How to Improve Your Consistency

This is Episode 034 of the Ask a Table Tennis Coach podcast. Today  we have 2 questions on the topic of training to improve your consistency from Jim and James.

Jim asks…

“What is the best way of practicing to improve your consistency? I find that my shots can beat a lot of people but I still lose because my consistency is just not good enough, even after a lot of practice. I’ve heard it’s purely about time on the table but I feel I may be practicing the wrong things and learning the wrong techniques, so more practice could be counter-productive.”

James asks…

“Hi Ben! My question for you is how to improve consistency at looping in a match. During a match my loop lands about 60% of the time, compared to 90% in practice. I think I would have to make more adjustments when playing in a match, however like you said in an earlier episode we play by instinct. So it’s hard to tell yourself to adjust on every ball.”

We’ve got 2 fairly similar questions here. I’m going to start by giving you some general thoughts on how to become a consistent player, then we can move on from there. Here are some ideas.

Firstly I think it is really important that we reward ourselves for consistency in training. Hitting a really big shot and doing something fancy always feels good, but we don’t really get that elated feeling by being consistent. We don’t really feel good by not making a mistake in a couple of minutes while doing a drill.

We need to find ways to make that happen and one way to do that would be to set goals. Maybe you can set yourself a goal to make 20 forehand open-ups in a row before you move onto the next drill. You’re not actually able to move on until you’ve proved yourself to be a consistent player.

What I used to do with the kids at school sometimes is that they would have to do 10 forehands in a row, and once they’ve done that they can go on and do 10 backhands. After that they can move on and do 20 forehands, and so on.

It was all about consistency and at the end of the session I would go around and ask people what level they got up to. Maybe some were still on 20 backhands, because they weren’t able to do that, and others were on 80 forehands because they were much more consistent and made it through.

So set goals, reward yourself for consistency and generally play at a slower pace while training. You don’t always have to be going at 100% all the time. Do some basic drills but instead of getting through them once or twice, aim to get through them 6 or 7 times. This makes you play long and consistent rallies, and to do that you’re going to have to slow down the speed a bit and keep the ball on the table.

What you are doing there is you are training your consistency and the ability to keep going for long rallies while keeping the ball on the table.

Now multi-ball can be detrimental to consistency if you use it wrongly. The main reason would be is that there is no pain, or issue, when you miss a ball because you get another one straight away. Whereas if you are training with 1 ball and you miss it you’ll need to stop playing, chase the ball, grab it and go back to the table.

That’s annoying, and you don’t want to do that. Just playing with 1 ball in the hall can be a great way to make sure that you’re not missing all the time because you’ve had enough of chasing the ball and you want to play. This encourages you to keep it on the table.

Another thing I want to mention is the way that Sam played during the Expert in a Year Challenge. I’m assuming most of you have heard about it, but if you haven’t you can see it here.

Because Sam was playing with me all the time and I was such a higher level than he was what happened was that in the matches he ended up basically having to go for really high risk shots. He knew that if he just kept the ball on the table, I was going to beat him. So the only way to win points was to do something awesome that would surprise me and win the point.

The problem with that is it trained him to be a really risky and wild player, which in turn made his consistency quite poor. My advice would be to play lots of down matches. Play against players that are weaker than you and you should beat easily. That will put a bit of pressure on and make you a bit more consistent, which you can develop into your game.

The next thing you could do is to play with a handicap. Lets say you are playing against a recreational player, like your sister or mum, and they aren’t really good at table tennis which means you should beat them pretty easily. You could give them a head start, maybe a 7-0 or 8-0 head start, and what that is going to do is force you to play consistently.

If you would go in swinging wildly with all your shots, you’re probably going to miss 6 or 7 and they’re going to win the game if you have a handicap. So a handicap can be a great way of teaching you how to play a more consistent game, keep the ball on the table and not making so many unforced errors.

Now when it comes to consistency in matches versus practice it’s important to realize that it’s always going to fall off a bit. You’re never going to be able to be as consistent in a match as you are in practice. This is because in a match your opponent is solely focused on trying to make you miss, which is often the opposite in training.

In a match your opponent is trying to make you miss. They are trying to make it difficult for you, therefore it’s going to be a lot tougher to get all of your shots on. You need to have loops in your arsenal that you know are going to go on 100% of the time.

For example if you do a short serve and someone gives you a standard long push to your forehand, you need to have a loop that you are confident to play and that isn’t going to miss.

Lets say we do that. A short serve, long push to the forehand, and you’re going to go for a loop. You could go for a massive loop kill that you’re trying to win the point on but chances are that’s a bit risky and might miss sometimes. So you need to get the balance right, how much you are going to go for it versus how much you want it on the table.

I think this is really important, especially on the first loop, to train yourself to get that on the table. Too many players just go wild on the first loop and there’s really no need for it.

This is where it comes down to your experience and level of ability. Look at top players and maybe they are doing a really powerful and impressive first loop. But maybe for them that shot is one that they know is going to go on 99% of the time. The reason it looks so impressive is that they are high level players.

They are not actually being so risky on the first ball, it just looks risky to us because we aren’t on the same level. We need to be doing the same by having that 99% success loop to use that’s going to be slower and less impressive to look at, but it will keep us in the rally and we can look to win the point at a later stage.

I think this is something really important for someone who’s playing a match. Just take something off your loops and make sure they go on the table because table tennis is a game of consistency and it’s often to most consistent player that’s going to win.

It’s not about being a big one shot wonder player who’s able to hit absolute blinders, while missing half of them as well. 99% of the time those shots need to go on and you can’t afford to be making all these unforced errors.

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