How to Play a Forehand Drive in Table Tennis

forehand drive table tennisThe forehand drive is the first of the basic strokes that I teach. Once mastered, it should become one of your most used table tennis shots. The forehand drive forms the basis for more advanced strokes such as the block, the topspin loop and the counter topspin, so it’s really important to develop a strong and consistent stroke.

This post will highlight the correct technique for playing a forehand drive in table tennis. I will use my own knowledge as a table tennis coach and a video featuring Head Table Tennis Coach at Greenhouse Charity, Jason Sugrue.

What Is The Forehand Drive?

  • The forehand drive is one of the four basic table tennis strokes. The other three are the backhand drive, backhand push and forehand push.
  • The forehand drive is an attacking stroke played with a small amount of topspin. It is a drive shot and not a topspin loop!
  • The forehand drive is played against long or medium length topspin or float balls. You can’t play a forehand drive off a short ball (that would be a flick) and you can’t play a forehand drive off a backspin ball (that would go in the net).
  • The forehand drive is usually played from the forehand side but players are also encouraged to use their forehand drive against balls that come to their middle. Advanced players will even sometimes move around to play a forehand drive from their backhand side, if they see the ball early enough!

Jason Sugrue’s Video

Here is a really good video going through some of the key points for the forehand drive. There are a few things it doesn’t mention, such as weight transfer, but overall it does a really good job for a two minute video.

My Coaching Points

Here are my key coaching points. I’ve tried to go into a bit more detail than the video. I break the forehand drive down into four sections; the stance, the backswing, the strike and the finish.

The Stance

  • Feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • If right-handed, the right foot should be slightly further back than the left.
  • Knees should be slightly bent.
  • Body should be leaning forward.
  • Both arms should be out in front of you.
  • About a 90-110 degree bend at the elbow.
  • Stand quite close to the table, an arms length away.
  • Weight distributed on both feet and on the balls/toes, not heels.

The Backswing

  • Rotate your body to the right, from your hips.
  • Elbow and bat rotate back with you.
  • Bat angle closes.
  • Weight shifts onto the back foot, right foot for a right-handed player.
  • The body is moving the arm, not the other way round!
  • Both arms move together, as if you’re carrying a tray.

The Strike

  • Hips and shoulders rotate forwards to meet the ball.
  • The arm moves forward with the body.
  • Accelerate the forearm slightly as you make contact, similar to doing a military salute.
  • Weight transfers to the front foot, left foot.
  • Bat angle stays closed throughout the shot.
  • Take the ball at the peak of the bounce and out in front of you.
  • Keep a small gap between the elbow and the body.

The Finish

  • Follow through, forward and upward.
  • Your bat should finish pointing where you have hit the ball.
  • Don’t let your arms swing across your body in a long follow through.
  • Always get back to the ready position.

Common Errors

Here are some common errors to look out for in your own shot.

  1. Ensure your weight is moving from back foot to front foot during the strike. Some players end up with their upper body moving forwards while their lower body moves backwards.
  2. Rotate from your hips not your shoulders. The forehand drive should come from the hips. You will sometimes see players twisting back their shoulders and not moving their hips. They will look a bit like a robot playing the stroke. The lower part of your body is very important.
  3. Keep a gap between your elbows and body. A common mistake is tucking the elbows into the body, giving a very limited rotation and later on, little power.
  4. Let your body move your arm. Beginners will often swing their arm at the ball without moving their body at all. A correct forehand drive should have the rotation of the body moving the arm. The power will come from the body and good weight transfer. The arm is just for control.
  5. Keep your wrist relatively straight. Some players drop their wrist through the forehand drive so that the racket is facing downwards. This makes the shot harder to control and usually softer.
  6. Finish the shot with the bat pointing where you hit the ball. Many players over rotate and end up with the bat across their body or over their neck. This is fine is other racket sports such as tennis but not in table tennis. You should accelerate on contact with the ball and then make a solid finish with the bat out in front of you.
  7. Take the ball at the peak of the bounce. It may seem easier to wait for the ball to drop slightly before making contact but this is not a drive. On some topspin loop shots our contact point is lower but the drive is always peak of the bounce, over the table.
  8. Keep the bat angle closed throughout the stroke. Don’t try to change the angle of the bat during the shot. Some players start with a neutral bat angle and try to close it after the backswing as they strike the ball. This is not a good technique.

I hope that’s given you all the key coaching points you need for the forehand drive. I have spent the last few years coaching hundreds of children the forehand drive in group sessions and individually and it is usually the ones that are best at listening that make the biggest improvements. There’s a lot to take in!

Try to add one point at a time to your technique to combat any brain overload. Once you have made an improvement there, add another pointer. There’s no rush and learning in this way will increase your ability to remember the key tips.

