Basic Skills in Table Tennis: A Beginner’s Guide

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  • Post last modified:September 13, 2021
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Learning basic skills in table tennis is very important. Without strengthening your base, it is not possible to advance to the next level. It is the stepping stone for success in table tennis. Remember the inspirational quote from the great Jim Rohn.

” Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.”

Jim Rohn

Developing your skills is a step-by-step process. It starts from the basics with proper gripping of the racket and ends with implementing the techniques in the match play.

Table Tennis Techniques for Beginners

Building your basic table tennis skills is a sequential process and consists of three phases.

  1. First Phase- The Foundation Phase
  2. Second Phase- The Development Phase
  3. Third Phase- The Execution Phase

The first phase starts with the proper gripping of the racket which is the most fundamental skill to learn and the building of every skill depends on it. The next technique that you have to develop is to fix your ready position and stance. Once you have fixed your ready position and prepared with proper stance, move to the next step i.e. to work on your footwork in table tennis.

In the second phase, you will learn the four basic table tennis strokes that will guide you to execute your shots with accuracy and consistency.

The third phase starts with the knowledge of the rules of table tennis, especially the table tennis serving rules. After that know how to serve in table tennis and finally complete the basic skills by developing the basic principle to return a serve.

1. Table Tennis Grip

To develop the basic skills in table tennis, first, you have to know how to hold a table tennis bat. A proper table tennis grip is a must for a learner if he has the ambition to be a professional table tennis player. It is not easy to correct the grip in the future and he will have to give a lot of effort for that.

To know how to hold a table tennis racket, you have to be familiar with the types of table tennis grip. There are mainly two types of grip. One is Shakehand grip and the other one is Penhold grip.

1. Shakehand Table Tennis Grip

Shakehand grip in table tennis
Shakehand Table Tennis Grip

In this table tennis grip, try to hold the bat in a way that you are shaking hands. Hold the handle with three fingers i.e. middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie.

Then free your index finger and thumb. Place index finger on the edge of the rubber on the backhand side and thumb on the blade or rubber on the opposite side in such a way that forms a V shape.

Earlier this grip was popular in European countries, but now this is popular in Asian countries as well.

This is a convenient table tennis grip for a beginner.

Shakehand grip is of two types.

  1. Shallow Shakehand grip
  2. Deep Shakehand grip

2. Penhold Table Tennis Grip

Penhold table tennis grip
Penhold Table Tennis Grip

In the Penhold grip, the index finger and thumb are curled around the edge of the paddle to form a ‘C’ shape and relax on one side of the rubber. The other three fingers act as support on the other side of the rubber.

It is much like you are holding a pen. This grip is mainly popular with Asian players.

Penhold Grip is of three types.

  1. Chinese Penhold Grip
  2. Japanese or Korean Penhold Grip
  3. Reverse Penhold Backhand Grip

To know more about table tennis grip, you may check my article on “Table Tennis Grips: How to Hold a Racket?”

2. Table Tennis Stance and Ready Position

Ready stance in table tennis
Photo: Erik Jacobs/ Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

A proper stance is one of the basic skills in table tennis which is very important to maintain your balance during stroke-making.

You should take your stance at one arm’s distance from the table. Stand with your legs slightly wider than your shoulder. Bend your knees with your eyes at the net level to keep your center of gravity low. Your shoulder should be slightly forward with arms in front of your body with elbow and racket. Your free arm is used to support your balance.

If you are a right-hander, your left foot will be slightly forward than your right foot with a little side-on position for the free swing of your arm during forehand stroke.

For the left-hander, it is just opposite with the right foot a little forward than the left foot

The ready position is the position where you feel comfortable standing to cover the playing area. It is the position where you take your stance to receive the service.

After playing a shot during a rally, you should return to your ready position. From this position, you should watch your opponent’s movement and be able to move in any direction for the next stroke.

Take your stance slightly left from the center of the table as it is easy to cover the area on your forehand side. For a left-hander, the stance is slightly right from the center of the table.

3. Footwork in Table Tennis

You have to learn the basic skills for proper footwork for becoming a good table tennis player.

Objectives of Table Tennis Footwork

  • To get yourself near the ball in quick time to execute the stroke.
  • To execute the stroke in a better way.
  • You can place your return shot accurately.
  • To produce a wide variety of shots.
  • To return to your ready position quickly after making the stroke.
  • Good footwork will keep you well balanced during the play.

Types of Footwork in Table Tennis

There are four types of footwork in table tennis.

