Table tennis, also referred to as ping-pong, is a fun indoor sport where two or four players hit a small, light ball called a ping-pong back and forth repeatedly across a table (which is divided into two halves by a net) with small paddles.
One player serves, then rules dictate that players allow a ball hit toward their side to bounce just once on their half of the table, then they return a hit so that the ball bounces on the opposite side once or more. If one of the players cannot return a ball as per the rules, a point is scored to the other player.
The game is very quick, constantly changing and requires fast reflexes and mental agility, making it a great sport for physical and mental health. Using strategies to spin the ball and change it’s trajectory makes it easier to score against the opponent.
Table tennis can be played both competitively and for fun. If a player wants to become a competitive table tennis player, it is best to recruit a coach to learn different strategies which can be incorporated to improve performance and score more points against the opponent.
This guide will describe 10 Fundamental Skills for Modern Table Tennis which any player can start putting into practice at their next game. But first, let’s have a look through a few of the many advantages of picking up a paddle and playing table tennis.
What Are The Benefits Of Playing Table Tennis?
- Anyone and everyone can play
- Health and fitness
- Not hard on the joints
- Improves mental focus
- Improves reflexes
- It can be played anytime and anywhere
- Fosters social connections
- Improves hand-eye coordination
- Improves balance
Now that you’ve read through the numerous benefits of playing table tennis, it’s time to brush up on the 10 Fundamental Skills for Modern Table Tennis.
Applying these strategies to your next game will give you a serious advantage against your next opponent if playing for fun, or start preparing you for the difficulties of competitive table tennis if you decide to take things up a notch.
What Are The Fundamental Skills?
Below we’ve listed the 10 Fundamental Skills for Modern Table Tennis, which every player (especially competitive players) should become familiar with. Have a look at the 10 basic skills, then read about them in more detail below.
- Forehand Drive
- Backhand Drive
- Forehand Fast Serve
- Forehand Flick
- Backhand Flick
- Forehand Push
- Backhand Push
- Forehand Pendulum Serve
So those are the 10 fundamental skills that should be mastered by table tennis players. Read on to take a closer look at these major basic skills needed to play well.
This is one of the most significant skills that table tennis players need to master. If players can’t grip the paddle properly, they won’t be able to utilize the other skills on this list because they won’t be able to hit the correct shots at the right angles.
There are two major types of grip in table tennis, and which grip a player uses depends on them as an individual and how they play best. The two main types of grip are: penhold and shakehands. Keep reading to find out more about these two distinct grip styles.
We’ll also cover the other two modern grip types that are seen among professional players (although not as often as penhold and shakehands) – the V-grip and Seemiller grip. It’s recommended that beginner players stick to learning shakehands, as this is the easiest of the grip styles to learn.
The penhold style of grip is a traditional Chinese grip and is normally used by Asian table tennis players. It is called a “penhold” grip because the player grips the paddle in a similar way to how you would hold a pen when writing, by curling the ring, middle and fourth finger back.
Styles of play across penhold grip players can differ greatly, and this style of grip tends to be pretty difficult for new players to learn so it’s normally better to start with a shakehands grip, which we will discuss below.
The shakehands style of grip is traditional of European players. The majority of table tennis players use this style – which involves placing your index finger on the rubber back of the ping-pong paddle.
Your thumb should be tucked in on the forehand side of the paddle, and your other three fingers should be wrapped loosely around the handle, with little to no gap between the handle top and your hand.
It’s important to practise lots with this grip style and make sure you find a comfortable grip on the paddle before you begin playing.
The V grip is a less common and quite difficult style of grip normally only used by high-level professional players. It’s more common among Korean professional players rather than Westerners.
The paddle is held between the index and middle fingers, which are spread apart to make a ‘V’ sign. The index and middle fingers are then curled down to grip the paddle, and the last two fingers are wrapped around the handle. The thumb is placed wherever it feels most comfortable.
The Seemiller grip is named after American table tennis coach and former professional player, Danny Seemiller. The paddle is held in a similar way to the shakehands grip, but instead with a 90 degree turn, so that the index finger and thumb grip the sides of the paddle.
Forehand and backhand are played with the same side of the paddle, but the paddle can be turned around to use the other side when needed.
Footwork is another significant skill for playing a successful table tennis game. Without having good footwork, it’s impossible to land accurate shots from various angles. Let’s take a look at how to perfect your footwork in table tennis before looking at the main types of shot you can learn.
Table tennis requires players to move around frequently due to the need for fast reactions and unexpected shots. Shots from the opposing side need to be gauged quickly and reactions are managed in part by sometimes big and sometimes subtle changes to footwork.
Sometimes players need to move quite a distance on their feet and sometimes they should move only slightly, depending on the opponent’s shots. Most of the time in table tennis, players should utilize side stepping according to the direction of the ball as it is hit by the opponent.
Practising your sidestep around a ping-pong table can help immensely with footwork during real games. Keeping your legs stable yet flexible will help you to move quickly and in the direction of the ball when required. When practising footwork, it is useful to keep a paddle to hand as this will make it feel more real.
The forehand drive technique is an attacking shot that is used to force your opponent to make errors, and to set up offensive positions. A forehand drive shot should land the ping-pong near to the opponent’s baseline or side-line. Follow the steps below to complete a forehand drive stroke.
