Do you need to take your table tennis back to basics? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, especially as I’ve been coaching players that didn’t start their table tennis with me.
I’m always barking on about the importance of developing solid technique at the early stages of your table tennis but what happens if you’ve been playing for a while without much coaching? Perhaps you’ve joined a local league, or played regularly with friends, and have started to get quite good. You’re now able to win some matches and hold your own against some decent looking players.
If this sounds like you and you would like to take your table tennis a bit more seriously, and really begin improving your game, then I’m afraid the way forward may be taking a few steps back.
Let me explain.
Chances are if this is ringing true for you, you probably fit into one of these two groups;
- Unorthodox players: Your technique is pretty much completely unorthodox and self-taught. You may have had a tiny amount of coaching but you’ve pretty much just played shots as you like. You’ve spent quite a lot of time playing and have got quite good at playing ‘your way’ but you realise that your technique has little in common to the players you see on TV or in the premier division of your local league.
- Orthodox players: To the average player your technique looks about right. You have received some coaching (perhaps not enough or too long ago to remember) and you’re doing your best to play correctly. You’ve been playing for long enough that people would think it a bit odd (or even rude) to mention to you that your technique is not quite right. You might even be a very good and respected player.
In my coaching, I’ve encountered players in both of these groups and everywhere in between and I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to encourage them to spend some time going back over the basics in order to see greater improvements, to their game, in the future. To be fair to the players, most have got fully on board with what I’m trying to do.
What do I mean by ‘back to basics’?
When I talk about getting ‘back to basics’ with your table tennis I’m really talking about;
- Correcting your grip and stance (here is a picture of bad grip, haha).
- Tweaking, or in some cases completely reworking, the four basic strokes.
- Learning how to move, footwork, weight transfer etc.
In my mind, these are the three areas that should be covered extensively when you are learning the basics as a beginner and therefore should be correct in all intermediate and advanced players. Obviously everybody will have slight, tiny differences in the way they hold the bat, stand, play their strokes and move, but there is still a generally accepted ‘best practice’ that should be modeled near enough.
Why is it so important to go ‘back to basics’?
This is a question that I’m asked every now and again and I have a number of different answers depending on the player;
- A fault in your technique is holding you back from developing further. For example, an ineffective grip is giving you a weak backhand or forcing you to change between shots which is slowing you down. Or, your near vertical backhand drive technique is stopping you from being able to develop a backhand topspin and making you punch instead.
- A fault in your technique is affecting your current game. For example, your flat-footed stance is making you very slow moving around the table and lowering your current standard of play. Or, your lack of weight transfer is making your otherwise great forehand topspin lacking in power and easy to return.
- A fault in your technique could cause you injuries in the future. For example, the way you ‘throw’ your shoulder during your forehand may be putting excessive load on the joint and could lead to a repetitive strain injury. Or, your stance could lead to back problems when you play big shots.
The answer is always slightly different and targeted to the particular needs of the player but you get the idea.
You may be thinking, “Can’t these issues just be dealt with right here, right now, instead of going back to the drives and pushes etc.”, but I believe it’s always better to get it right at the simple level first. When my players do eventually move on to learning to topspin or loop the ball it’s unbelievable how quickly some of them are able to pick it up because they have spent the hours, before, perfecting their forehand drive.
I often ask them, “Have you done this before, somewhere else?”, to which they reply, “No”. This is why I always think it’s best to go back to basics. If the problem is too much side-wards wrist on your backhand topspin (for example), go back to the backhand drive and correct it there. Once you can do that, then try again with the topspin. You’ll find it much easier to correct in your slower and more consistent backhand drive and then much easier to transfer to your backhand topspin.
How to go ‘back to basics’?
If you’ve got to this point I’m assuming you agree with me to some degree but now we come to the question, “How do I go back to basics?”
If you have a good coach then this one is easy. They probably already know the parts of your game/technique that need tweaking but might not have wanted to make a big deal out of it or thought you weren’t interested. Simply ask them and see what they say.
When I went to Denmark for a training camp a couple of summers ago I was amazed by how much time the coaches spent ripping apart what I assumed was my pretty spot-on technique. However, after a few sessions I realised what they were talking about (there was a bit of a language barrier too!) and was able to see how much more effective their recommendations were. If you have a good coach, you don’t have too much to worry about.
If you don’t have a coach then you will need to do a lot more work yourself. Here are some things to think about;
- Are you able to video yourself? – It can be much easier spotting faults in your own technique if you are able to watch yourself and rewind and watch again. Film yourself playing a range of shots, and then a game, and you may be surprised at what you see.
- Ask other players and compare yourself to them – They might say the wrong things or they might be doing the wrong things but by comparing yourself to them and using a bit of common sense you should be able to play spot-the-difference and at least try out a few things.
- Read articles and watch training videos – There are a number of good table tennis blogs out there and countless free technique videos on YouTube. Spend time learning the basic techniques and strokes back-to-front. You can teach yourself and become a bit of a coach just by reading and watching. Once you understand the shots, think about how the key points relate to your own technique.
That’s quite a long post and I only intended to write a short one. I guess I got a bit carried away talking about a subject I’m passionate about; technique.
My final thoughts; it can seem annoying and certainly not the most fun part of your table tennis training but if you’re serious about improving your level then I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is to go back to basics and make sure you’re doing everything in the most efficient way.
If you’ve got a coach then congratulations, if not I’d be happy to help. If you have any questions then I’ve got a new page called “Ask Me a Question” which you can find in the top navigation under “ASK”. I’d love to hear from you and help you out. Alternatively, record yourself playing and email it to me! I’d be happy to watch it and give you some pointers, for free (of course).
Thank you very much for reading and good luck in the training hall!