Ten-Point Plan to Rallying Success

By Larry Hodges

With some coaching and practice, most beginners find it relatively simple to hit forehand-to-forehand or backhand-to-backhand drives. But they find it difficult to reproduce these shots in a game situation.

In a game situation, there is the degree of uncertainty as to where the ball is going, the necessity of moving to the ball before hitting it, and the difficulty in going from the serve or receive into a topspin rally. So how can a beginner go about incorporating his drive strokes into a game situation? Below is a ten-step plan for doing so. Follow it, step by step, and watch how fast you improve! 

Do each step in order for as many practice sessions as it takes to feel comfortable at it. It's okay to do more than one step in a given session, if you feel comfortable at it – but don't go through the steps too fast, or you won't be very comfortable in the latter steps and won't improve as fast. Start out each drill slowly, aiming for consistency, and build up speed to a medium speed rally. Then go on to the next step.

In all drills – except step ten – return all shots to the same spot so your opponent can block or counterdrive consistently. This includes the serves and receives in steps seven through nine. If you can't return the ball to the same general area consistently, you aren't ready to go to the next step yet!

Step One: Learn to hit forehand and backhand shots correctly
Start out by hitting forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand (with a coach helping out) until you can do so both correctly and relatively consistently. Make sure to practice both crosscourt and down-the-line.

Step Two: Learn to combine the shots
Have partner hit the ball alternately to your forehand and backhand corner. You alternate forehand and backhand returns. You will have to move side to side some, but not much yet. Make sure to move to the ball, don't reach.

Step Three: Learn to move to the ball before hitting
Have partner hit ball alternately between two specific spots, about two to four feet apart, while you move to the ball and play all forehand or all backhand. (The forehand can be played from all parts of the table, but use the backhand only from the backhand side.) Again, make sure to move to the ball – don't reach. Hit each forehand in the same spot in relation to the body, and vice versa with the backhand.

Step Four: Learn to move to a random ball
Have your partner hit the ball randomly to one side of the table only (forehand or backhand side). You move to each ball and make a correct forehand or backhand stroke. (Use all forehand or all backhand in this drill. When practicing the backhand, partner keeps ball to your backhand side. When practicing forehand, you can do drill from either side.) Most important thing to remember is not to over anticipate – don't start to move to your shot until your partner is committed to hitting the ball there.

Step Five: Learn to decide between random forehand and backhand shot
Have partner hit the ball randomly to two specific spots: to the middle forehand and the middle backhand area. Again, don't over anticipate.

Step Six: Learn to rally against a random ball
Have partner hit the ball randomly to all parts of the table. Move to each ball, and return it with a correct forehand or backhand stroke. Start off slow – this is a more difficult than it looks, but it rapidly gets easier. Cover between half and two-thirds of the table with your forehand.

Step Seven: Learn to get into a topspin rally
Redo step six, except start off rally by serving backspin. Partner pushes it back with backspin, and you topspin his backspin. (Make sure to open your racket.) Continue as in step six. You should also try this drill with your partner serving backspin, with you topspinning his backspin serve back and then continuing as in step six.

Step Eight: Learn to get into a rally when serving
Redo step six, except start rally by serving as you would in a game. Get into a topspin rally as quickly as possible, and continue as in step six.

Step Nine: Learn to get into a rally when receiving
Redo step six again, except this time have opponent serve as if it were a game. Get into a topspin rally as quickly as possible, and continue as in step six.

Step Ten: Learn to play matches
Combine what you have practiced above, and see if you can put it together in a match. You should be able to – after all, you are now a graduate of the Rallying School of Table Tennis. Congratulations!