One of the great things about table tennis is that there are many different ways you can play and win.
Some players attack. Some players defend. Others like to mix up defence and attack. Some use lots of spin. Others prefer flat hits. Some players like to stay close to the table. Others will go three metres back. Most players use inverted rubbers, but others use pimples or anti-spin.
So many options. So many playing styles. But which is best? Which playing style will give you the most success? Let’s explore these questions…
Attack, attack attack?
If you had asked me about the best playing style 10 years ago. I would have given you a straightforward (and short) answer.
You must attack. And your attacks must be topspin.
Topspin, topspin, topspin.
Don’t contemplate other styles. Look at what the best professional players do. They attack at the earliest opportunity and they keep on attacking. You should copy the professional players. Copy their technique. Copy their footwork. Copy their tactics.
Simple and sensible advice.
But it’s not completely true.
What’s your table tennis goals?
As I have gained more experience as a coach and a player, I now give a more nuanced answer to this question.
What’s the best playing style?
It depends on your age, size, fitness levels, temperament. If you’re 70 years old with limited mobility, then trying to play power-loops back from the table like Ma Long is simply ridiculous.
It also depends massively on your table tennis goals.
If your goal is to simply to improve at local league level, maybe reach your top division or even be one of the best players in your town and city, then you can pretty much choose ANY playing style you want.
Here’s some options:
- Topspin attacker
- Flat hitting attacker
- One wing attacker
- Two wing attacker
- Fisher / lobber
- Long pips defender
- Long pips attacker
- Short pips attacker
- Anti-spin defender
Many of these styles can be played at different distances…
- Close to the table
- Far back from the table
And there are all kinds of combinations you might use. You might be defensive on your backhand but offensive on your forehand. You might mix up blocks and loops. You might like to lob balls up and then counter topspin. You might use pimples or anti-spin on one side and an inverted rubber on the other side (and then keep twiddling the bat!).
It is true that it is harder to progress with some styles compared to others at amateur level.
For example, if you like to push and play safe and wait for the other player to mess up, you can enjoy lots of success in lower divisions of local league. However, it does become harder to play this way and keep winning in higher divisions. But it is possible. If you really master the skills of pushing, blocking and attacking easy balls, you can still become one of the stronger players in your local area.
This is true for any playing style. And this is what makes table tennis so much fun at an amateur level. There is a huge range of playing styles, all of which can be successful.
But I want to be a pro player!
What if you have a more ambitious goal? What if you want to be one of the best players in your country? Or one of the best players in the world?
Now your options become a bit more limited. Pushers, blockers and all-out defenders are probably not going to make it on the male side. In the female pro game, there are more defenders in the top 100, but they are in decline also.
If you want to be a pro player, then you need to be more attacking. But within this category of ‘attacker’, you still have many playing styles to choose from…
- Forehand dominated attacker
- Backhand dominated attacker
- Two wing attacker (forehand and backhand equally strong)
In terms of spin, you may be…
- Heavy spin attacker
- Topspin drive attacker
- Hitter / puncher
In terms of playing distance, you may be…
- Close to the table attacker
- Mid-distance attacker
- Far from the table attacker
In terms of equipment, you may use…
- Inverted rubbers on both sides
- Short pimples one side, inverted rubber other side
- A modern defender, with long pimples on one side and inverted rubber on the other side
There are pro players, both male and female, who use any of the combinations above and I’m sure others that I have not mentioned.
Choosing a playing style
So which playing style is best?
Ha! Same answer again. But it really is true.
Some form of attacking game will probably allow you to progress the furthest. But there are many different types of attacking styles to choose from. No one attacking style is better than any other. If you can master the style of your choice (e.g. forehand dominated, close to table, topspin drive), you can go a long way.
But so much depends on your goals. If your goal is to progress in your local league, maybe play in the top division, and win local tournament or be one of the strongest players in your village, town or city, you can pretty much choose any playing style you want.
It may take a bit more work to become a top amateur player with a more defensive playing style, but it is absolutely possible.
Table tennis would be very dull if we all played the same way. I love the different playing styles. Don’t feel under pressure to conform. Embrace your unique style. Develop it. Master it. And unleash your skills on the world!