Monday, 25 February 2019

Simple Foundations of Balance and Movement in Table Tennis

Today I'm going to get into something which seems very basic, but incorrect foundations when it comes to maintaining balance or moving in table tennis are usually major contributors to poor technique, timing and table coverage. So let's observe some simple, yet important, foundations.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov with exceptional balance
Courtesy of ITTFWorld
Where to Start? - Stance: The first place to start when learning table tennis (and troubleshooting balance issues) is from the neutral starting position. So what are the important things to remember:

- Feet and Legs: Shoulder-width apart and with knees bent. Your body weight should be distributed on the front half of your foot towards your toes.

- Chest and Core: Core should be firm and chest should be a little forward, this helps balance your center of gravity and prevent you from being too upright or leaning once points begin.

- Free Hand: Your non-playing hand should be up in parallel to your racket starting position, as illustrated below by Pingskills coach Jeff Plumb. This assists you with general balance and also with guiding shots and aiming.

A demonstration of the free hand and stance position
Courtesy of Pingskills
Important Pointers for Footwork: 
- Make Correct Footwork Techniques: Practicing footwork can be done in drills, or off the table. If you feel you need to work more on your footwork speed, muscle memory and technique - try doing some drills away from the table. Focus mainly on single step footwork and shuffle-step (sidestep), you can also practice cross-step and pivot if necessary. These are the four main footwork methods.

You can also later do practice drills focusing on footwork, including movements into the table (for short balls), combined with other footwork techniques.

- Maintain Focus on the Table: This means not turning away from the table, not running or zig-zagging to get to the ball. Correct footwork within the table limits is side to side (like a crab!). Your shoulders should remain pointing towards the opposite side of the table in order to best execute your strokes.

- Balancing with Footwork Movements: In order to maintain the best balance, be sure to move efficiently and try and get into position early. The best thing to do is to have your foot planted (particularly on your forehand) near the ball contact before you start your stroke.

This ensures your body weight is not still in motion when you make contact. You should be stationary when you make your stroke and contact, this way no excess body weight goes into the ball, and/or body weight doesn't shift in a different direction to your stroke.

Focus on Basics!

Remember that sometimes the simple problems can be amplified in table tennis. With a small and lightweight ball under the pressure of much larger forces, the tiniest error can cause a much greater outcome to what you might expect.

A simple example is looping a ball with your body weight on your heels. Players usually end up with their body weight back and stance taller, shoulders back, sending the ball soaring over the end of the table or up into the air. Often it all begins from the small mechanics of positioning and balance.

So if you are a beginner or developing player, these simple ideas should help you - and if your level is higher, why not go over a checklist and make sure that you have these foundation skills all correct!

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