There is one skill which I work on with every player I coach. It doesn’t matter what standard or whether the player is an attacker or defender. I give every player the same advice.
Focus on ball placement.
This is the simplest and quickest way for every player to instantly improve.
You don’t need to learn any new shots. You just need to improve where you put the ball.
With better ball placement, you put your opponent under much more pressure. You get weak balls back. You force errors. You hit outright winners. Table tennis becomes much easier to play.
What is good ball placement?
For me, good ball placement is about using the full width of the table. This means playing balls deep. Playing balls wide. Playing balls to your opponent’s crossover. Sometimes playing the balls very short.
Balls played to the safe areas – the middle of the backhand side and the middle of the forehand side – may be easier for you to execute. But they are also a lot easier for your opponent to return and put you under pressure.
If you can consistently hit the circles shown in the diagram above, your opponent will find it much harder to return your shots.
Why is good ball placement effective?
There are many benefits to very good ball placement.
You make your opponent move more. It is harder for your opponent to move and hit compared to playing shots where no movement is needed.
If footwork is limited, then your opponent will reach for balls. Your opponent may still be able to return balls, but if reaching, the shot quality won’t be very good, giving you the opportunity to dominate the rally.
Even if your opponent has good footwork, if you play the balls wide or deep, you will move your opponent out of position and create open space and angles for follow up attacks. Again you will have the opportunity to dominate the rally.
When your opponent reacts to your good ball placement, the ball tends to come back to areas which are more central, which makes it easier for you to control the game. You become the puppet master pulling all the strings.
Physically and psychologically, your opponent can feel stretched, squeezed and helpless.
Good placement with every ball
You should get into the habit of trying to get good ball placement with every shot.
This means going for a good ball placement with your serve. Good ball placement when you return a serve. Good placement when you push. Good ball placement when you topspin. Good ball placement when you smash.
Every shot you aim to get a good ball placement. Of course, it’s not always possible to get every ball into a difficult position for your opponent. Your opponent may be doing the same thing to you and you’re simply reacting.
But you should aspire to get good ball placement. You should have a mindset of getting good ball placement as often as you can. This will give real focus to your play and make you much harder to play against.
Make it subconscious
If ball placement is a new concept for you, you will really need to actively focus on it. I recommend aiming for the lines, with as many balls as possible.
At first, you’ll probably make mistakes and hit many balls wide or off the end of the table. This is fine. It’s what I would call a ‘good mistake’. The more you do this, the more accurate you will become and you’ll make far less mistakes and hit a lot more very good well placed shots.
Eventually your ball placement skills will become automatic. Your subconscious will take over and you will go for well placed shots without even thinking about it.
Then you will have advanced ball placement skills and will win lots more points and matches.