This week's blog post touches on a subject that is very important for progressing in the sport of table tennis (or any skill, in fact) and that is training with a purpose.

Often we find ourselves losing sight of the bigger picture and training just becomes the status quo; we go to training, do some drills, and hope to improve. It's usually only with hindsight, looking back over the year, that we realise we could have done better, committed more, and worked harder.

Matt's Story

I remember when I (Matt Hetherington) was in my third year of university. I was quite a wild card table tennis player back then - on a good day I could potentially beat anyone, but on a bad day I had some awful losses. I'd been working on narrowing that gap and trying to eliminate the bad losses.

The opportunity arose to trial for the World University Games team. There was a squad of six players of which four would be picked. Naturally, as I had never made a team selection before, I wrote myself off as a wild card and continued training as usual.

Now, again in hindsight, that was an error. I had a good enough chance of making the team, but I didn't. Why? Because I never set my mind to the task. I never trained with the purpose of achieving that goal.

I knew what I had to do to improve my chances of going...

  1. I needed to step up the intensity of my training
  2. I needed to tighten up the weak areas in my game
  3. I needed to make sure that by selection day I would be ready to prove my worth

My status quo training produced some good results, possibly some of my better ones, but it wasn't enough to make the team. I was outdone by four players who prepared much more strongly.

So what is training with a purpose?

It's simple. It's setting goals for your training.

Create some long-term goals, break them down into short-term goals, and then break those down into a clear training plan. What do you want to achieve from every training session? Make everything measurable!

For example, you want to execute a set piece where you serve and follow it up with a pivot forehand to win the point.

How many successful executions did you make? What percentage ratio? A successful set piece in a pressure situation should have an 80% plus success ratio. Perhaps even above 90%. Once you have attained that level of consistency, via a structured training plan, you have a reliable move in your game which you can be confident using. Nerves eliminated.

Perhaps you are a beginner, you wish to go out to the table and get some forehands and backhands on the table? Measure everything! Analyse your strokes. What can be improved? Track anything that can help you get closer to your long-term goals. Make the training count!

Perhaps there is a player you are aiming to beat. Set the purpose. Analyse their style and actions. Train against their weaknesses. And try to learn how to shut down their strengths. That's purposeful and effective training!

For example, if you are aiming to beat a player ranked above you who is commonly known for having good short touch receives and pushing... work on your flicking and perhaps masked short topspin or no spin serves.


It is important to evaluate your success in training and more importantly, what needs to be worked on in the future. Measure your success against your goals and training plan. What did you achieve? Is it something that needs to be worked on more in detail or just maintained?

Are you now closer to your long-term goal? If not, why not? What more can you do?

  • Train more
  • Train with more focus
  • Train with greater intensity
  • Select more relevant drills based on your goals

I guess the important thing is, make training count, but more importantly, make it count for you. Training is not just a monotonous process of hitting balls and setting drills. To be truly successful you need to tailor it to your individual needs.

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by Matt Hetherington