How to Avoid Getting Stuck in Pushing Rallies

This is Episode 021 of the Ask a Table Tennis Coach podcast. Today’s question comes from Sarah and it’s all about how to avoid getting stuck in pushing rallies.

Sarah asks…

“What do you do if you’re stuck in lots of push to push rallies and you’re too scared to attack? Do you have any tips for me when playing against these defensive players?”

Well, Sarah, push to push rallies can be a real problem, especially for new players. I remember when Sam first started playing competitively during the Expert in a Year challenge and he really hated coming up against someone who was just pushing all the time and just getting stuck in those pushing rallies. He did not have the confidence to go for one of the loops in matches, but was able to do it in training.

There’s nothing worse than playing 20 pushes and getting into a really long rally then decide trying to loop a ball and missing it or putting it in the net and losing the point after putting in all that effort. So I understand your pain there and it’s something that you just need to deal with when you get into competitive table tennis.

Firstly I’d say the most important thing to do is to get comfortable pushing. I like to say that you should really just be able to push forever. If you’re just pushing pushing pushing, backhand and forehand, you should be able to keep going without making any mistakes at all. If your pushing is good then chances are your opponent probably isn’t going to fall back on going for that kind of strategy against you.

People tend to do that if they think that someone’s pushing is weak and that they’re going to make unforced errors and that is an easy way for them to win points. So if your pushing is solid then chances are that you are not going to come up against people pushing quite as much as you would.

Now the other thing that you can do with your push is, as well as being consistent, to think about varying. You might want to do some where you’re having more spin and some where you’re putting on a bit less back spin. Also think about the placement and the direction that you’re using as well so you’re getting balls really deep, getting balls really wide and getting players into their crossover. That’s going to help you to then force them to make errors when you are doing these pushing rallies.

The main thing you need to be doing is working on looping these back spin balls and that’s going to take time to master but it’s something that you need to be doing in training; learning how to loop back spin especially on your forehand side.

So Sarah definitely try and spend some time in training learning that shot, maybe with a coach or maybe just get someone to feed you back spin balls or with a robot. But if you focus on heavy spin, brushing the ball up, that’s going to come in really handy. It’s really one of those strokes that you need to master at some stage during your development.

The next thing I want to say is just how important shot selection is when you’re playing competitive table tennis. You don’t need to just loop the first long push that you get. You might watch the professionals and see that any long back spin balls they just get in and loop them straight away but if you’re fairly new to tournament table tennis then you can definitely take your time, wait for the ball a bit more, and look for a ball that’s a bit higher or that’s a really good length. Maybe look for one that comes directly into your forehand so you don’t have to move and you can just loop that one.

Definitely try and take your time, you don’t need to be looping everything like a complete maniac. Do a few pushes but then wait for the right one, and when you see it commit to it and go for it. And also remember that when you’re serving you can basically stop them from starting this pushing rally if you serve long or if you serve fast using top spin that’s going to force them to drive and to attack the ball and you’re not going to end up doing these pushing rallies.

So don’t choose a short backspin serve if you’re playing someone that really likes to do pushing and that’s irritating you. Even if that’s your best serve, in that situation that’s just not a wise decision. Think about different serves you can do that will be virtually impossible for them to push.

Now the final thing I want to say is how important confidence and self-belief is in the game of table tennis. If you’re finding yourself scared and worried of missing shots then you’re not going to be playing your best table tennis, and this is a really important lesson. So if you get down and you go for this forehand loop against backspin, you need to see that ball going on the table and believe that it’s going to go on. If you’re worried you’re going to put it in the net because its back spin then you’re a lot more likely to actually put that ball into the net.

So good luck Sarah! I hope all goes well with you. Do the training so that you’ve got all the tools and the strokes at your disposal and then when you’re in the matches and you find yourself in those situations just believe in yourself and your ability to use them at the appropriate time.

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