You don't play well in tournaments because...
You don’t adapt quickly enough!
Playing well in tournaments involves 2 major things – being able to perform under pressure and being adaptable to the situation. In this article, we are going to deal with the second point. There are 5 things that you can do to learn to become a tough tournament player!
#1 You must learn to adapt to various playing condition quickly. I would recommend practicing in various places on a regular basis – large courts and small courts, high ceiling and low ceiling, 1” tables and 3/4 “ tables, wood floor and cement floor and rubber floor, practice balls and Nittaku 3-star Premium, bright lighting and dim lighting. But you might say, “Won’t better conditions make me play better and poor conditions make me play worse?” Not necessarily. It all becomes a matter of what you are used to playing with. Try to play at various clubs, try to use all the different types of tables at your club, try to play at various tournament venues, try to play at different friends’ houses, and try to play at various rec rooms and learn to quickly adapt to each facility.
#2 You must learn to adapt to various tournament times. If you play in the US Open this July, you might have a match on Wednesday morning at 9am then you might have a match on Thursday night at 8:30pm. For the players living in California, playing a 9am match at the US Open in Michigan will actually feel like 6am! The point is… You must be able to perform at your peak at various times of the day. So…. Vary your practice times. Wake up at 7am and have a 8am practice session with the robot. Go to a friend’s house at 9pm and play some late-night games. Prepare your mind and body to adapt!
#3 You must learn to adapt to various warm-up levels. Here is the biggest excuse for losses in tournaments, “I didn’t get enough warm-up!!!” Often, you might go to the training hall with a practice partner, jog and stretch for 20 minutes, practice basic forehands and backhands for 20 minutes, do 2 footwork drills, do 2 serve-and-attack drills, and then wrap up with some games. At the end of the session, you are feeling good and everything is warmed-up for the games. In tournaments, you might not have a table available for warm=up. You can warm-up you mind and warm-up your body with jogging and stretching, BUT you might not have a practice table available for your normal routine. For this reason, I would recommend regularly playing some practice games in the beginning of your training session, so that you can learn to adapt quickly and perform well, even when you don’t feel great.
#4 You must learn to adapt to various fatigue levels. Here is the second major excuse that I often hear, “I was just too tired.” Really? You are going to lose that final because you were just too tired. Well, you certainly need to work on your tt conditioning so that doesn’t happen again! You should do some intense workouts prior to your tt matches so that you learn to play with fatigue. Go for a 4-5 mile jog then go to the club and play 4 hours of matches. Do 30 all-out windsprints, then serve a few short, low serves. Do 50 pushups, then play a 9-9 game against your rival at the club. Train tired and learn to adapt even when you feel that you are completely out of energy.
#5 You must learn to adapt to various opponents. This is the biggest challenge in tournaments. You might first play against a looper, then a long pips blocker, then a lobber, then a lefty, then a short pips smasher, then a chopper. You can’t apply the same strategy to each opponent. This is the main point in winning tournaments! You must go into every match like a detective, trying to find every clue possible about your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and you must be able to QUICKLY adapt to heavy pushes and light pushes, strong loops and weak loops, fast blocks and dead blocks. I would recommend playing with as many different players as possible on a regular basis. Instead of merely practicing with the same 2 guys at the club, be willing to move outside of the norm and play with lower or higher players. By playing a wide range of various styles, you will learn to adapt and become a well-rounded tournament player.
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