Sometimes players can go out onto the table and train for hours and hours and hours and get very proficient at certain areas of the game, but not necessarily develop game skills and match intellect. Learning to train smart is about taking control of your own training sessions and designing exercises to enhance your performance in matches in combination with other basic drills.
So what are some things that help you train smart? Well something which is often left out of training is short pushing. I always include short pushing in my first warmup and cover it on all angles. Sometimes even before I start forehand or backhand warmup I will short push backhand crosscourt, down the line then forehand crosscourt down the line. The ability to play tight is essential in table tennis, hence short pushing should be practiced frequently where it is often left out altogether. I also practice briefly long pushing and then go into my basic warmup of forehand and backhand.
Designing drills is pivotal to your development as a player. You can go to a coach and have them pick exercises for you every session but becoming a better player means taking some responsibility in your training and creating drills which you think will benefit you. As an example I tend to play strongly in the 5th ball attacking game, this means I need to focus on a solid opening ball and then a well placed and slightly heavier paced next ball. So frequently I will do a drill where I serve and open off a long push crosscourt, then attack the second ball down the line. To maximise the number of match scenarios I cover, I can also adapt the exercise so I receive my partners serve short and then have the ball pushed long, or I play the second ball from anywhere on the table, or I play the second ball TO anywhere on the table.
So as you see above it is not only designing a drill, it is having the ability to adapt it to a number of different game type scenarios. This exposes you to different possibilities which can occur in the situation and allows you to train yourself to those possibilities.
Training Against Different Styles
Something I have mentioned before in my articles, training against different styles. I have seen on many occasions, young players rising through the ranks and beating much higher level players and then coming up against an awkward style and losing. Whether it be pengrip, long or short pips, antispin, sometimes even just a left hander or a less conventional style. The more you surround yourself with varying competitors and potential opponents, the more experience and understand you will gain of how they play and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Young players lack knowledge and understanding of these styles of play simply because they are pushed into conventional training against other conventional players.
I grew up with two antispin players in my club and now can very safely say I'm well clued up on how to play against antispin across a number of different tactical approaches. When I did private coaching last year, for many of my students they were at the 15-18 year old age group, developed players but little understanding of these alternate styles. I used to coach them every few sessions with a less conventional style, sometimes I chopped, sometimes I blocked with pips, sometimes I switched to pengrip and flipped between normal and long or normal and anti. Just to expose them to the styles.
These are just a couple of examples of how to start thinking more about how you are training and what benefit you are bringing to match play. Repetitive training will make you consistent, but sooner or later you need to develop a more tactical approach to your game.
Hope you took something useful away from that!