In and Out Footwork

When you face a short service, you have to move your body to come closer to the ball and after making the stroke, return to your ready position.

In and out footwork pattern in table tennis

This is an in-and-out footwork pattern in table tennis. To execute it correctly, move your left foot first and right foot to come near the ball. When you return to your ready position, step your right foot first and then your left foot. For left-handers, the process is just the opposite.

Side to Side Footwork

During a rally, most often you have to move side-ways, i.e. from backhand side to forehand and from the forehand side to backhand.

To move sideways, take a small side-to-side shuffle. Your shuffling steps should be quick enough so it looks like a jump.

To move from backhand to forehand from your ready position, move your left foot first and then your right foot. Complete the shuffle by moving again your left foot and then your right foot.

To move from forehand to backhand from your ready position, move your right foot first and then your left foot. Complete the shuffle by moving again your right foot and then your left foot. This footwork is for the right-handers.

For left-handers, this side-to-side footwork technique is just the opposite.

You have to stop at the time you are making the shot. Otherwise, you will be unbalanced while making the shot, which does not produce a great result. So the whole process sounds like Move-Stop-Hit, Move-Stop-Hit.

Cross over Footwork

There are many times when you have to cover a wider area for returning a ball.

At that time, your side-to-side footwork is not enough. The game of table tennis is lightning fast. You can not get to the wider position with this footwork.

So if you are a right-hander, then to get to a wide forehand position, take a wide step of your left foot. And then supporting on your left foot as it is a pivot, place your right foot wide enough to get to the position for making the stroke.

One Step Footwork

One-step footwork is useful when the ball is slightly out of reach, so you can use one of your feet to reach near the ball and after the stroke, it comes back to the ready position.

One step footwork pattern

In this footwork technique (for a right-hander), if the ball is a little away from your forehand, move your right foot to the position of the ball. Your body will also move along with your right foot. Your left foot bears the bodyweight and remains stationary, although it may turn slightly.

The advantage of this footwork is the better body balance as your shoulder and body don’t move too much.

4. Basic Strokes in Table Tennis

To develop basic table tennis skills, you need to strengthen four basic strokes. These are:

  1. Backhand Push
  2. Forehand Drive
  3. Backhand Drive
  4. Forehand Push

Start with a backhand push as it is easier to adopt. Then comes forehand drive or counter. After that is the backhand drive. The last one is the forehand push because it is harder than the other three strokes.

Backhand Push

Backhand push stroke in table tennis
Backhand Push in Table Tennis

The backhand push is a defensive stroke in table tennis. It is easy to return a backspin ball with a backhand push and also to create a backspin on the ball.

Step-I

  1. Stand close to the table with your legs slightly apart from your shoulders.
  2. Your body should be square-on to the table.
  3. Bend your knees slightly to make the upper part of the body leaning forward.
  4. Hold your racket in front of the body.
  5. The backhand part of the racket is open and made a little angle so that it points towards the net.
  6. Your wrist should be flexible enough for more brushing action.

Step-II

  1. As the ball approaches you, push the racket as a forwarding motion to cut underneath the ball.
  2. To create more underspin, your bat is to be more open to enhance the depth of the contact point.
  3. Use your flexible wrist to increase the brushing action at the time of contact of the ball for more backspin.
  4. The push should be soft to keep the ball on the table.
  5. Keep the ball low over the net to restrain your opponent from attacking.

Step-III

  1. Come back to the ready position and prepare for the next shot.

To play backhand push, stand close to the table and hold your racket in front of your body. The forearm of your playing hand should move in a horizontal plane from the elbow. Push the racket as a forwarding motion to strike underneath the ball on the top of the bounce.

To be more effective, increase the racket speed for more backspin and keep the ball as low as possible over the net.

Forehand Drive

Forehand drive stroke
Forehand Drive in Table Tennis

This is the most basic table tennis stroke that you should learn. It will help you build your confidence to control a ball.

Step-I

  1. To start a forehand drive, keep your legs slightly apart from your shoulder.
  2. Stand at the right end of the table with one forearm distance from the end of the table.
  3. Your left leg should be a little forward than your right leg.
  4. Stand side-on to the table, so that your body creates an angle of 30° to the table. That will enable the free swing of your bat.
  5. Initially, your weight is on your right leg.
  6. Your playing arm is next to you.
  7. Hold your racket at an angle of 45 degrees.
  8. Your upper arm and forearm should take an “L” shape with the racket facing the opposite corner of the table.

