Friday 18 January 2019

What Are Your Options When You Are Out of Position in a Point

Positioning is a vital part of table tennis, fast footwork and anticipation - getting to where we need to be in the blink of an eye to stay in the game. Coaches are constantly pushing their students to get in position, balance and use weight transfer - but what about the contingencies? What should a player do when they are caught out of position?

Hugo Calderano out of position
Photo Courtesy of ITTFWorld
This blog can assist a wide range of players, from developing players to adult learners of the sport. I focused a lot more on this after I started teaching adults, realizing that there is much less sense in trying to get an adult player to be able to get into perfect position on their forehand all the time than it is to teach them some escape routes when they get stuck. Obviously these are not intended to promote laziness, the single best option is always to try and get into position, but these are contingencies below:

Body Shots: When the ball is hit to our elbow or body and we aren't prepared, this is one of the main places that we will lose our positioning. The best habit in this situation is to try and play a forehand, but we often don't have enough space to play a high quality stroke.

In this situation it is often useful to shift our body weight onto the leg of our non-playing hand, allowing you to balance as you lean away from the ball contact to give yourself more space. When playing a stroke from the body you need to make sure you keep your arm relaxed, especially the shoulder and elbow - you will need to be loose in order to generate the acceleration needed for the stroke.

Remember in this scenario your lower body is focused on balancing you rather than generating weight transfer, so hand acceleration is key. You need to compensate for the lack of lower body in the shot by utilizing acceleration from your forearm and wrist and focus on spin. This also applies for making short counter shots where you accelerate more over the top of the ball.

Your best chance in any scenario where you are out of position is to focus on generating as much spin as possible, giving you extra time to try and get back into position for the next ball. Remember than heavy spin is more likely to slow your opposition down, and also is a safer option, than trying to hit a winner out of position. It is also important to remember to make your shot deliberate, make a decision to try and stay on the front foot (even out of position), rather than just deflecting the ball.

Wide Placements: Being pushed out wide is usually the best way for an opponent to throw off our centre of gravity and central balance. Our clean footwork can become a scramble as we throw ourselves towards the ball.

There are some similar ideas between the options for this shot and the body shot option above. The concepts of keeping the shoulder and elbow loose to compensate for less lower body weight transfer are often the same.

When pushed wide a lot of players will rely on adding sidespin to the ball as it is much harder for their opponent to block safely or if they lose their nerve.

Further back from the table you often have more options than squeezed in the body as there is more space to make a stroke.

Counter with Spin/Hookshot: You can go for the counter and try and get as much topspin on the ball as possible, that requires you to get your foot on the ground close to the ball and some contorting of your body to add weight into the ball as you push towards contact. You can also close off your racket angle to add sidespin to the ball and create more of a hookshot.

Go for Broke: This is a very risky option and rarely pays off, but in some rare scenarios (and if you are trying to make a DHS Top 10 or a MrThePortal playlist) it's possible to produce some stunning shots. Making these shots requires die-hard commitment and unwavering resolve. The benefit is that the opponent is often never prepared for these table-turners, although the probability of landing such shots is very low.

Send the Ball to the Ceiling: The lob has become a common part of the game for many years, and the main feature in many exhibitions. It can also cause timing problems, top edges and embarrassment for the attacking player. When lobbing from out of position you can buy yourself plenty of time to recover, you also have more distance from the table and therefore more time to prepare for your opponent's next shot.

When lobbing you need to consider how high to send the ball and whether to add some variations, whether it be topspin, sidespin or sometimes the snake-shot. Many players struggle with higher lobs and it also reduces their confidence to drop the ball short also. Try and create a ball that has a combination of height and a difficult kick to increase your chances of forcing errors

Also always be on the lookout for opportunities to counter-attack if you are feeling confident.

Chopping on the Defense: Chopping is a great tool when pushed back and out of position, one not often used because it requires good feeling and skill. Personally this is my favourite option when out of position, why? Simple.

When someone has me off balance and out of position, I believe that a chop is the hardest shot for them to deal with. If I go for broke the odds are I will miss, if I lob then most players are confident smashing, if I go for a counter they can block to the open table.

If I choose to chop it can freeze my opponent up, a chop comes in many variations and also slows my opponent right down in the tracks.

If I make a heavy chop or a shallow (half-long) chop then they could make an error, or they could spin the ball up slow and safe - giving me an opportunity to run in and punch the ball or take back control of the table.

If they push the ball back I can try and get in and make an opening and regain control of the point as the attacker.

My favourite alternative is to chop with very little spin but keep the ball low. The reason is that when players are under pressure and they see a chop coming back, their first instinct is to spin the ball up and play safe, because they fear hitting too hard and putting the ball in the net. The result is the ball flying over the end of the table.

A well disguised no-spin chop is my all-time top suggestion for retrieving a wide ball out of position.

So remember, when out of position there are always options to try and turn the tables on your opponent. We can't be in perfect position all the time and it is important to understand what tools we have at our disposal when we get caught off guard.

Hopefully you found some of this useful. I hope to write more coaching blogs across 2019. For any potential topics please feel free to email me at


  1. Great info. Thank you. Look forward too the next blog. Perhaps a conversation on countering heavy spin from a serve. Mike

    1. Thanks Mike, will think about some ideas and write something soon. Appreciate the idea and feedback!


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