Technique is a contentious issue. If you line up 10 coaches and ask them how to do a forehand loop (or any stroke), you will most likely get 10 slightly different answers.
How can this be? Surely there is a correct way of playing a shot and everything else is incorrect?
Well no, not exactly. If only table tennis were that simple!
In this blog post, I give my thoughts about good technique and bad technique and hopefully give some clarity on this confusing issue.
Let’s start with bad technique. I would say a player has bad technique if they cannot execute a particular shot with any consistency. For example, if a player attempts a backhand flick, but only manages to execute the shot 1 in 10, then there is something clearly wrong with the technique.
Most of us playing at the amateur level will have bad technique with some strokes. For me, I am happy to admit that my forehand flick is in the category of ‘bad technique’. It’s not a shot I have ever practised much, and as a result, when I do attempt it, I usually mess up. I don’t get my feet in the right position. I stay too upright. My arm stretches out too much. My bat angle is inconsistent. My forehand flick is pretty rubbish. There isn’t really anything worth salvaging about my technique. I have a low success rate and the shot needs radical improvement.
So I define bad technique as stroke which has very low (0-25%) consistency. Something quite fundamental needs to change to massively improve the consistency of this stroke.
Ultimately we want to avoid bad technique.
Unorthodox technique is different. There are many players who seem to do strokes in strange ways – very different to how a pro player would play – but they manage to do them with high levels of consistency.
Local league table tennis is full of these types of players. Unorthodox technique can be very effective, as it has a surprise factor. It can be hard to read the stroke action, spin and ball placement of someone who plays a shot in an unusual way.
I lost a match recently against a player who had quite a unique way of doing a forehand loop. His backswing was very jerky and stiff – violent almost – and his forward swing was very horizontal. At the angle he was swinging, he shouldn’t have been able to loop my pushes. But he did! And he did so very consistently, at least an 80% success rate.
So while his forehand loop technique looked flawed compared to a pro player, he has found a way of making the shot work with high consistency.
Of course, if a player’s technique is too unorthodox, it can limit how much the player can progress. There aren’t any players competing at the top of the sport with crazy unorthodox technique. But at local league level and amateur competitions it is possible to have success with unorthodox technique, so long as the strokes can be executed with high consistency.
I would define good technique as a stroke with a high level of consistency, which mostly resembles the technique of a pro standard player.
The stroke may not be as polished as pro player or have the same level of spin and speed, but the foundations are solid and a player can execute the shot 9 times out of 10.
For example, I would say I have ‘good’ technique with my forehand topspin. The timing of the shot, my bat angle, my brushing of the ball, the swing trajectory are all good, which allows me to play the shot with high consistency.
It sort of resembles the technique of a pro player, but is not as good as I don’t have the same fluidity of movement and the same transfer of weight or snap. But playing at a local league level, it has been very effective for me.
Players with good technique usually have lots of success at amateur level and play in the higher divisions of local league or get to the advanced stages of tournaments.
For great technique, you need to watch professional players. They take ‘good’ technique and then turbo-charge it! Everything is faster, spinner, better placed and still with extraordinary levels of consistency.
Pro players are more fluid with their movements. They engage their feet, legs, waist and wrists much more than amateur players. Their technique is very precise and very efficient.
And their fitness levels and physical conditioning is excellent. They are professional athletes, capable of training at high intensity for 30+ hours per week.
Of course, there are variations in technique at the professional level too. Ma Long and Timo Boll have very different forehand topspin technique. Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford have very different backhand topspin technique.
But what they all have in common is the ability to play shots at high speed and spin with high levels of consistency.
For anyone wanting to become a professional table tennis player, you will need to have great technique.
Unorthodox, good or great technique?
So what should you aspire to?
I think we can rule out bad technique. No one should aspire to that!
But then it depends on your table tennis goals and playing style.
If your goal is to be a very good amateur player and play in the top 1 or 2 divisions of your local league, then ‘good’ technique will most definitely get you there.
You don’t have to play like a pro player, but you do need to have good technical foundations and high levels of consistency with your strokes.
If you have an unorthodox playing style, this can work too. You do need to be able to execute your unorthodox strokes consistently. But if you can play consistently, then stick with it. You really don’t have to change your game to be more like everyone else. An unorthodox player has the advantage of the surprise factor, which can be very effective at amateur level.
How about great technique? Should we all aspire to that? Yes and no. It’s great to watch the pro players and learn from them and try to develop our technique. But consistency is key.
If you try to play like a pro – to be more extreme with your speed and spin – and your consistency drops massively, you may have inadvertently developed bad technique! It takes huge amounts of practice to execute strokes at such a high level. Without training like a pro, then it can be very difficult to play at this level consistently.
If your table tennis goal is to be a pro player and you are prepared to put in all the training this requires, then aiming for great technique is essential.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
I keep mentioning the word ‘consistency’. This is what I feel is so important. Technique is not black and white. There are many grey areas and lots of nuances.
If you can play your strokes consistently, whether unorthodox, good or great – then you are doing something right. You can only win points in table tennis if you actually get the ball on the table consistently.
Use strokes which you can execute with high consistency. Of course, you can always strive for improvement – to make your shots better – but do so whilst maintaining consistency. If you do this, then as far as I am concerned, your technique is absolutely fine!