7 common beginner mistakes in table tennis (and how to fix them)

Last weekend I coached at a beginner training day at Finsbury Leisure Centre in London. This was actually the first club I played league table tennis for, back in 2007. It was great to see some old faces (my first coach Sanket Shah) and some younger faces (Josh Nashed and Tyla Anderson), who are also coaching now, as well as being very strong adult players.

Anyway, the purpose of the day was to teach some basic table tennis skills – drives, pushes, serve and receive.

Most of the participants had played a bit of table tennis, but most were self-taught and had only played socially. So they were very much in the beginner category.

Throughout the day, I picked up on several mistakes the beginner players were making. They were making the same mistakes as the beginner players I coach in Cambridge. I’m sure they are the same mistakes any beginner player makes in any part of the world. I think it’s fair to say they are universal beginner mistakes.

So I thought it would be useful to share some of these mistakes, why they need fixing and what you should do instead. So if you are a beginner player, this blog post is for you…

Common table tennis mistakes

I’ll get straight on with the list. I’m going highlight seven table tennis mistakes I noticed at the weekend and with other beginner players I coach.

I could have done a longer list, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information at once. So this list includes the biggest issues which you need to fix.

1. Holding the bat too tight

If you hold bat too tight, your muscles in your wrist and arm will also be tight. This will restrict and slow your arm movement and make your strokes jerky. And you will find it harder to change bat angle when switching from one stroke to another, e.g. forehand drive to backhand drive. Overall you will have less feeling and control.

Instead, try to keep a looser grip. This will allow you to use your wrist more to generate spin. You will find it easier to switch between strokes and change bat angle. And you will be able to play faster shots, as your body will be more relaxed and able to move more freely.

2. Standing too close to the table

If you stand too close to the table, you will struggle to return balls which land very deep. You will have no space to play a stroke.

Instead, make sure you have some space between you and the table, something like 30cm-50cm. Now if the ball lands deep, you have more space to return the ball. If the ball is returned very short, you can still step in to get closer to the ball, but make sure you step back out again.

3. Standing with right leg forward (for righties)

Don’t stand with your right foot much further forward than your left foot. Beginners often do this when playing backhand strokes. You can actually play backhands ok with your right foot forward, but you’re stuffed if the ball is then switch to your forehand. Your body shape will be wrong and you will find it difficult to play a decent forehand.

Instead, stand with your feet either square to the table (some professionals now do this) or with your right foot slightly further back than your left foot (this is the standard stance used by most players). With your feet in this position, you can still play very strong backhand strokes, but it is so much easier to switch to your forehand and play strong forehand strokes.

If you’re a left handed player, the advice is the same, but your feet should be the other way around – so play with your left foot a little further back than your right foot.

4. Massive follow-through for forehand strokes

When you play your forehand strokes, does your bat cross your body and finish up by your left shoulder? If so, your stroke is too long and you will find it hard to recover and play another shot.

Instead, try to finish your forehand strokes somewhere in front of your body. Imagine a line right in the middle of your body. This is where you should finish your forehand strokes (most of the time). Do not cross the line! If you finish your forehand strokes in the middle, you will be ready to play the next shot and the next shot and the next shot and so on.

5. Floppy bat control

Inconsistent shots are often caused by ‘floppy’ bat control. This is where the bat flops forwards or backwards when contacting the ball. This can be very frustrating. The rest of the stroke may be good, but if the bat is floppy on contact, you will never achieve consistency.

So you need to keep control of the racket head and make sure that the bat angle is consistent throughout the stroke. For example, if you are playing a forehand drive, the bat angle should be slightly closed at the beginning of the stroke, slightly closed during contact with the ball and slightly closed when finishing the stroke. The bat angle is consistent throughout the stroke and so the shot is consistent.

If you have floppy strokes, trying pinching the bat a little more with your thumb and index finger. This will allow you to control the bat angle more whilst still achieving a relaxed grip.

6. Reaching for balls

If you reach for balls which are wide to your forehand or wide to your backhand with an outstretched arm, your shots won’t be very strong. You may not even reach the ball if it is very wide. If you do manage to contact the ball, your shot will be weak and you will lack control.

Instead, move your feet to get closer to the ball. If the ball goes wide, you should side-step, stop and then play your stroke. Ideally you want to be in a good position to play all of your strokes. This means moving your feet (or being ready to move) all the time. This may not always be possible, but if you are in a good position most of the time, you will be able to play good quality shots most of the time. Move your feet!

7. Hitting the ball too hard

Don’t hit the ball too hard. This isn’t cricket or baseball, where you have to whack the ball to the other end of the pitch. If you try to hit the ball too hard, without the correct technique, you’ll make too many mistakes.

Instead, just slow down. It is much easier to learn better technique if you start slower. And if you do want to hit the ball harder, think about playing at 70%-80% of your power, rather than trying to smash the ball to pieces with 100% MAX POWER. You will have so much more success playing slower but with good technique, good ball placement and high consistency than with out-of-control power shots.

Final thoughts

Table tennis is a very complex sport. There is a lot to learn and it does take a lot of practice to become a very good player. But every player has to start somewhere. The tips on this page won’t suddenly transform you into a brilliant player. But if you can implement some of my advice into your game, your level will improve and your progress will be quicker. You’ll make less mistakes, keep more balls on the table and start to feel more like a table tennis player.

If you’re a beginner player and want more coaching advice, you should take a look at my Table Tennis for Beginners course. It includes lots of video lessons and training drills to help you improve. Over 2000 people have already signed up. It has 4.7 rating out of 5. Click here for more information.

Get more table tennis tips

Sign up for my popular table tennis newsletter and I’ll send you table tennis tips, tactics and training drills to help you improve and win more points.

About Tom Lodziak

I’m a table tennis coach based in Cambridge in the UK. As well as coaching I also write table tennis articles and make table tennis videos. Read more about me.

2 thoughts on “7 common beginner mistakes in table tennis (and how to fix them)

  1. Great posts, Tom… I’m not a beginner but until I get to play as well as Ma Long (ha!!) I’ll consider myself at an early stage trying to transition. So I read ALL your posts to garner all their useful gems.

    I do have a question, which I hope you can help me with. I have read that one can return spinny serves various ways, including “adding to the spin” to make it difficult for the server to return his own serve. I find this incomprehensible.

    For example, if the server puts CW spin on the ball (ie, L-to-R from server’s point of view), then a way to counter that spin would be for the receiver to put his own CW spin on the incoming ball since from the receiver’s point of view the incoming ball is spinning CCW. Right?? Thus to me “adding” to the spin means that since the incoming ball is spinning CCW — from the receiver’s point of view — then the receiver should put more CCW spin on the ball (ie, R-to-L from the receiver’s point of view). If this is indeed “adding” to the server’s spin, the resultant return would fly off the side of the table.

    Am I understanding the tactic “adding to the spin” correctly? I simply don’t understand how this would work at all.

    Thank you,

    Caesar Primus

    • I have heard other people describe this approach of “adding to the spin” too. I completely agree with you. This way of thinking has never made much sense to me. It just seems a bit too abstract and overly complicated. I like to keep it much simpler. For example, if it’s a short backspin serve, your options are to push or flick. If it’s a side-backspin serve, you could push or topspin aiming for the centre of the table to take account of the sidespin. If it’s a topspin serve, you could block, drive or counter-topspin. You have given me an idea for a blog post. I will write about this in more detail soon.

Leave a Reply