Step-II

  1. As the ball approaches, move your racket upward and forward.
  2. Strike the ball before the top of the bounce.
  3. The contact point should be the middle of the racket as the primary aim is speed and control, not spin.
  4. Transfer your weight from your right leg to your left leg.
  5. Your whole body should move together during the stroke.

Step-III

  1. After striking the ball, follow the bat up to the eye position.
  2. Your bat should be nearly 30 cm (12 inches) in front of the eye.
  3. Take your body and the racket to the ready position, so that the whole process of the movement of your racket takes an elliptical shape.

Backhand Drive

Backhand drive stroke in table tennis
Backhand Drive in Table Tennis

The backhand drive is not a powerful stroke as the forehand drive. But it is a must-learn technique for the beginner. It helps you control the shots and continue the rally from your backhand portion. It also helps you go for advanced strokes like a backhand loop, backhand smash, backhand flick.

I have segmented the whole backhand drive in four steps.

Step-I

  1. To start your backhand drive, stand one forearm distance from the table.
  2. Stand with your legs a little apart than your shoulder.
  3. The position of your legs is like the forehand drive so that you need not change it during switching over from backhand to forehand drive.
  4. Stand square-on to the direction of the ball.
  5. Bend your knees slightly to stand on your toes.
  6. Your body should be above the table with both hands in front of the body.
  7. Hold your racket at an angle of 45° to 60°.
  8. The backhand side of your racket should face towards the direction of your opponent.
  9. Your wrist should be straight because your primary aim is to control the ball, not to impart spin.
  10. The angle between your forearm and upper arm is nearly 110° and the forearm should be in a horizontal plane, just above your hip.
  11. The distance between your body and the racket should be nearly 2 inches.

Step-II

  1. As the ball approaches you, forward your arm in an upward direction maintaining the racket angle.
  2. Strike the ball at the top of the bounce.
  3. Your elbow will act as a pivot for your forearm movement.
  4. You can change the direction of the ball by changing the angle between your forearm and upper arm.

Step-III

  1. After you strike the ball, continue to follow your stroke.
  2. Your striking length and follow up the length of stroke should be almost the same.
  3. Revert your arm to the ready position to continue the rally.

Forehand Push

Forehand push stroke
Forehand Push in Table Tennis

The forehand push is a defensive stroke and sets your opportunity to attack. It is very useful to return a ball, especially an underspin short serve. It is a soft stroke that is played with the forehand side of the racket.

Step-I

  1. Similar to earlier strokes, stand with your legs apart than your shoulders.
  2. Bend your knees and stand square-on the table.
  3. Your playing hand should be next to you with your elbow close to your body.
  4. The racket is laid back to strike underneath the ball. The angle of your racket will vary depending upon the amount of backspin you want to create.

Step-II

  1. As the ball approaches you, move your right foot and your body towards the ball.
  2. Raise your lower arm and then brings it down in a quicker motion to brush under the ball.
  3. Strike the ball just after the bounce to keep it as low as possible.
  4. To increase the amount of backspin, make your bat nearly flat.

Step-III

  1. After striking the ball, your racket will follow the ball towards the net.
  2. Bring back your right leg and body to the ready position for the next shot.

These four basic table tennis strokes in the backbone of your basic skills category.

5. Basic Rules of Table Tennis

After developing the 4 basic strokes in table tennis, the next thing is the awareness of the official rules. ITTF reviews the rules every year and publishes a handbook on the rules of table tennis in January.

To cover the basic skills, you need not go through all the rules in table tennis. I am covering the basic rules that you should know to begin your journey in table tennis.

1. Serving Rules for Singles

Ball on open palm as guided by the table tennis serving rules
The ball is in the open palm at the time of service in Table Tennis

You must know the basic service rules of table tennis. This will restrict you from doing illegal services.

  • Stand behind the end of the table. You can stand at any position to serve.
  • You should take the ball in your open palm of your non-playing hand and throw it near vertically without imparting any kind of spin, so it rises to a minimum height of 16 cm or 6.3 inches.
  • At the time of falling, hit the ball, so it hits your side once and then bounces over the net. After bouncing over the net, the ball must also drop on the table to make it a valid service.
  • You can’t hit the ball over the table. You must hit the ball behind the table.
  • The ball must pass cleanly over the net. If the ball touches the net and still bounces on the other side, then it is a ‘let’ service and you have to serve again. There is no rule on the number of consecutive ‘let’ service.

