Backhand Footwork – Is It Necessary in Table Tennis Training?

Jena Newgarden
I recently posted a video to Facebook demonstrating one of my warm-up drills that includes hitting backhands and forehands from various locations on the ping pong table.  One top-level table tennis player commented that I should not be doing my backhand from the middle/forehand side of the table.  I questioned him as to why.  He correctly responded by saying that it is extremely difficult to cover the wide backhand if you play a backhand from the middle of the table.  He is Right!  That is…   well…  unless you have backhand footwork.

Typically, playing about 60-65% forehand and about 35-40% backhand will allow you to cover the table best.  However, for some of my table tennis students, I give some flexibility as each player/style/age/conditioning/body type is unique.  Because the forehand zone is larger, most players practice forehand footwork or full-table footwork.  I have rarely seen players practicing backhand footwork.

Before I give you a list of backhand footwork drills that I personally do, I must first explain the difference between the backhand hitting zone and the forehand hitting zone.  The forehand hitting zone is much taller, wider, and deeper.  With the possibility of reaching slightly and up or down our out or leaning in, your stroke is taller and wider.  With the possibility of hitting the forehand slightly behind, beside, or in-front of your body, the forehand hitting zone is also deeper.  The same is not true with the backhand.  The backhand hitting zone is short, narrow, and shallow.  With the primary snap coming from the wrist and forearm, you lose about 80% of your speed, spin, and control when reaching or leaning.  The depth is also more sensitive because your body is in the way; so hitting beside or behind your body is nearly impossible.  With a smaller hitting zone on the backhand, I think that you now can understand why backhand footwork is important!  It is critically important to expand the hitting zone.  That powerful backhand rip that you have is only possible in your zone.  Top table tennis players won’t often hit to your zone.  So you need to move your zone to the ball instead of waiting for the ball to hit your zone! (read the last sentence again and think about it)

Here are a few backhand footwork drills that I love:

Drill #1 (beginner level)

The blocker gives you one ball to the middle and one ball to the backhand; you continuously attack to the backhand.  This drill will help you establish the base movement.  Position your body about two feet from the table.  Stay slightly on your toes and slightly on the inside of your feet.  By keeping your racket in-front, your body weight should be leaning forward.  As soon as you attack the first ball, shuffle into position for the next hit.  Target hitting ten balls each rally, that’s a good goal.  If you are consistently make ten shots, then increase the speed slightly.

Drill #2 (intermediate level)

The blocker gives you very slow blocks to the backhand 50% of the table.  You continuously attack to the backhand.  Focus on watching your opponent’s racket so that you can predict where the incoming ball will likely hit.  As the ball approaches, watch the incoming ball until you make contact.  If you move correctly and the ball is in your hitting zone, then hit with moderate power.  If you did not get in the correct position, then hit with less power.  The drill is excellent for developing your ability to watch, your ability to move, and most importantly your ability to adjust your power based on your zone.  In table tennis matches, you need to decide (within a split second) if you should go strong or if you should just play control.  Your ability to make that critical choice, will be the difference this year in winning and losing.

Drill #3 (Advanced Level)

The blocker gives you variation blocks to the backhand 60% of the table – sometimes he blocks very soft and sometimes he applies a bit of pressure.  You continuously attack one ball to the backhand and one ball to his forehand.  This one is tough!  The reason that this drill is so difficult is because you must adjust to various speeds of the block, you must hit to various locations, and you must adjust to balls coming from various locations to the backhand 50% of the table.  For this drill, target hitting 7-8 balls each rally.  If you are missing before 7-8 balls, then ask the blocker to go slower until you get the hang of it.

Drill #4 (Advanced Level)

The blocker serves short to your forehand.  You step forward, lean over the table, and backhand banana flip to his backhand.  He blocks quickly to either corner, then the drill turns into a free point, where both players can hit to any location.  I see that many table tennis players are trying to develop the backhand banana flip; it really is a good shot.  As a deterrent for this, many opponents are now serving to the short forehand.  Backhand flipping this serve is great, but only if you have backhand footwork and are able to move for the next shot.

