This is Episode 30 of the Ask a Table Tennis Coach podcast. Today’s episode could well be the most popular one so far because it’s actually been asked by 3 different listeners. It’s all about how to practice and improve your table tennis when you don’t have anyone to play with.
“What’s the best way to practice on your own if you don’t have a table or a partner?”
“I don’t have a partner but I want to practice table tennis. Apart from just bouncing the ball on the racket, is there some other way I can practice? How can I learn to hit different shots on my own?”
“What’s the best way to train when you don’t have a partner?”
So 3 very similar questions and it seems like a lot of people are struggling with this. What I’m going to do in this episode is just share 7 ideas I’ve got that I think are going to help you with this. Training on your own might not be as fun as training with a partner but I believe if you stick with it and build these into your weekly routine you’re going to start seeing some big improvements in your game.
It might not be perfect but it’s about doing the best with what you’ve got. Of course you do need to find time to train on the table, with a coach, or in a club. But there’s going to be plenty of people who can maybe only train once a week in that kind of situation and they want to do other stuff around that. Here are some ideas that you can use.
The first one would be training with a robot. This is probably the best way of training on your own. It’s quite expensive to buy a robot and the top ones can be upwards of $2,000 or a bit less in pounds. You can also get some much cheaper ones for 100 or 200 pounds that are very basic.
But yeah, buying a robot and training with that is definitely worth it if you want to improve and you haven’t got someone to play with. It’s probably more suited to beginners and improvers than elite professional players but I still know that lots of top players do use robots. Samson Dubina is one who’s 2,500 rated US player and I still know he uses his NewG robot all the time.
Robots are really great for improving your basic technique and are particularly good if you want to practice looping backspin. Lots of this depends on the type of robot you buy. If you buy one of those $2,000 Butterfly Amicus Advanced or Professional robots then they can do all sorts of things. They can give you real match like scenarios where you’re given a serve you need to return and they can change the spin.
If you get a really expensive one there’s loads you can do with it, if not you’re a bit more limited. But it’s still a good idea. Check out my article The Best Table Tennis Robots if you’re interested in buying a robot as it’s really the best way to train if you’re on your own.
If you haven’t got a robot or you can’t afford a robot the second best thing would be to feed balls to yourself. You’re being the robot yourself by dropping the balls and then hitting them. It’s not quite as good as training with a robot, but it has different pros and cons.
I did this a lot with Sam in the Expert in a Year Challenge. Getting him to drop balls on his forehand side and then play a forehand top spin. It was really good for his rhythm and timing because he needed to get all the coordination and control to get that right. Definitely worth doing. He though it a bit silly at first and it does seem a bit weird but if you stick with it you’ll really get into some rhythms where you’re able drop the balls quite quickly and play different combinations of strokes.
It’s also really good at teaching you how to hit float or dead balls because every ball that you drop is not going to have any spin so you’re going to have to adjust slightly. Robots tend to give you everything with heavy topspin, so if you get too used to that it can be more difficult when you’re playing against floating balls.
There’s loads of stuff you can do with this. You can go close to the net and do flicks, bounce the ball closer to the end line and play topspin’s, you can even bounce the ball on the floor and step back from the table and do big loops from there. Loads of options for you to do if you’re feeding yourself balls.
My third suggestion would be to do service practice. Or just practice generating spin on the ball using your wrist. This is a really good use of time and service practice can have such a big effect on your level, compared to other types of training. Spend a bit of time getting good serves and that can boost your performance.
Go and buy a box or a bucket of balls and definitely if you’ve got a table but no one to play with start doing a few minutes of service practice every day. Just so that you’re there practicing different serves, getting more spin and getting better. Not many people are actually doing that even if it’s so important. You can get a big advantage just from spending maybe 10 minutes today doing service practice.
The other thing you can do is just working on that heavy spin. Just serving balls into the floor or onto a carpet and watching it spin off in different directions. Learning how to manipulate the ball. Or even just spinning it up in the air, catching it in your hand and feeling out the spin. These can be great ideas too.
Number 4 would be using shadow play. This is a really great way to improve the techniques of your strokes. Try and find a mirror and just do some shadow play in front of that and pretend to do your forehand and backhand. The other thing you can do if you don’t have a mirror that’s in a decent place is just film yourself and watch it back.