If you’ve enjoyed this article please leave me a comment or share this with a friend. I am starting to build a page entitled ‘How to Play Table Tennis‘ which I will use as a directory of all my technical coaching articles. You can find that in the top navigation under ‘Learn to Play’.

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Thank you for reading.

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  • Duarte Cesar ARmando

    Hola Ben que gran aporte al tennis de mesa, yo soy aficionado y me gustaria aprender a ejercitar mis movimientos de pies en la mesa durante el juego.voy bien de Drive y de Reves.Gracias Ben.-

    • Ben Larcombe

      Hi Duarte,

      I have tried to translate your comment and I believe you are asking how to improve your footwork around the table. I have began to create a table tennis drill directory and I will be filling it with footwork drills very soon. Keep your eyes on that page, you can find it in the sidebar. The first footwork post goes live on 28th February. Hope that helps.

  • Sachin Bajaj

    A Corporate Professional in India, with a hobby of playing and learning Table Tennis and few other Games.

    Corporate Life saturates human’s personiality, so being into Games in a ever learning process brings positivity and focus in life.

    This is at present, I’m focussing on TT, improving on my technique, getting coached and trying to be better day-by-day.

    • Ben Larcombe

      Hi Sachin,

      Thanks for your comment. It seems I have many readers from India. If there’s any way I can help you improve your table tennis please feel free to get in touch. It’s great to hear you’ve taken up the sport and are serious about getting better. Table tennis is great fun!

  • Ana

    Hi, very good explanation, however I am not sure how to play forehand drive down the line and diagonally ? For this kind of combination should I just keep moving my left foot? Could you please help. THANKS

    • Ben Larcombe

      Hi Ana, are you left-handed? You’re correct, you will have to move your feet when switching from diagonal to down the line. You would probably mainly be moving the back foot. If you’re right-handed this would be your right foot. If you’re left-handed, you’re left. Hope that helps :)

  • MikeH

    Hi Ben,
    You suggested:”Don’t let your arms swing across your body in a long follow through.” Unfortunately, I am doing precisely that, especially when I hit hard. How do I prevent myself from over rotating? Wouldn’t I be spending energy to stop my momentum?

    • Ben Larcombe

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for getting in touch and here are a few things to think about. Firstly, are you over rotating or are you just rotating in the wrong direction? Lots of plays that swing the bat across there body are actually rotating the correct amount but are rotating from right to left (across their body) instead of from back to front (in the direction they want to hit the ball). Make sure you have a significant backswing before you make contact with the ball as not twisting backwards enough will likely make you play across your body. Secondly, it’s not about trying to stop the natural swing of the shot, this is good and how you will get some power on the ball. Instead, concentrate on directing that swing towards where you want the ball to go. Let you arm and bat swing after the ball, instead of across your body. It might feel a bit strange at first but after a while you’ll realise it is a much more natural way to play the stroke and requires much less energy as all of the force you exert goes into the ball and the direction you want it to travel.
      Hope that helps!

      • MikeH

        Thanks for the reply. It makes sense. I’ll practice as yoy’ve suggested.

  • Deb

    Hi Ben,

    I am a beginner player . I am wondering how to do this when the ball come in the right corner /side of the table. Do I have to extend my arm and change the bat angle ? Or I have to change my stance ? Please reply.

    U r the best .Thanks a lot. Bye.

    • Ben Larcombe

      Hi Deb,

      A common mistake made my beginners is not adjusting their feet when the direction of the ball changes slightly. If the ball comes slightly wider to your forehand get into the habit of making a small side-step to your right to play the stroke as normal, instead of trying to stretch out your arm and reach for the ball.

      Hope that helps,


  • snehilrock
  • benlarcombe

    snehilrock Hi Snehil, thanks for your comment. How in particular can I help you? I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

  • Suj Mahraj

    Hello Ben,

    This is Suraj Mahraj from India.
    You mentioned that playing a topspin shot to the ball which has backspin on it makes it go into the net. I have tried it and I agree with it.

    Sometimes, imparting a large amount of topspin to the ball does carry it to the opponent’s side. But, it is very difficult and I end up standing unstable to play the next ball. So how do I attack a long backspin ball? Give me the correct technique please!

    • Ben Larcombe

      To make this shot you need to play a loop, or an open-up shot. This is where you get yourself down to a lower starting position and then really focus on brushing the back of the ball, accelerating the create spin and using the lift from your legs and body to get the ball over the net. This is a difficult shot to master but it is also very important to learn.

  • Samir Mehta

    My name is Samir Mehta. Looking for a dedicated coach in South Delhi. Have a decent game,Played in school and college. At 53 years, came back into the game(now 55), want to take my game to the next level. I effectively use push, blocks, back hand top spin and flick, fore hand top spin. Want to improve my technique around forehand and backhand counters, arms tend to get locked during long rallies and feet movement slows down.
    Consider myself fit for my age, doing half marathons for the last 3 years.

    Please contact me at [email protected]