Table tennis stance is the second aspect of technique that I teach players that join my sessions, after grip, and it’s the second step in my How to Play Table Tennis series. Today we’ll be whizzing through how to stand, where to stand, and why.
Before I start I just want to clarify the difference between “stance” and “ready position”. You may have heard people use both terms, almost interchangeably, but here’s how I define the two;
- Stance describes how to stand but doesn’t worry about where to stand. When I use the word “stance” I could be referring to the way in which a player in standing during any stage of a game. For example, when serving there are correct and incorrect stances that are specific to that individual serve. Therefore, the correct stance is dependent on the stroke being played.
- Ready position describes how and where to stand when we are waiting for the ball. When I use the phrase “ready position” I am referring to the generic, neutral stance that you might expect to see used by a player receiving serve; feet quite wide apart, knees bent, body crouched, and both arms out in front of you, with the bat in a neutral position. The ready position doesn’t change. If I say “ready position” that is always what I want to see.
So let’s get started…
How to stand
As I mentioned in the introduction the ready position has five key components;
- Feet: You need quite a wide base when playing table tennis. From my experience beginners are far more likely to have their feet too close together than too far apart. Some coaches say feet should be “shoulder-width apart” but I would go further than that and say that feet should be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 shoulder-widths. Having your feet wider apart will give you a more stable base, help you to move and enable you to transfer your weight from foot-to-foot to develop power. Also, it’s a good idea to have your non-playing foot slightly further forward than your playing foot. For example, a right-hander would have their left foot slightly in front of their right.
- Knees: If your legs are completely straight you will find yourself off balance frequently and unable to move to wide balls. Therefore, your knees should always be slightly bent. Don’t bend your knees too much and make sure you don’t have then bent in a ‘squat position’ either. A slight bend is all you need.
- Body: When playing table tennis your body should be square to the table and crouched. This means that your head and shoulders are forwards and slightly down. This, in turn, will stop you from entering into a ‘squat position’ and will shift your weight onto your toes (the front of the feet) which will make it much easier to move. This crouched position will also stop you from drifting away from the table as you play your shots. This is a common problem for players that have their weight on their heels.
- Arms: Your arms should be out in front of your body, and forearms parallel with the ground. This both helps with the crouched/leaning forwards stance and makes it much easier to play a stroke. One thing that I’m always banging on about is keeping your elbow in front on your body. I see many beginners put their forearms out in front of them but their elbows stay “tucked in” against their sides. This is not good technique and will almost halve your ‘reach’ for wide balls and destroy your chance of playing a powerful shot. Finally, most players have their free arm parallel with their playing arm, for balance.
- Bat: The bat/hand/wrist is final component of a correct ready position. We assume that we do not know where the ball is going (even if we are doing a regular exercise and we do) and therefore we must keep the bat in a neutral position, pointing the top edge of the racket towards our opponent. That way it is possible for us to play either a backhand or a forehand, on demand. Keep your wrist straight as well. Having a bent wrist isn’t a good idea and will lead to a lack of control, a “hooky” forehand, and again, a lack of power.
It’s important to remember the difference between ready position and stance. The ready position is the basics but sometimes stance will have to be changed for certain shots. For example, if you are ‘opening up’ and topspinning a backspin ball with your forehand you may start in the neutral ready position but very quickly your stance will have to be adapted. You might need your feet slightly wider, your right knee slightly more bent and your right arm and bat closer to the ground.
However, the general principles are the same. If your weight is on your heel something has probably gone wrong. If your back is straight, or your elbows glued to your sides or your knees bent in a ‘squat position’ your technique is probably not quite correct.
Here’s a great video of Alois from Ping Skills going through the key components of the basic stance and explaining all about balance and stability.
Where to stand
Once you understand how to stand it’s important to think about where you want to stand in relation to the table. Here are a few tips;
- Have your bat in the centre: Once you start playing table tennis you will realise, quite quickly, that you can reach much further on your forehand side than your backhand side. Therefore, standing completely in the centre of the table is a bad idea. Instead, look to have your bat in line with the centre of the table. If you’re right-handed, this will mean standing slightly left of centre. If you’re left-handed, this will mean standing slightly to the right.
- Give yourself some space: Another common error I see in beginner is standing way too close to the table. Some even have there legs touching the edge of it! Standing this close gives you little time to react to shot, makes it difficult to move, and often leads to you standing upright (instead of being in the correct “crouched” position). Take half a step back. Not too far, as this will make shots harder to play accurately but just enough to give yourself a bit of room.
Here’s a great video on ready position by Stephen Foster for AllAboutTableTennis. He covers ‘where to stand’ as well as ‘how to stand’ in detail.
And that’s everything you need to know about table tennis stance and the ready position. It’s important that you have correct grip and stance for all of the stroke that we will be covering in the How to Play Table Tennis series as getting them wrong can seriously damage your shots.
As always, if you have any question I’d love to help you out so please feel free to leave a comment below. Also, if you’ve enjoyed this article then please use the Facebook and Twitter buttons to your left and ‘share’ it with your friends. Expert Table Tennis is growing fast and that largely due to all of my fantastic readers spreading the word and sharing my stuff.