. I blew it. Doesn't matter though, even if I had won that match, I don't think I would have won the next match given how scared I was playing.

So it's quite shocking to me that I would spend 6 months training at the club and spend almost $1000, and I have nothing to show for it. In fact, I ended up doing worse than in the last tournament. That is just inconceivable and unfathomable to me.

It's not just in a high pressure tournament where I come up short. Even when I'm playing meaningless games, I haven't done very well. In the days before the company tournament, I was practicing with some coworkers who used to be around my level and who said they hadn't played ping pong in 3 years. I figured with my 6 months of training, I would have put some distance between myself and them. Nope. They were still able to beat me. And at the club, they have you play matches against people around your skill level. I'll watch some of those people play and I'll think "I can definitely beat them", and then of course I lose to them. I end up losing maybe 75% of the time. And there are literally 5 year olds who can beat me.

I'm not trying to become good enough to make the Olympics. I just want to win this stupid office tournament. But now I have to stew for another year. I can't imagine being an Olympic athlete who loses. Then you have to wait FOUR years for your next chance - insanity!

I feel like in order for me to get a lot better (and I just mean to become a very good beginner player), I'd have to spend maybe 8 hours a day, 7 days a week training, and I'd have to spend several thousand dollars. I'm generally good at sports, but table tennis definitely seems like a very difficult sport to become good at, and it has definitely been the most frustrating for me.

I think I'm going to take a break from the lessons/coaching, but I'll still go to the club to play games. I think I need more game experience than lessons at this point. They started me out with a 600 rating, but that may have been too optimistic. I'll probably be under 400 in no time after some more 5-year olds kick my butt.

I know exactly what you are going through!!! I had to stop playing league games as I couldn't cope with not playing as well as I know I'm capable of!!!! I didn't mind losing to better shots or a better player on the night. I couldn't cope with losing matches that I know I should of won.This is nothing to do with your coaching or your skill level,this is your mindset and how you cope when things go wrong.My advice would be to play the way you want to play,no matter if you win or lose, nothing bad is going to happen if you lose,try to remember the good points of your game,most of all enjoy yourself and don't be hard on yourself if you have a bad day!!

 
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In the long scheme of things, 6 months of training isn't really that long at all for table tennis. I trained with a coach for a few months too and thought that I would beat other beginners easily in match play. A few weeks ago I started playing league matches and also lost to a 10 year old.

People have commented that my technique is pretty good, but then I end up missing serves during matches and failing to do simple things I've drilled many times like lifting backspin pushes to open an attack. I realize I can play it safe and probably win a pushing war but I try to put into practice all that I've learned instead of just playing to win.

I think some of us beginners in the short term can get frustrated because our brains are overloaded with all sorts of techniques and strategies that we drill and understand but are not quite consistent at yet. So there's a small time period where we can lose to someone who has bad technique but high consistency can beat us using their own made up style. I believe that once I get more consistent with the proper technique, I'll eventually be able to easily beat these people.

Out of curiosity, what blade and rubbers are you using? I started training with a setup that was way too fast for me and ended up being a lot more consistent with a slower and more controlled setup (from an Off- blade with bouncy tensor rubber to an All+ setup with more linear rubbers) . I make a lot less mistakes now and have a lot more fun. This has translated to better match results too.
 
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In my experience, doing those coaching drills look really fancy but are not actually very helpful in game. Coaching love to focus on advanced training and footwork drills because they look fancy and it kinda justifies their own exhorbitant fees. I have seen guys train for years under these coaches and they aren't very good yet.

I think its better to focus in the 3 or 4 shots and sequences that you most often have to deal with in game. Basically the first 3 shots will appear in every point. You need to get good at returning serve, serving and 3rd ball, forehand loop, and handling the short and mid-ball.
 
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The OP brings up many good points
Table tennis is indeed probably the most complex individual sport (or at least one of the most) there is. Hardbat & sandpaper players say this is bad for the sport & I see their point but only like 10% . While the equipment greatly complicates the sport for better or worse I think it is 90% for the best because sponge era tabletennis allows individuals enhance the unique playing style of each human which are also usually very different in many ways on the strong side(usually forehand) & weakside (usually backhand) by making available rubbers and blades to design rackets to match individual's styles, goals & tastes.

