Tactics for beating a pusher

Tactics for beating a pusher

In local league table tennis, especially in the lower divisions, you’ll often have to play against pushers. These are players who don’t seem to do much else other than play forehand pushes and backhand pushes, over and over again.

They keep the ball low over the net, with plenty of backspin, making it difficult for you to attack. Even if the ball pops up high, they may wait for the ball to drop and push again rather than attack.

The pusher’s aim is to frustrate you. They want to draw you into a pushing match (which is what they are best at) or force you to take on a risky attack. The outcome is often an unforced attacking error, frustration, more attacking errors and more frustration.

Pushing is a safe way of playing table tennis, but it can be very effective at lower levels of table tennis. A pusher can win lots of matches, simply by putting the ball back on the table and waiting for their opponent to mess up. They barely break a sweat!

If you struggle against this type of player, here’s some suggestions to help you win more points.

Attack with topspin – This is by far the easiest way to beat a pusher. They want to keep you in a backspin rally, so don’t let them. If their push is long enough, you should try and play a topspin attack. Pushers usually stick quite close to the table (unlike a chopper who will go back and keep defending), so if you get a topspin attack on the table you will often win the point outright or get a high ball to attack.

If you find it difficult to play topspin attacks against backspin balls, you need to prioritise developing the correct technique, as it gives you so many more attacking options. Take a look at my forehand topspin vs backspin page for coaching tips (I’ll be adding a backhand topspin vs backspin page soon).

Use long serves – Pushers aren’t usually very strong attackers (this is why they push!), so you can use plenty of long serves. If you serve long topspin or sidespin it is much harder for a pusher to keep the ball back short and low. You should get plenty of easy balls to attack.

Make them move – From my experience of playing pushers, they don’t move particularly well. Their comfort zone is the middle of the table. So play outside of their comfort zone. Aim for wide angles, keep switching the direction of play, touch some balls short and attack deep. If you keep them moving, they will make more errors or give you easy balls to attack.

Target their weak side – A pusher often (not always) has a weaker side. They prefer to push with either backhand or forehand. If they have a weaker side, target it. For example, if a pusher prefers to play backhand pushes, they may try to cover most of the table with their backhand. If you place the ball to a wide forehand position, you will make it very awkward for them to play a backhand push. You will force them to use their weaker side and they will make more errors or give you easy balls to attack.

Give them a few balls to attack – This may seem like a strange tactic, but pushers are often very erratic when they attack.  They may hit one or two winners but will miss lots. Try popping the ball up with a push or a slow topspin and tempt them to attack. You’ll often get a cheap point as they hit the ball into the net or long. You probably shouldn’t overuse this tactic as the pusher could gain confidence and start hitting more winners than errors. But doing it occasionally can work.

Play them at their own game – If all else fails, try playing them at their own game. I remember a league game in London and a junior on my team was playing a pusher. He kept missing his attacks and was getting frustrated. Eventually he switched tactics and just kept pushing the ball back. It was tedious to watch – two players pushing the ball back and forth for ages – but he won!

Out of all of the tactics above, I have found playing topspin attacks to be by far the most effective tactic. If you master this, you’ll find this type of opponent quite easy to beat.

What tactics do you use when playing a pusher? Let me know in the comments box below.

About Tom Lodziak

I’m a table tennis coach based in Cambridge in the UK. I have 70+ free table tennis lessons on my popular YouTube channel. I also have 150+ coaching articles to help you improve your table tennis skills. You can read more about my background on my About Tom page.

10 thoughts on “Tactics for beating a pusher

  1. Hi Tom, Once again, a very good article. Pushers are the bane of my life, and I do struggle against them. I am working on being more positive and attacking /looping their push but consistency is my main problem. When practicing against a robot, you get the same amount of backspin to loop against every time, but in a real match you sometimes get light backspin, heavy backspin and float which have to be played differently. In a match, I often find that after I have missed a few shots and lost confidence, I tend to try and out push them, which to me is the wrong approach.

    • Yes, I agree, trying to out-push them is not the best approach. Playing topspin attacks is the key to success. With some players I coach I do simple push-topspin match practice. I take on the role of the pusher, varying spin and placement. To win a point, all my opponent has to do is get a topspin attack on the table. I found this is a good exercise to do, as the player really focuses on their topspin attacks and their consistency and confidence improves.

  2. My problem is against a penhold pusher. The minute I turn the game into topsin, he is good at blocking and angling his returns. Not sure what tactics to use against this oppontent.

  3. I have found boredom as an obstacle playing against pushing. The match becomes so slow, hard to stay mentally engaged.

    I found that fast long serves have been extremely helpful in picking up the pace of rallies as well as the games, n match.

    Along with this I am more decisive, less deceptive and serve more quickly, almost rushed.

    The above lead to more 3rd ball attacks, finishing points faster, won n lost. The faster pace is more important to win the match.

    • Ha! Yes, the pusher can bore you into submission. Worst thing is when you get two pushers playing each other. It’s very tedious! You make a good point about keeping the points faster. The pusher wants to slow things down, so don’t let him. Keep playing fast and he will be out of his comfort zone.

  4. I am about a 1500 and I played a person who pushed every ball and when I looped it, he would block it back down the table. After missing a couple of loops I started to play his pushing game. It was very ineffective and I ended up losing the game. One thing that I took away from the game is that even if you start to miss loops off the table or even into the net, is to just keep trying. After landing a couple on the table I believe it would give you enough confidence to loop consistently because once you loop and he blocks, he is forced out of his comfort zone and you control the point.

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