April 1, 2024 - What Makes a Great Doubles Partnership?

(Excerpt from Table Tennis Doubles for Champions by Larry Hodges. April is Doubles Month!)

Here are ten components, not necessarily in order of importance. On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you and your partner(s) come in on these ten?

  1. Willingness to play as a team. Some players are simply unwilling or unable to make any adjustments to their game to make their team stronger. Example: If you have a good loop but your partner has a great loop, and you are hitting to someone who mostly pushes, then why loop when you can push, knowing it’ll set up your partner’s even better loop?
  2. Experience in doubles. Well, this is obvious, isn’t it? Of course, reading this book can be a shortcut toward that experience—but nothing can replace playing doubles to gain experience. And make sure to see #8 below.
  3. Experience together. The more you play together, the better you and your partner get at playing together.
  4. Compatible styles. If you only play offense and can’t handle an opponent’s attack, and your partner is a defensive player who lets the opponents attack, then you may not have compatible playing styles. Of course, players can adjust their games to become more compatible. The defensive player could play more aggressively. Or you can practice what you are weak at, such as learning to handle the opponent’s attack—which would also help your singles game, of course.
  5. Compatible personalities. It’s hard to play well if you don’t get along. Sometimes it’s obvious, with the players constantly squabbling. Sometimes it’s less obvious, such as one player yelling at the other, while the other stays silent—but inside is burning up at the yelling, and so doesn’t play well.
  6. Communication skills. You are on a team. If you can’t communicate with your partner, you have a problem! This can be as simple as talking over what type of serves and receives are best, or more complicated, such as discussing footwork in different situations.
  7. Tactical flexibility. If a player is unable to adjust his game to the various needed tactics in doubles, then his team will be at a disadvantage. For example, a singles player with a good blocking or chopping game may get away with pushing the serve back long over and over, but may need to push short in doubles. If he can’t do this, then his team will be at a disadvantage in many matches. (Note that it’s a LOT easier returning the serve short in doubles, where you know where the serve is going, it’s usually short, and the serves are often simple backspin or no-spin, so even if you don’t do it in singles, it’s easy to learn for doubles. More on this in chapter on Receive.)
  8. Willingness to learn doubles skills. With experience, you’ll learn what you are weak at in doubles. Are you willing to learn these new skills, such as doubles serves (mostly short, from right-hand court), pushing short, doubles footwork, and so on?
  9. Patience with your partner. If you are the type who rolls his eyes when your partner makes a mistake, maybe, just maybe, doubles isn’t for you. Or maybe you can learn to understand that disappointment with your partner for their play is like your forehand being disappointed in your backhand? It doesn’t make sense!
  10. Self-confidence. Many players get nervous when playing doubles, since they are afraid of letting their partner down. Self-confidence is a must if you want to play your best in doubles. This doesn’t mean over-confidence, where you go for heroic shots you can’t do consistently. It means having confidence you can do the shots you normally use.