Pretend You’re a Goalkeeper to Correct Your Table Tennis Stance

pretend you're a goalkeeper

Recently, I’ve been coaching table tennis to a number of complete beginners and, as you’d expect, that has involved me having to hammer home all of the basics; grip, stance, footwork, etc. Stance, in particular, is always a battle. New players tend to like to stand at the table just as if they were waiting for a bus!

I’ve already got a popular article all about the correct stance but for this week’s Thursday afternoon blog post I’ve decided to share a specific coaching aid that I use to help players remember it.

“Pretend you’re a goalkeeper…”

It’s the football/soccer goalkeeper analogy.

When I see a table tennis player with an unhelpful stance/ready position often all I need to say is…

Pretend you’re a goalkeeper ready to receive a penalty.

…and, provided the player has at least some simple knowledge of football, they tend to immediately get into a much better stance for table tennis.

goalkeeper penalty stance

You’d be surprised how similar the two stances are! The following is taken from Soccer Coach Weekly

The ready position is the position that goalkeepers need to adopt as they prepare to stop a shot… Feet shoulder width apart. Knees slightly bent. Weight on the balls of the feet. Hands at waist height. Elbows tucked in. Shoulders forward (nose over toes). Balanced. Head steady, eyes on the ball.

And here’s a great explanation from KeeperStop

The ready position is the action taken to load the muscles and to establish a strong, balanced, and agile base just before a shot. This is done by having your feet shoulder width apart, weight on the balls of your feet, slight bend in the knees and back, hands positioned out in front comfortably in the hip area. This stance will help a goalkeeper maintain proper balance and keep their weight forward. The shape of the keeper will appear concave.

Replace the word “goalkeeper” with “table tennis player” and that could be straight out of a table tennis coaching manual!

Why it works

The beauty of the goalkeeper coaching analogy is just how much technical information can be conveyed using one simple image. Nobody, when standing in goal ready to receive a penalty, would choose to stand up completely straight, or have their feet really close together, or have their weight on their heels.

No, you’d want to have a wide base, and get down a little lower, and have your weight on the balls of your feet – ready to spring left or right.

I’ve also found that a traditional way of explaining the table tennis stance or ready position (breaking it down body part by body part) can end up creating more issues than it solves.

For example, as I mentioned at the start of the post, lots of new table tennis players like to try and play standing bolt upright. A bit like this…

ping pong standing bolt upright

In the past, I might have said one of the following to them…

  • “You’re very tall. See if you can get down a little lower.”
  • “At the moment you’re standing up very straight. Try bending your knees.”
  • “Think about bringing your head down a bit closer to the level of the ball.”

In my head, that little coaching nugget will immediately have them standing properly. But, in reality, they often end up “sitting down” instead, with their weight on their heels, like this guy…

table tennis player sitting downThat’s an easy fix in a one-to-one coaching session, but in a large group of 20+ players, when I can spend less than a minute watching a player before I need to move on, it just isn’t possible to go around sorting out all of these little misunderstandings!

It’s even more tricky when the player thinks they are doing what you want and are consciously making sure their knees stay bent – by sitting down.

Stop sitting down!

While we’re on the subject… “sitting down” with your weight on your heels is a very common stance error. After all, this guy in the photo clearly isn’t a beginner but he’s making a pretty fundamental mistake here that is going to hinder his ability to stay balanced, move quickly, and even get decent power into his strokes.

The goalkeeper analogy can very quickly correct the problem. All I need to say is…

  • Coach: Would you stand like that if you were a goalkeeper ready to receive a penalty?
  • Player: Nope.
  • Coach: How would you stand instead?
  • Player: Like this.
  • Coach: Ok, great. Do that from now on.

And that’s the same conversation I would have with the two office guys standing bolt upright. It doesn’t really matter what the specific error is because the goalkeeper analogy is all about what you SHOULD be doing, rather than what you SHOULDN’T be doing.

And it’s easy to remember. Once it’s been explained you only need to remember one word… goalkeeper.

How is your stance?

Stance is one of those fundamental areas of table tennis that lots of players assume they have mastered, when in fact they still have some work to do. It might not be until you see a photo or video of yourself playing that you realise your stance isn’t quite right.

I actually wrote an article about that very phenomenon a few years back called Are You Doing What You Think You’re Doing? That is definitely worth a read if you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare.

If you have any comments you’d like to add to this blog post, please leave them below. I’ll be back next Thursday with another table tennis coaching article on a topic of my choosing.