Table Tennis Basics: Coaching Table Tennis

Coaching table tennis can be fun and rewarding, a guide to drills and exercises.

Table tennis, otherwise known as ping pong, is a very inexpensive sport that the old, young, athletic and the athletically challenged can all enjoy. Equipment is minimal. All that is needed is a ping pong table with a net, rackets (paddles), and table tennis balls.

You will need a large enough room to be able to move freely to the sides and to be able to back up from the table so that you can take full advantage of all shots. In order to coach table tennis, you need to be familiar with the basics of the sport. Many people are surprised that there are various serves and strokes that serve different purposes and perform many strategies if used correctly. Table tennis is similar to tennis in basically only one area-the rules. Beyond that, table tennis is played quite different physically than table tennis because of the difference in rackets and balls and the size of the actually area that players compete upon.

When coaching table tennis, you will need to treat this sport as you would any other sport and begin the session with stretching. Side bends, toe touches, and leg stretches are just some of the stretching exercises that can be done before the actual competition begins. Even though table tennis is performed in a relatively small area as compared to many other sports, it still requires energy and exertion.

Once you have finished stretching, do a few minutes of jogging. Jogging in place is fine. You just want to loosen your muscles and limber up your body. The whole stretching and jogging phase can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.

Now you are ready to instruct your players to warm up their forehands and backhands. You will probably want to spend at least 15 minutes on these warm up exercises. Have them practice hitting forehand shots to each other and then backhand shots. You can call out change ups to them every so many shots.

The forehand shot is fairly simple. Demonstrate to your players that the upper arm is not held directly against the body, but it is held close to the body. Hold the upper arm at around the 3 o'clock position and let your body turn at the waist to easily follow the arm motion. You will also shift the weight of your body to your right foot.

To make contact with the ball, you will shift back to your left foot and follow through with the swing, tilting the racket slightly toward the ceiling. Let the movement of your waist follow the swing and add additional power to the swing. When you actually make contact with the ball, the racket should now be turned away from the ceiling and angling slightly downward.

The backhand shot starts with movement from your left, and the racket is held in the opposite position of the forehand shot. This time the racket will be at the 9 o'clock position. You actually need to hit the ball when it is directly in front of you and move the racket in a slightly upward movement.

Have your players practice the motion of the swing slowly, so that you can instruct them as to how and where to position their arm, hand, and body. Then, have the players practice some drills so that you can critique their form.

Even though, you are playing in relatively the same area, footwork is still a very important part of the game. You will need to do at least 10 minutes of footwork drills. You can do these separately from the forehand and backhand drills, or you can combine them. It will probably depend on how comfortable and familiar your players are with the drills.

There are several footwork drills that can be done. You might have one player hit the ball repeatedly to the opposite sides of the table, and the opponent moves from side to side to return the balls. You can also call out change-up drills. Incorporate a pattern of hitting 2 balls to one side and one to the other, then changing up the pattern, so that the opponent is constantly moving in a decided rhythm from one side of the table to the other.

You can leave it up to the partner to decide where to direct the balls and have the opponent try to anticipate where the ball will land and return it successfully. You can also let the players practice the smash, also called the kill, return. Have one player hit the ball high and close enough to the other player's side so that the ball can be smashed across the net. They will need to hit hard enough but accurate enough so that the other player will have incredible difficulty returning it.

Some players may need specific drills to work specific areas of weakness. It will be your job as the coach to determine which player needs what type of practice and help that player improve in that area.

When you are done with all the drills, it will be time to start the game. The rules are fairly simple. To win the game, the first player, or couple in doubles, to score 11 points wins. The only exception to this is if the score is 10 to 10. Then, the player or players need to beat the opponent by 2 points to win the game.

The server will need to change every 2 points until the game is over. Players will lose points to their opponents if they fail to return a ball on a serve or a volley; if they hit the ball before it has bounced on their side of the table; if the ball bounces more than once on their side of the table; and if they fail to get the ball across the net into the opponent's area of play. (Note: If the ball hits the net during the serve, the serve is performed again, but if the ball hits the net during a return, then the return is good.)

Once your players have gotten the hang of simple serves and returns, have them work on pushes and blocks. In pushes, the ball is generally considered a defensive shot to stop the pace of the ball. Push strokes need to be executed gently, so that the ball is controlled. Pushes are used to put backspin on the ball. They are fairly simple with the right foot leading, and the ball being hit with the racket right after the bounce.

Blocks are used when the ball is coming fast and hard, and the player wants to control the situation. The ball needs to be hit immediately after it bounces, and the player that is returning the ball needs to adjust the racket angle to increase or decrease the spin depending on where the ball is located.

You can set the games up in various ways. You might match players together randomly, have the winners play each other, and the losers play each other, eliminating players along the way. You can also hold a doubles tournament in this same manner. You can place the players into teams, and have the players rotate play after they lose points. It is up to you. Please remember to always encourage your players, so that they want to improve.

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