The Tactical Mind
By Coach Samson Dubina
Just like any other table tennis skills, developing a tactical mindset takes discipline. As I work through
the various styles over the coming weeks and teach you how to play against various opponents, I want
you to understand that you too can think of your own tactics. I’m not very smart, I’m just an average
guy. However, I do spend quality time thinking. You too can develop this same discipline.
The best time to think of developing future tactics for your own game is at the conclusion of a club
night or on the way home from a tournament. Think about the various tactics that were used against
you – think about all the annoying things that your opponent did to frustrate you.
Remember that first opponent who kept pushing sharp angle pushes to your backhand. By reaching for
the ball, you weren’t able to spin much and your opponent kept blocking your weak opening quick to
your wide forehand.
Remember that second guy who kept serving no spin to your forehand. He was waiting for your weak
flip and just teed off on every flip.
Remember that third guy that took his time and walked slowly to get the ball, then proceeded to bounce
the ball 5 times before every serve. Remember how it frustrated you to wait a few seconds before
Remember that fourth guy who initially couldn’t return your serve. Then suddenly just started pushing
deep and high to your backhand. Remember how your own spin high to the backhand gave you issues.
Remember how that fifth guy kept blocking quick to your middle transition point. After you gave a weak
loop, he would just counterloop wide to your forehand for a winner.
Between each point in the match, you have a few seconds to think about tactics. However, on the ride
home, you have plenty of time to think about more details. The longer that you think deeply about the
tactics, the more possibilities will arise. Let me illustrate, you are playing a game of chess and your
opponent just made a move; it is now your turn; you quickly decide to move your queen to F3; it looks
like the best move. At the time, that was as tactical as you could have been in 10 seconds. However,
let’s suppose that I have you two hours. In two hours, you can think through more possibilities…
possibly 7 or 8 other moves that would be better. The same is true in table tennis. You start the match
with you serve short backspin and your opponent kept pushing to your backhand, you loop into the net
several times. If I gave you 10 seconds to give me a solution, you would probably say, “Oh, I could just
solve this problem with pushing!” True! That is ONE answer! But if I gave you 2 hours to solve the
problem, could you come up with other solutions. Before reading the rest of the article, I want you to
take out your pen and paper and list other solutions to this problem.
Here are some other solutions…
1. Push the ball back with your backhand
2. Push the ball back with your forehand
3. Forehand loop
4. Backhand loop but adjust your racket’s starting position
5. Backhand loop but adjust your racket angle
6. Backhand loop but use more wrist to generate more spin
7. Backhand loop but use more legs to help lift
8. Serve no spin instead so the push will be lighter
9. Serve deep topspin so that your opponent is less likely to push
10. Serve wide off the forehand side to the table with sidespin so your opponent is less likely to
push to your backhand
As you contemplate the hundreds of tactics that were used against you, then you too can begin
practicing these tactics against others. Just remember that more years playing doesn’t necessarily mean
that you will play smarter and have better tactics. The key is that you need to have the discipline to
think deeply for 20-30 min after each session about the tactics used against you. Think about which
tactics you can implemented immediately and which tactics take longer to develop. Adjust your training
sessions accordingly so that you aren’t merely training your basic strokes, but you are also implementing
tactical drills into your practice sessions!
Just like any other table tennis skills, developing a tactical mindset takes discipline. As I work through the various styles over the coming weeks and teach you how to play against various opponents, I want you to understand that you too can think of your own tactics. I’m not very smart, I’m just an average guy. However, I do spend quality time thinking. You too can develop this same discipline.