The secret to playing great table tennis

Most table tennis coaches have one ‘secret’ to playing great table tennis, which they favour more than others. It could be a certain type of grip, playing distance from the table, mental preparation or any number of tactical or technical innovations.

My ‘secret’ – the one thing I emphasise over all others with the players I coach – is good movement. It doesn’t matter what style of table tennis you play – you could be a forehand attacker, a backhand attacker, a blocker, a lobber, a chopper – you need to get your feet and body into position to play shots consistently time and time again.

Even if you have entirely unorthodox technique, you can still play great table tennis, as long as you move into the best positions to play your unorthodox consistently every time.

As a general guide (although there are some exceptions), you should try and play backhand shots in front of your body and forehand shots to the side of your body. Of course, if your opponent was to hit the ball in the same spot over and over again, this would be easy to do. But table tennis isn’t like that. The ball goes everywhere. When playing matches you rarely get two consecutive shots go to exactly the same place. So to consistently play backhands in front of your body and forehands to the side of your body, you need to move. A lot.

Inconsistency happens when you’re too static. If you don’t move, you end up reaching for too many balls or playing awkward shots close to your body. And when this happens it’s very difficult to play shots with good technique. Most of the time a player will end up hitting the ball into the net, off the table, or playing a weak shot which their opponent can easily attack.

In the video below from my course Table Tennis for Beginners, I play some rallies with movement and some without. Guess which rallies are better…

Of course, table tennis is so fast that you can’t always get into position and you may need to improvise, but your aim should always be to get your feet and body into a good position to play each shot effectively.

As a player, I’m always trying to improve my footwork and movement. When I move well, I usually play well. When I’m too static (or too lazy to move), that’s when I make silly mistakes. I seem to have quite long limbs in relation to my height, so the temptation is always to use my reach to get to balls. But I know this won’t be as effective as moving my feet to get closer to the ball, so I can play shots with the correct technique. It’s something I consciously have to think about and remind myself to do in matches.

So, for me, movement is the ‘secret’ to playing great table tennis. It’s what really differentiates table tennis as a sport from a friendly bit of ping pong. But movement requires effort. Excellent movement in table tennis requires a lot of effort. It’s hard work! Just watch videos of the professionals. They are brilliantly conditioned athletes with strong legs and very quick and precise footwork. And pay attention to just how much they move, all of the time. Most of us will never reach the standard of the professionals, but we can certainly learn from them and try to incorporate more movement in our game.

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