Maybe ITTF & affiliates should stop lying to the public by trying to project the image that formal "tabletennis" is an easy sport. Informal basement or office or neighbourhood "ping pong" is an easy game and formal tabletennis is a totally different world.
Maybe ITTF (USATT etc.) need a good marketing slogan such as "Tabletennis - it is not for everyone" or "Table Tennis - Are you good enough to even belong let alone master it" or something.

Non-players who have no clue of table tennis as a sport, especially in countries like USA & Canada have a good laugh if you say things like reserach shows that tabletennis (mental) skills needed rank only second to astronauts or why tabletennis is the best recommended as best sport for both ends of life spectrum, brain development for children & as well as therapy for Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson's etc.

Formal table tennis is not for everyone. In addition to decent physical skills such as hand eye coordination, footspeed , reflexes etc., tabletennis does require some basic mental skill even at lower levels that are much higher than most other individual sport mostly because of the need to be able to solve complex spins in the shortest time even at low levels. One should make a self evaluation and decide if they have what it takes to be a sponge era table tennis player. If not they should not force the issue & waste their time in table tennis. There are other sports that are easier to play at lower levels (all sports are of course the hardest at the highest levels) . Pickleball is a brilliant design & designed expressly for this purpose (superfast learning curve & minimized spins & court size & for indoor & outdoors).



On the flipside my biggest pet peeve & a big problem is people who may have what it takes to be good or decent athletes in table tennis but rejecting table tennis as a silly basement game (as in USA). I get quite annoyed when doctors ask what you do for exercise & laugh when you say you play table tennis and they even ask you to try walking or jogging INSTEAD. Where I play table tennis there is an indoor walking track & I see lots of people young and old and athletic, spending their time mostly using ONLY walking or jogging as an exercise. I absolutely have nothing against walking or jogging & they are indeed competitive sport in Olympics & should be but for a regular younger person, I see walking & jogging as only as a secondary supplemental activity unless they lack the basic athletic skills for other sports such as for table tennis or any other sport for that matter.
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The most important parts when playing a game is.
To not have a blade that is too fast for you. To have rubbers that are not too spin sensitive. To be able to return most serves decently.
This aspects will make you loose confidence and will ruin the game.
One other aspect is not being tense but to be relaxed.

Cheers
L-zr
 
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It may be little consolation, but this could be pretty much anyone in this thread, forum or the whole world of table tennis (no matter whether one is a complete noob, a decent amateur or a pro!).
Of course, as one gets better, they start to develop better coping mechanisms for recognising emotions, controlling them and using them to one's advantage. That is no easy feat, and it comes with a lot of practice, over many years.
A while back, I started a thread on relaxing when playing TT (including the role that deep breathing plays in all that); you may find that useful.
Of course, many other important points have been raised in this thread about technique in traing vs games and also suitable equipment.

Beyond table tennis, any relatively complex skill/sport/profession takes a long to master, anyway.
You may have heard about the famous 10,000 hours rule: while this has a little bit of a pop psyxchology slant to it, there is still some truth in the fact that a lot of practice with real purpose is required to become a "master" and it will likely take more time than you think to become "good" at anything that matters.
It is important to realise that improvements are seldom linearly correlated with practice and they sometimes follow strange, sudden, and non-linear patterns.

