3 Tips for Developing ‘Feeling’ in Table Tennis

Have you ever heard a fellow table tennis player described as having great ‘feeling’? It’s clearly a good thing, but what does it actually mean? And how do we improve our table tennis ‘feeling’?

According to my good friend EmRatThich, ‘feeling’ is the first principle of the Chinese table tennis philosophy! So, here are three tips to help you develop your ‘feeling’ for the ball.

1. Loosen your grip

Most players hold their bat too tight. You might not realise it but you probably do too. It’s the root of all sorts of technical problems and inefficiencies.

I used to do this too, until I discovered the relaxed shakehands grip a few years ago. It totally transformed my game!

A tight grip leads to tension in the wrist and forearm, which leads to playing shots with a stiff arm. It all stems from the grip.

What’s the problem with having tension in your wrist and forearm, and playing with a stiff arm? You can’t develop any ‘feeling’!

‘Feeling’ is in your hands. In your fingers, even.

Holding your bat too tight removes any ‘feeling’ and control you may have from your hand and forces you to play everything from your shoulder and upper arm. And there’s no ‘feeling’ for table tennis in your shoulder!

This is what I wrote about recently in my “Hand Not Shoulder” blog post. Here’s a snippet…

Beginners play table tennis with their shoulder, swinging their whole arm at the ball. As they improve they begin to play more with their elbows, giving them a bit more control and spin. Good players play with their hands. They learning ‘feeling’ and this is all in the hand – below the wrist. The professionals play with their fingers!

So, “hand not shoulder” is correct if you want to develop ‘feeling’. But you won’t be able to do that unless you loosen your grip and go for what I like to call the relaxed shakehands grip or the limp handshake grip.

Get your grip right and you’ll make it much easier to develop the elusive ‘feeling’.

2. Switch the spin

The principle of ‘feeling’ in table tennis is very closely related to that of spin. In particular, your ability to control the spin on the ball.

There are two elements to being a good spin player. The first is proactive and regards your ability to generate spin to the ball. The second is reactive and is your ability to deal with incoming spin.

In my mind, a player with good ‘feeling’ is a master at both. They are able to deal with any spin coming at them and create any spin on that same ball.

That’s no easy task!

Spin is difficult to learn and reading/returning incoming spin is often the undoing of intermediate players. So what can you do the begin to master these two elements of spin ‘feeling’?

I created the ‘switch the spin’ game whilst coaching Sam Priestley in 2014. It’s very simple to understand but extremely difficult to do well – unless you have great ‘feeling’.

You start by doing a slow loop-to-loop rally. The focus is on heavy spin rather than hitting the ball really hard.

Then one player has to chop the ball, turning the topspin rally into a backspin rally. Switching the spin. Then you do some pushes/chop at each other.

Then either player can loop a backspin ball, switching the spin again. And so it continues. Topspin rally, backspin rally, topspin rally.

It takes a lot of ‘feeling’ to be able to do this well. I chose Chris Doran as the image for this blog post because he has amazing ‘feeling’ and you’ll often see him in games chopping heavy topspin loops with his fast blade and Tenergy 05 rubbers.

You’re not going to develop Chris Doran ‘feeling overnight. But the more you practice the easier you’ll find it. Do it for five or ten minutes every time you play and you’ll have great ‘feeling’ before too long.

It wasn’t until we starting doing this fun drill in our practice that Sam really learnt how to open-up backspin balls consistently. 

3. Learn to feed multiball

When most players think of multiball they picture an experienced coach shooting balls down at them whilst they dash around trying to return them all. This is great. But have you ever thought about switching roles?

In China, you’ll see kids as young as six or seven feeding multiball for their peers. It looks easy when you watch a professional coach doing it, but give it a go yourself and you’ll realise it requires a lot of hand ‘feeling’.

I remember doing multiball feeding for the first time as an 18-year-old at Grantham Academy. I wasn’t very good at it and neither were most of the other players.

I hated it. It felt like a bit of a waste of time because the player actually doing the drill would get such a terrible feed. But back then I didn’t realise that the actual act of learning how to feed the ball would improve my game!

So, the mantra here is…

Work on your ‘feeding’ to improve your ‘feeling’.

This is something I did with Sam Priestley (in 2014) and I’m now doing it with Harrie Austin-Jones too. Not that I get them to feed me. But I just give them a box of balls and have them practice playing different shots from a drop feed, or straight out of their hand.

Both of them hated it at first. It feels a bit insulting, I think. Like I’m saying they’re not good enough yet to play actual table tennis.

But it’s actually one of the most beneficial things you can do to develop ‘feeling’. It teaches you how to use your hand to create spin. And it also helps with your overall timing and coordination.

Give ’em a go!

If you want to develop ‘feeling’ – and I don’t believe you can become an expert at table tennis without ‘feeling’ – why not have a go at these three ideas the next time you play. 

Focus on keeping your grip loose whatever you’re doing, whether training or playing matches.

Ask someone at your club to have a go at the ‘switch the spin’ game with you. Ideally, you want to do this with someone who has better ‘feeling’ than you so that you can see what they do and learn from them.

And you can always practice tip #3 on your own, at home, wherever you have a table and balls. If you do service practice already, add it into that. Or ask someone if they would like you to feed multiball for them. I very much doubt they’ll say no to that!