- When the ball is returned by your opponent, get ready by standing on the balls of your feet, with your knees slightly flexed, and face sideways, with your shoulder aimed toward the target.
- Balance your body weight on your back foot.
- As you prepare to hit the ball, aim your free arm towards it.
- As the ball hits the paddle, quickly rotate your body into a facing forwards position.
- Strike the ball at its highest point and quickly transfer your body weight from back foot to front foot.
- Follow the shot through with the paddle pointing at the target.
- Return to the starting position ready for the next shot.
The backhand drive technique is an attacking shot played with a little topspin, which is an angled momentum struck on the ball when it rotates against the direction of air. Follow the steps to perfect a backhand drive.
- Position your feet about a little wider than shoulder width apart, pointing them in the same direction you intend to hit the ball.
- Keep your knees slightly bent and lean your body forward with both arms out in front.
- Your elbow should be at a 90 to 100 degree bend, and you should stand close to the ping-pong table (about an arms length away from it).
- Balance your weight evenly on the balls of your feet.
- As you prepare to hit, bring your paddle back and down to near your belly button, making a slightly closed angle with the paddle.
- Keep your wrist as straight as possible and point the backhand in the direction of your shot.
- As the ball comes to you, push your arm forward and slightly up to create some topspin as your paddle makes an impact.
- Keep the paddle angle closed and hit the pall at the peak of it’s bounce.
- Maintain a small gap between your elbow and body and follow the ball through, hitting forwards and upwards.
- The paddle should finish pointing in the direction of your shot at around chin level.
- Return to the starting position for the next shot.
The forehand flick technique is an offensive shot, using mainly your wrist and forearm. It’s used against a short ball and the direction and speed of the ball can be changed to cause errors on the opponent side.
Strong impact from a forehand flick prevents errors on your side by eliminating the opponent’s spin. It’s important to recover quickly from a forehand flick because you will be vulnerable to strong reactions from the opponent. Read the steps to master the forehand flick.
- Step in close to the opponent’s return ball, keeping your body low and knees bent.
- Lean forward toward the table so your body is near to the ball, keeping your weight on your play foot.
- Keep your arm in front of you and hit the ball at the peak of it’s bounce.
- Follow the ball through quickly, finishing the shot close to the net and moving up slightly.
- Step back out swiftly with your play foot and return to a normal position ready to return the next ball.
The backhand flick is the same type of offensive stroke as the forehand flick, but using the backhand. Follow the steps above to complete a backhand flick with the back of the paddle.
It is useful in situations where you need to use the back of the paddle to respond to short serves at a specific angle.
The forehand push technique is a complex defensive stroke that requires a downwards strike on the back of the paddle and underneath the ball to cause a backspin.
Forehand pushes can be used to alter the pace of the match or return the ball in a low position to the opponent’s side. Read the steps to perform a correct forehand push.
- Keeping your feet shoulder width apart, stand in a square position to the table and keep your knees slightly flexed.
- Lean forward and close towards the table with your arms held out in front of you.
- As the ball approaches, pull your paddle back to the side of your body.
- Keep the paddle at an open angle and maintain a straight wrist with your play arm in front of you.
- As the ball hits the paddle, push your arms forward with power from the elbow and forearm.
- Try to strike the ball at its highest point. then transfer your body weight from back foot to front foot.
- Once you’ve struck the ball, point your paddle in the direction you plan to return the follow-up shot.
- Return to the starting position for the next shot.
The backhand push technique is the same style of play as the forehand push, but using the backhand.
Follow the steps above to complete a backhand push with the backhand instead of the forehand. It is useful to practise the forehand push and backhand push so you can strike the ball from different angles.
Forehand Fast Serve
This technique can be hit forehand or backhand, similar to the forehand and backhand push above. You’ll need to throw the ball up from a flat palm up into the air to a height of around six inches and within eye shot of your opponent at all times.
The forehand fast serve is an essential technique to learn in order to master modern table tennis service. Follow the steps carefully to ensure you can perform a well-executed forehand fast serve.
- Stand on the balls of your feet, keeping your knees slightly flexed.
- Face sideways and point your shoulder towards your target.
- Hold the ball with your left hand.
- Keep your body weight balanced on your back foot and stay low.
- Throw the ball carefully around six inches into the air with a flat palm.
- When the ball drops, lean forward and hit it quickly in the middle towards your opponent’s side.
- Transfer your body weight from back foot to front foot and follow the ball through, pointing your paddle in the direction of the target.
- Move back to a ready position so that you can strike the opponent’s return ball.
Backhand Fast Serve
The backhand fast serve is the same technique as the forehand fast serve, but instead using the backhand.
A successful fast serve using the backhand can be a very strong serve and can cause errors from the opponent’s returns. Read the steps above and apply them to the backhand.
Table Tennis is a pretty complex game to learn, and you should practice these fundamental skills to enhance your gameplay and improve your performance. There are also lots of rules involved in playing table tennis, so you should brush up on these too to make sure your game is played fair.
(Unless you don’t really care about the rules and just want to play a few casual games for fun.) You need to learn about the main technicalities of table tennis which mainly include the different types of shots you can play.
We have covered 10 fundamental skills above which included a few different shot types, but there are many more different styles of shot you can learn such as blocks and loops.
You can find more information about these online, or even better, you could visit a table tennis coach or local team and let advanced players help you hone your skills. Repetition is really important in mastering table tennis, so practice practice practice!
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