Drill #5 (Kids, This Is For Professionals, Don’t Try This At Home)

The blocker serves backspin long to the backhand or short backspin to the forehand.  If the blocker serves long, then the drill begins immediately.  If the blocker serve short to the forehand, then he can push up to five more times short to the forehand before pushing sharp to the backhand.  Now that the drill has started, you attack deep to the blocker’s backhand continuously for 2-10 attacks.  When you choose to attack down-the-line, then the blocker counterloops crosscourt and the drill turns into a free point with both players hitting anywhere.

As you can see, backhand footwork is important.  By watching your opponent, adjusting with your feet, adjusting your racket, and making good decisions, you will be well on your way to a stronger backhand this year.  As with any skill, it takes time.  Continuously practicing these table tennis skills again and again, and trying them out in matches again and again, will lead to success.  Best wishes with your backhand footwork!

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Table Tennis Coaches – Avoid This Word

Jena Newgarden
As a table tennis coach, I think it is very important to praise and encourage your students when they have played well. If a coach compliments their student and then follows it with the word “but”, it basically discounts the positive that was just said and can be discouraging to the student.

For example:

My student asks, “So Coach Samson, what do you think about my performance at the last table tennis tournament?”

I reply, “Your looping was very powerful, your footwork was fast, you had good strategy, BUT you missed every smash.”

By using the word “but” it puts the focus on what my table tennis student didn’t do.  In light of all the good things that I said, he will remember that I was focusing on his one weak point.  Instead, here is how I should have worded that sentence.

I reply, “Your looping was very powerful, your footwork was fast, you had a good strategy, AND we need to continue to work on perfecting your smash.”

By using the word “AND” I have not degraded him but instead I show that we have areas to continue improving while building his confidence.

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What to Look for in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
When watching a professional table tennis player, what you are looking at?  Are you looking at the bright color of his shoes, the weird design on his shirt, his massive leg muscles, or the funny expression that he makes when serving?  If so, you aren’t paying attention to the most important things if you want to learn how to improve your table tennis game.

Here are the key components of a table tennis game to look for if you want to learn from observing.

1. Preparation

Watch how he goes through his pre-point routine before stepping up to the ping-pong table.

2. Serve and receive

Watch how he stands to receive a serve – his distance from the table, his racket position, his racket height, his foot positioning, his balance.  Watch when he serves – his positioning, his backswing, his contact point, his follow through, and his return-to-the-ready position.

3. Footwork

Watch how he moves for each ball, watch how he anticipates for the next ball, watch how he continues to adjust and re-adjust for each ball with large leaps as well as micro steps.

4. Shot Selection

Watch how he chooses when to loop, when to block, when to counter-loop, when to stay close, when to back up – watch his shot selection.

5. Time Between Points

Watch how he takes his time between points.  Watch as he walks back to pick up the ball, how his body language is showing his thoughtfulness as he mentally gears up for the next point.

Instead of trying to watch all of these elements at once, I would recommend watching a short YouTube video five times.  Each time, watch a different aspect of the table tennis game as outlined above.  By training yourself to watch each aspect separately, you will better be able to learn the details of the sport of the table tennis.

Samson Dubina

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Concentration in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
I have a little homework assignment for you.  Stand two feet away from a 5-gallon bucket and toss a penny into the bucket.  Easy, right?  Now stand two feet away from a gallon of milk (with the lid off) and toss a penny into the milk container.  This requires more aiming and more focus, right?

The same is true in regards to your table tennis game.  The amount of concentration that most table tennis players use is directly related to the task at hand.  A very spinny push to your middle might require some fancy footwork and some good concentration to successfully loop.  A sidespin counter loop wide to your forehand might require perfect timing and good concentration to counter loop back around the net.  Everyone puts good concentration on these difficult shots.  HOWEVER, many players lose focus on “easy balls” like a short high-ball that could easily be smashed for a winner.  As soon as they lose 5% of their focus then these players usually don’t move well, become sloppy, lose their spin, miss the “easy ball”, and then become frustrated.  Approach these “easy balls” as being difficult balls.  Approach these balls with 100% concentration.

The same mental flaw is true in regards to playing lower level table tennis opponents.  The amount of concentration that most players use is directly related to the task at hand.  Even when playing lower-rated opponents, bring out your best game with 100% focus and you will have no regrets in your table tennis matches.

Samson Dubina

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