You do need to make sure that your technique is right when you’re doing shadow play otherwise all you’re going to be doing is drilling in bad habits. I’d recommend Brian Pace’s Shadow Training Forehand Loop Workout, which you can get at his site down at DynamicTableTennis.com. That’s really good and is a super hard work out. I’ve done it myself and it’s absolutely exhausting.
I know that lots of other player have done that too and benefitted from it, so you can check that out at DynamicTableTennis.com or search for Brian Pace Shadow Training on my site and I did a podcast episode with Bryan talking through that. It’s probably worth listening to.
Footwork drills are good for shadow play. So you make it quite hard and maybe use a metronome as well to keep you on beat and that’s kind of setting the speed and difficulty of your training.
The other thing to suggest would be Samson Dubina’s new TT Flex product which is a heavy metal bat that you can use for your shadow play. It also has the resistance bands that you can attach. I recently did a podcast with Samson talking all about that which you can find on Expert Table Tennis too.
5th on the list would be physical training. So you’ve got things like SAQ training which is speed, agility and quickness. You can do all sorts of drills using ladders and mini-hurdles. If you do a search online on SAQ training loads of stuff will come up.
I can also highly recommend the Extreme Table Tennis Course that’s sold on TableTennisUniversity.com. It’s $97 and for that you get different table tennis specific work outs that you can work your way through. If you’re a member the DVD’s Extreme Footwork Conditioning and Extreme Explosive Power, which were release about 5 years ago by Table Tennis Master.
Extreme Table Tennis is just all of that put together in an online, downloadable form. It’s coached by Armstrong who’s a certified personal trainer and knows what he is doing. He’ll take you all sorts of drills that are going to improve you table tennis speed, agility and power.
I really like running as well. That can be one type of physical training that you can add in. You don’t have to go out running marathons. Maybe do 3 miles, or 5 kilometres, and that’s a good distance. If you’re a fit young-ish player in your 20’s or 30’s you should be able to run 5km in about 20 minutes, maybe a bit less.
If you look up age graded times for running then you can actually work out how fast you should be running it if you were a different age. Lets say you’re a 60 old woman. To run a 25km would be really good for your age but if you look up age graded times it would tell you what time is the equivalent of like a 20 year old running a 20 minute 5km.
Maybe for you it might say you need to run it in 24 minutes, but yeah running is great. Good way to boost your endurance. In my 2nd year of training at Grantham Academy, this was back when I was about 19, I started going to gym and lifting weights. I saw a really big improvement in my table tennis quite quickly after I started that. I felt a lot stronger and solid.
My decision to go to the gym was just for fun. I wanted to start to bulk up a bit and I wasn’t expecting it to improve my table tennis but it was a really pleasant surprise and had a big difference. So I can recommend lifting some weights and maybe going to the gym as well, which will have a huge effect.
Number 6 would be just watching table tennis. You can really learn a lot just from watching the top players, or watching different coaching videos. As I said in TableTennisUniversity.com you can watch some videos there. YouTube is also great as you can watch all the top matches. Just start watching it and letting it sink in, then when you go back on the table you’ll probably pick a few things up and learn faster than if you hadn’t been exposed to all of that.
I’d recommend just getting into the habit of following along with the professional players or the World Tour. Immersing yourself in the sport and letting it all just sink it. That’s going to help you improve for sure.
Finally would be Mental Training. So if you’re serious about performing to your peak in tournament then mental training should definitely be a part of that. Things like goal setting, visualization, positive self-talk. I’m not really an expert on that kind of thing but it’s definitely worth something to look into.
I’ve got a friend called Mark Simpson who’s a semi-professional table tennis player living out in Germany. He’s also a sports psychologist with a masters in that. I might try and get him on this show at some point and let people ask questions to him and have him maybe do a week. Maybe 5 episodes answering questions as I know he’s got a lot to say about that.
That’s 7 ideas for you. Plenty of things that you can work on if you haven’t got a partner. Of course it’s always better to be playing with a coach, or in a group or a friend, if you can do that. But around that it’s brilliant as well if you can add in some of these 7 things, maybe all of them if you’ve got time and you’re really serious.
So yeah, there’s loads to do. No excuses. Even if you haven’t got someone to play with you can still be improving your table tennis.
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