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Adjusting to Unfamiliar Playing Conditions

Adjusting to Unfamiliar Playing Conditions
by Han Xiao

This week, many players assembled in Las Vegas, Nevada to play the 2015 US Open. Many players had trouble adapting to the playing conditions there, and indeed a great number of players often have difficulty adapting to new playing conditions in an unfamiliar venue. Here are some tips to dealing with unfamiliar playing conditions.

  1. Test out the floors you will be playing on. Do you have a good grip with the shoes you are wearing? Do you have other shoes you can try if you don’t have a good grip? In the United States, sometimes certain matches are played on concrete flooring, which is very difficult. In this case, sacrificing some mobility for a better grip can be worth it by wearing non table tennis shoes. Also, having wet towels handy to help you improve traction can be invaluable in these situations.
  2. When warming up for the first few times in unfamiliar conditions, try not to swing too much with your arms and focus on your footwork, timing, spin, and using your body appropriately to strike the ball. The ball’s bounce may be different than what you are used to, and frustration will inevitably set in if you start to mistime and miss seemingly routine shots due to overhitting. Additionally, some players subconsciously rely on the sound of the ball to establish a rhythm, and cannot depend on the same rhythm in a new venue. Warming up in a controlled fashion and not swinging too hard will help avoid reliance on familiar ball rhythm and help you establish a new rhythm in the new venue.
  3. Pay attention to how the ball moves and how much spin is on the ball when you are warming up as different venues play faster or slower than others and certain conditions can impact the amount of spin on the ball. For example, in thinner air due to altitude, the ball can cut much more quickly through the air, causing an unsuspecting player to hit more balls off the end of the table. Try to make adjustments before your matches begin. If you are playing in fast conditions, avoid the temptation to slow down your strokes in an effort to control the ball, as the ball will sail on you. Instead, use a quicker and relaxed stroke, focus on rotating your body and transferring your weight, and use more spin rather than speed when necessary.
  4. Dedicate some time to serve and serve return training. These are two of the most important aspects of match play. Different conditions can really affect the bounce of your serve. Don’t wait until the match to realize your serves are off, or even start missing serves outright due to unfamiliarity with the playing conditions. If you have high toss serves, check the lighting of the table(s) you are playing on to see if there is a glare when you toss the ball. Serve return is also quite important to get a feeling for, and should be practiced accordingly before matches. In addition to practicing the serve and serve return, also practice consistently executing subsequent opening attacks or blocks off opening attacks.
  5. Although this has nothing to do with actual playing conditions, having a plan for food, hydration, and rest is a must if you want to perform well at an unfamiliar playing venue. Where will you rest between matches? Do you have adequate water and snacks if necessary? Do you have access to meals that will not significantly affect your play? Eating extremely heavy meals, fried foods, etc. before matches can slow you down and affect your play. Know your body and plan your food choices when competing at an unfamiliar venue.

These are just a few tips that can help you perform better in unfamiliar territory. Of course, everyone’s body, mind, and playing style is different and unique, so different adjustments must be made. However, using some of these techniques to adjust to unfamiliar conditions and improving the process over time with experience will help you get the most out of your game when traveling to leagues and tournaments at different playing venues.

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