Can’t smash, won’t smash

Image courtesy of R.Gros/ITTF

Imagine the scene. You play a great rally and force your opponent back from the table. You’re certain you are going to win the point. Your opponent, nearly defeated, tries one last shot in desperation. He lobs the ball back high. Your heart sinks. The dreaded high lob. You hate these and feel really stupid every time you miss. A sudden explosion of tension races through your body. Your muscles tighten up. Your legs freeze to the spot. You attempt to smash the ball, but miss it completely. Your opponent celebrates winning the point, having looked certain to lose. But you feel his celebration is mocking your inability to smash a high ball. Your head drops. You feel humiliated. 

Some players just can’t smash high balls. Or I should say, some players have never learnt to smash high balls. It seems like it should be so easy. The ball is up high. There is a huge margin to hit the ball over the net. How can you possibly miss?

Like all shots in table tennis, there is a skill to smashing high balls consistently. You need to have the correct body position, bat starting position, bat angle, timing, swing trajectory and contact. If any of these elements are wrong, then it is very easy to mess up your smash. Too square on? You’re likely to flap at the ball. Bat too low? You’re likely to let the ball drop too much and smash the ball into the net. Bat angle too open? You’re likely to hit the ball off the end of the table.

Smashing high balls does require practice. I don’t know anyone who has instinctively known how to smash. Every player who smashes well has learnt the technique, practised it and mastered it. If you never purposefully practice smashing high balls, it really shouldn’t be a surprise you can’t execute this shot in a match. 

Having said that, smashing a high ball is one of the easier skills in table tennis. It doesn’t require as much practice as other shots. Once you have developed a basic smashing technique, you’ll find the shot straight forward to do. In my coaching sessions, almost all players can smash consistently with just 15 minutes of focused practice using a fairly basic technique.


So what is the best technique for smashing high balls? Some players like to spin the ball. Other players will do an elaborate jump. But I like to keep the technique simple…

  • When the ball is high in the air, position your body so that you are a little more side-on to the ball
  • Get your bat up high, around shoulder height
  • When the ball is shoulder height (either rising or falling), this is the time to make contact
  • Slightly angle your bat towards the table and hit through the back of the ball. 

This basic smashing technique will allow you to smash high balls with a very high level of consistency. 

Here’s a video I made a few years ago, where I explain and demonstrate this basic smashing technique:

You don’t need to spend loads of time practising smashes, especially when you are confident you can do it consistently.

But if you struggle to smash high balls, please do not avoid it. You won’t ever magically get better at it. It’s not an innate skill which everyone should be expected to do. You need to get the technique right and this requires actually practising the shot.

Plus, it is very good fun doing lob and smash rallies. It’s a nice distraction from your other table tennis training. You get to practise your smashes, hitting the ball really hard. It’s a great physical workout. And your partner gets to practice sending crazy high balls back on the table. You’ll play some great rallies! 

In reality, you don’t get that many high balls in a table tennis match. But when you do get the occasional high ball, it should be your point. So make sure you can smash consistently. If you can’t, learn my basic technique and do some purposeful practice. You’ll be smashing it in no time.

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