How to Play a Backhand Drive in Table Tennis

The backhand drive is the second table tennis shot that I teach to my beginners. It is a very important shot that allows you to control rallies, return opponents attacks and step on the offensive yourself. If you fail to learn the backhand drive you will find it much harder later on when you try to block with your backhand or play a more aggressive topspin stroke.

The backhand drive is probably a slightly easier shot than the forehand drive. This is largely because the backhand drive does not require the body rotation and weight transfer of the forehand drive. However, it is often under-practiced, with players preferring to work on their forehand drive, and as such many beginners lack a consistent backhand drive.

This post will highlight the correct technique for playing a backhand 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 Backhand Drive?

  • The backhand drive is one of the four basic table tennis strokes. The other three are the forehand drive, backhand push and forehand push.
  • The backhand drive is an attacking stroke played with a small amount of topspin. It is a drive shot and not a topspin loop!
  • The backhand drive is played against long or medium length topspin or float balls. You can’t play a backhand drive off a short ball (that would be a flick) and you can’t play a backhand drive off a backspin ball (that would go into the net).
  • The backhand drive is primarily played from the backhand side. Players are generally not encouraged to play backhand shots from their forehand side as this can lead to poor technique and their forehand is usually stronger.

Jason Sugrue’s Video

Here is a really good video going through some of the key points for the backhand drive. Watch it a couple of times and then have a read of my coaching points and common errors for more information.

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 backhand 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.
  • Stance is “square to the line of play”, basically your feet should be pointing in the direction you are hitting the ball.
  • 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

  • Bring your bat backwards and down to somewhere just in front of your belly button.
  • Create a slightly closed bat angle.
  • Keep your wrist straight
  • The backhand rubber should be pointing in the direction you wish to play.

The Strike

  • The arm moves forwards, to meet the ball, and slightly up, to create a bit of topspin.
  • The movement comes predominantly from the elbow and forearm.
  • 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, roughly at about chin level.
  • Don’t let your arms swing across your body too much to the right.
  • Always get back to the ready position.

Common Errors

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

  1. The shot should come predominantly from the elbow and forearm. Some players play predominantly from the wrist (with the wrist moving across to the right) which leads to a lack of power, poor control, and often a bit of sidespin on the ball. Other players play predominantly from the shoulder (lifting their whole arm to play the shot). This leads to a lack of feeling, a slow shot, and often a lack of spin altogether as they “lift” the ball instead of drive.
  2. It should still be quite a long shot. The video said that the backhand drive is a short stroke, which is true. However, from my experience beginners tend to play their backhand drive too short rather than too long. They “poke” and “prod” at the ball instead of playing a full stroke. When you are learning, elongate the stroke to ensure you are starting with a backswing and finishing forwards and coming up to get a bit of topspin. It can then be shortened and made more efficient once you have mastered it.
  3. Follow the ball with your bat. Check the direction your bat is moving after you’ve made contact with the ball. Often beginners will find that they are moving their bat over to the right in a sort of “car windscreen wiper action”. Alternatively, some players play a sort of “slice” backhand and their arm lunges across their body to the left. Try and make sure you are hitting the back of the ball and your bat follows through in the direction of the shot.
  4. Take the ball at the peak of the bounce. In the forehand drive beginners are often tempted to take the ball too late. In the backhand drive I generally see the opposite, as players try and take the backhand drive too early, almost off the bounce. Let the ball rise, wait that split second more, and take it nice and high.
  5. Stand directly behind the incoming ball. If you’ve players tennis (or other racket sports) you’ll be aware that they usually reach and take their backhand shots wide of their body. In table tennis we do this on the forehand but not the backhand. You need to get behind the ball. One easy way to think about this is this; if you miss the shot the ball should hit you in the center of your chest, it should not go flying past you. If you were standing in the correct position and missed the ball it would hit your chest.
  6. Keep the bat angle closed throughout. It can be tempting to open-up the angle of the bat during the strike and follow-through but don’t do this. This is especially common if you are playing the shot from your shoulder and lift your whole arm (or if you’re playing with a dead bat). Keep the bat angle closed throughout the shot and ideally keep your elbow at pretty much the same height. If your elbow is moving upwards a lot during your backhand there is probably something wrong.

I hope that’s given you all the key coaching points you need for the backhand drive. I have coached this shot to hundreds of players over the last few years and there is usually just one pointer they need to change in order to be playing a good shot. This post should have helped you identify that pointer.

There’s a lot to take in when learning a new shot so 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.

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Thank you for reading and good luck with your backhand drive. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line and I’ll try to help in any way I can.