A lot of patience, dedication (and often time and money) are required in the pursuit of mastering something. The question is also whether that is worth and/or possible for you (or anyone else trying to learn). If it is, then stick withh it and try tio have fun along the way worrying less about results! 😄

PS=Of course, like anybody here I have shared all those frustrations in my table tennis journey (a little over 10 years since I have started playing at a reasonable level and with good effort).
On the other hand, what I do in my day job (I am a Professor of Aritificial Intelligence) is something (computer science) that I have been immersed in since I was 7.
While it's been a 40 years journey, there are still days when I am frustrated, disappointed and feel rather stupid because things don't go according to plan. Thankfully though I still like what I do, and that reminds me of what's fun about that. Same applies to table tennis 😅
 
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says beginner (rating 700)
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Is your coach actually helping you win at matches or just drilling with strokes? Is he/are you analyzing the videos of your matches to figure out what is going on? Are you using equipment too fast or unsuitable for your style of play? Are you playing like you are training, i'e putting the strokes you are training for vs breaking down and doing something else? Is your coach feeding you balls similar to what you are not getting correctly during your match to practice against? Did your coach tell you anything about the hop hop anticipatory foot work/adjusting your position and distance depending on what your opponent is about to do? Are you keeping low and balanced all during the match? Are you pushing off with the ball of your feet?
They don't record videos of matches at this club. There also seems to be a very high player to coach ratio, so they don't watch you play unless they're working directly with you. I have to tell him situations I struggle with during games, and then he tries to help with those situations. Unfortunately I didn't realize the mental game would be such a huge part of table tennis. Also this coach is always telling me to stand very close to the table. I notice other coaches on Youtube have different suggestions on how far to stand from the table.
It's easy to say and hard to do, but the only cure is to play for fun. You will play much better if you relax and don't think about winning and losing. Enjoy the game, do your best to play the new skills you trained, and whatever happens happens.
It seems so paradoxical. You can only win if you don't care about winning.
Out of curiosity, what blade and rubbers are you using? I started training with a setup that was way too fast for me and ended up being a lot more consistent with a slower and more controlled setup (from an Off- blade with bouncy tensor rubber to an All+ setup with more linear rubbers) . I make a lot less mistakes now and have a lot more fun. This has translated to better match results too.
The most important parts when playing a game is.
To not have a blade that is too fast for you. To have rubbers that are not too spin sensitive. To be able to return most serves decently.
This aspects will make you loose confidence and will ruin the game.
One other aspect is not being tense but to be relaxed.
You guys may have identified one problem, at least. I have a couple paddles I got from colestt.com. One I got a few years ago when I played more defensively - it is an Air Touch01 blade with Air Scirocco 1.8 and Air DefenderS 1.5. Then I got another one a month ago after my coach said I could try 2.1 and 1.9 with my new all-around skills. So I got an Air Limba 7 blade with Air TigerS 2.1 and Air TigerS 1.9. I seemed to practice well with the new paddle, but in games I feel like a lot of my shots are going long. So maybe the new paddle is too thick? I'm going to go back to the old paddle to see if I play any better. I'm also thinking about trying long pips.
True. We are all masochists here
I was going to say... I must be a masochist for continuing to go to the club to suffer more beatings. If only my company would have a tournament for a sport I'm already good at. 😄

But yeah, I'm going to try to take all the advice about just focusing on executing proper technique and not worrying about the score. Hopefully that will lead to more wins as a side effect.
 
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I wrote about this problem some time ago in this very TTD forum. I was in the same boat as the thread starter. Some fellow club players mockingly said to me, " Hey Gozo, you have spent thousands of dollars under a coach, why do you still lose to us who have never taken coaching ha ha ha LOL LOL LOL " It was humiliating, ego busting and frustrating as hell. I went through this very same process.Some members who are more understanding will tell me, it is never a linear progression, more like a U shape progression. Initially you will suck at it for a while as your body adjust to new method of playing. It could be weeks or months. Sometimes you may get a somewhat W shape progression. You go down, up and down and up.Coming from someone who has been there, done that, I will say grit your teeth and bear with it for a while. Your glory days are just ahead of you. Don't give up.
 
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Winning is a by product of improvement. If you always focus on improving the winning will come sooner than you think ;) Improvement is always a 1 step back, 2 steps forward deal.