2. Serving Rules for Doubles

as per serving rules doubles, the serve must be from right hand side to the right hand side of the receiver
The Ball bounces from right hand to right-hand side

When you play with your partner in a doubles match, there are some changes in the service rules.

  • If you serve for your doubles team, the ball must drop its first bounce on the right half portion of the table on your side.
  • After bouncing over the net, the ball must drop on the right half portion of the receiver’s side.

3. Table Tennis Singles Rules

To return a serve or to continue a rally, there are some basic rules in a table tennis singles game.

  • In table tennis, you must allow for the first bounce of the ball. Then you have to hit the ball so it goes over the net and bounces on your opponent’s table.
  • After returning the serve, if the ball clips the net but bounces on your opponent’s table, it is considered legal.
  • The ball may also touch the edge of the table, but not the vertical portion of the table.

4. Table Tennis Doubles Rules

Every rule for the doubles game in table tennis is the same as the singles game except for the following exceptions.

  • While playing a doubles match, after switching over the service, the previous receiver becomes the new server and the partner of the previous server becomes the receiver.
  • A double pair must strike the ball alternately.
  • During a rally, play must continue in its sequence until a player of any team miss hits the ball.

5. Rules for Scoring in Table Tennis

Table Tennis is a game of 11 points. The player who first touches 11 points wins the game. However, there may be a situation of 10-10, which we call ‘Deuce’. In this stage of equality, a two points lead is a must for winning the game.

In table tennis, if your service clips the net or goes over the table, your opponent gets a point.

Similarly, if your return does not bounce on the opponent’s side, your opponent wins a point.

If you want to know more, you may go through my articles under the following links.

  1. Table Tennis Serving Rules: How to Serve Legally
  2. Table Tennis Rules for Singles and Doubles Game

5. Basic Serve in Table Tennis

Before learning the technique of how to serve, it is essential that you have learned the holding technique and covered the basic strokes in table tennis.

Serve in table tennis is very crucial because at that time, you the total control over the game.

Depending upon the racket angle and contact point, there may be numerous serves. You should start with the type of services that you feel comfortable with. After getting total control on that serve, switch over to another service and try to learn that in the same way.

To complete the basic skills in table tennis, you first have to gain control over the two serves. One is forehand serve and another one is backhand table tennis serve.

1. Forehand Serve

This is the basic table tennis serve that a beginner should start with. At first grip your racket properly, it may be a Shakehand grip or a Penhold grip. The forehand side of your racket should face towards the net.

Then toss the ball and strike so that the first bounce is on your side and after flying over the net, the ball drops on your opponent’s side of the table. Keep your angle of the bat in such a way that the ball bounces over the net with a minimum height.

After gaining confidence in forehand serve, start with backhand serve. In my opinion, after doing a backhand serve, it is relatively easy to get back to your ready position.

PingSkills has a great video on the Learning of basic serve techniques.

2. Backhand Serve

Backhand serve is just the opposite of forehand serve. In the backhand table tennis serve, you have to hit the ball with the backhand side which is the reverse of the forehand side of your racket.

After covering these two basic services, there is a lot of things to learn in the advanced part of table tennis serve. You have to understand spin and how to mix spin in your serve. Many other advanced serves in table tennis will fulfill the variety in your service.

Read: How to Do a Table Tennis Serve

6. Basic Principles to Return a Serve

The last among the basic skills category in table tennis is the development of returning table tennis serve. To make a valid return of serve, you must allow the ball to bounce once on your side and then strike the ball to bounce on your opponent’s side after crossing over the net.

As a beginner to return a serve, use the four basic table tennis strokes. Push may be the ideal choice for returning a short serve. For long service, you may use drives or push strokes.

After performing the return stroke, come back to your ready stance and prepare for the next shot.

Try to keep the ball as low as possible to restrain your opponent from attacking. Use the bat angle to vary the placement of the ball to make it harder for your opponent.

There are various strokes in table tennis to return a serve in the advanced section of learning.

Conclusion

To learn the basic skills in table tennis, you need someone as a coach. He will train you the fundamentals in consequence right from the beginning, season after season.

Make a habit of warm-up and a warm-down exercise before and after each coaching season.

Learning is a continuous process and choosing the right sequence ends with the best result.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Graham Frankel

    This is a wonderful basic guide to table tennis. Very clearly written and well illustrated. Perhaps think about adding a few more videos, and it could become a comprehensive online manual!

    1. Indranil

      Thanks, sir for your valuable suggestion. I will incorporate some videos within a short while.

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