Coach Samson Dubina US National Team Coach 4x USATT Coach of the Year

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Tactical Drills

Learn to change your pre-tournament routine

How many drills are commonly used by professional players around the world?  I currently have a compilation of over 400 drills that are commonly used on a daily basis by the pros.  One common drill is the faulkenberg drill; player A blocks exclusively with his backhand and player B loops one backhand from the backhand, one forehand from the backhand, and one forehand from the forehand.  Another common drill is middle-corner; player A blocks exclusively with his backhand and player B loops one forehand from the middle then one ball from either corner.  These are two very common drills.
When I sit back and look at these drills, I think to myself that most of these drills are designed to improve a player’s footwork or consistency or power.  In this listing of the 400 most common drills, most of them are designed for the player to be self-focused; focused on HIS OWN game.  The problem with this is that in tournaments, you need to be more OPPONENT FOCUSED.  By focusing on beating your opponent, you can focus on pinning him in the middle or moving him out of position or placing the ball directly at his weak point.  This is the reason that I have recently re-structured the drills for my personal students here in Ohio as well as my skype students around the country.  In the final 1-2 weeks prior to an important tournament, I now have my students doing more tactical drills.  In this short article, I’m going to list several tactical drills that you can use as a template to design your own tactical drills.  There are hundred of tactical drills, but I’m just going to list 3 simple ones for starters.
Tactical Drill #1
This drill is designed to help you identify your opponent’s transition point, the point at which your opponent must decide to play a backhand or forehand.  For the duration of this drill, both players will be counterdriving extremely slowly.  Player A serves slow, long topspin to player B’s transition point.  Player B plays a slow backhand or forehand against player A’s transition point.  If player B contacted the ball with his backhand, then player A will hit the next ball slightly more toward the forehand.  If player B contacted the ball with his forehand, then player A will hit the next ball slightly more toward the backhand.  The goal for both players during the entire rally is to make the opponent uncomfortable with ball placement and jam him in the middle every time making him transition between backhand and forehand.  The focus is not on speed or spin.  The focus is on seeing your opponent’s positioning and placing the ball according to what you see.
Advanced Version
For the advanced version, Player A can serve any spin long to the transition point.  Player B loops the serve to player A’s transition point.  Player B continues looping for the duration of the drill and player A gives active and passive blocking variations to player B.
Tactical Drill #2
This drill is designed to open up the wide corners so that you can move your opponent away from the table.  Player A serves short backspin.  Player B pushes long to the forehand.  Player A loops to the transition point of player B.  Player B must move to his right to play a backhand block (leaving the backhand court open) OR player B must move to his left to play a forehand block (leaving the forehand court open).  As soon as player B moves for the transition ball, player A loops the next ball to the wide corner.  After that shot, the rest of the drill is free point – either player can play any shot to any location.
Tactical Drill #3
This serve return drill is designed to help you place the ball in a difficult location for your opponent.  As always, your primary focus should be to watch the incoming ball.  Out of your peripheral vision, you should be able to see your opponent while watching the ball primarily.  Player A serves short no-spin with his forehand from the backhand side.  Player B places the return based on the position of player A.  If player A stays near the table in a forehand pendulum serving position, then player B will flip the ball deep to the backhand to jam him.  If player A pivots around the backhand corner, then player B will flip the ball deep to the open forehand side of the table.  If player A stays exactly in the middle of the table covering the corners, then player B will flip to the middle transition point.  At first, player A should be quite obvious so that player B can easily see where to flip.  After some practice, player B should be able to pick up on subtle clues that you be very useful in identifying the idea placement.
As soon as you hit any ball, you should be specifically watching your opponent’s racket to see what type of shot he plans to hit and where he plans to place the ball.  As soon as he hits the ball, you should be watching the incoming ball.  Out of your peripheral vision, you should be able to see your opponent’s positioning and where you should place the ball.  Any tactical drill should be designed around making your opponent miss.  This is really the key to tournament success – making your opponent miss.