However if just winning the local office tournament is your goal, short term equipment changes may help. if the office players are using recreational paddles they are probably short pip no sponge bats that generate no spin. This means you can probably flat hit through most of these balls or focus on the feeling for topspin and develop that over time. Or if they are using cheap inverted rubbers that make a little spin, you could also use shortpips on one side and learn to hit flat (generally easier when starting) because most newer players tend to hit flat anyways. This can make dealing with small bits of sin heaps easier and get you to smacking the ball around your opposition. Leaning long pips could work but would definitely set you further back when it comes to winning (due to the different nature of how the spin works)

These options though depend on if you want to stick to learning TT long term or you just want to play enough at the club to be the best in the office and just play there.
 
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There are many different kinds of coaches. If a coach doesnt talk you through your improvement process and doesnt give you a realistic appreciation of what it takes to improve in table tennis, that coach is doing you a disservice, but this disservice is unfortunately common with coaches who learned as children but have never tried to make an adult learner a good player.

For many adult learners, the best coach is another adult who improved in adulthood. This adult learner can empathize with the challenges of improving at a point when one has a misguided view of the learning process.

The process OP is going through never ends. Right now I am trying to play again and I am losing to players that I used to know how to beat fairly easily because I am struggling to play a good stroke when they give me their uncoached junk blocks. I am pushing serves I used to loop-kill over the table. So I haven't grooved my topspin and adjusted it to the kinds of balls they give me so I am hitting lots of balls long, using my legs all wrong, hitting the ball to hard, going for too much and getting caught out of position etc.

The difference is that I have enough experience to know that this will not last forever as long as I continue to play. One problem I know caused this is that I used a different stroke in my shadow practice vs the topspin I used to use when I played at a high level. So over time, I will close the gap.

In any case, Carl used to make some great posts about block practice vs random practice. All in all, the OP has found the key. My first good coach hated general drills. He always had great improvement with his students because he always worked on skills in the context of winning points and improving how students responded to points they lost. He traveled with and coached his students in matches so he could know what to improve with their games. So you could have a really awkward looking game but you would win lots of matches because you had the skills to win.

Most coaches can't do this and don't get paid enough to do it. But having a realistic appreciation of the gap between practice and matches is very important to help you with your mental game.
 
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I've been trapped by that issue: training hard with a robot most of the time at the club, or doing drills with the guys who were willing to train instead of just doing matches. Also I had at least 1 training session/week with a coach, it was most of the time multiball drills until I asked for serve receive ones.

Serve receive is the most important part of the game, by far ! but you have to do it right: loading hundreds of serves ball after ball isn't enough, you have to replace yourself right after each serve as if there were an actual receive played by a "ghost" opponent.

and about intense training with robot, drills, multiball... I was definitely wrong, most of the pros prefer playing matches by far, when you see themin interviews, they all prefer doing matches, because it's actually what REALLY happens in league or tourneys: you just pratice for 2 minutes and then BANG the match starts.

Waldner used to train a few before matches, only to check if he had good feeling, good sensations, and it was mostly about serve/receive, 3rd to 4th ball played at max. And not more than 30 minutes.

Chinese pros train robot style because their textbook isn't based on feeeling or sensations: it's based on raw power, that's why they train a lot more to get that fitness conditioning required for their textbook. The new generation has more creativity and feeeling of the ball, they prefer to use variations to disrupt that textbook, as Moregardh or A. Lebrun do.

When I was younger, I used to train with a national coach at college/uni, we didn't do more than 1 hour drills, and then it was matches, for a total 2h30 session. When I was back at the club the guys played matches only after only 30 minutes training. And it was working at that time.

All the guys at my club just... play matches right after that lil' 30 minutes training, they don't learn something new that's sure, but they just want to check if everything's right with their hands and feet. Counterlooping on the FH diagonal for example is an excellent exercise to guess if you can control your opponent's spin, and vice/versa, if you can still place the ball at the right side of the table so your opponent can counterloop too. It's not about power, it's only control and ball placement, no need to throw heavy and fast counterloops.

So now I've just... put the robot back in the club's storage and train like everyone does, and it's better, I was definitely choking too much too when I was putting an insane amount of effort in textbook training. You definitely have too much high expectations when training like that, and this is exactly what leads to tensions.
 
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