April 24, 2017 - How Do You Develop Ball Control and a Feel for the Ball?

We’ve all see those types of players who have this “feel” for the ball, who can adjust to anything and make the ball do anything. Some do it close to the table, with regular blocks at different speeds as well as topspin, chop, and sidespin blocks, or pushes they can put anywhere on the table, short or long. Others do it off the table, with lobbing, fishing, and counterloops. Anything these players can touch they can get back anywhere on the table, with varying spins and speeds. How do they develop these skills?

Like anything else, you develop this through practice. If a player can vary his blocks, it’s because he’s practiced this, either in drills or games. If he has great control of his pushes, he’s been practicing it. If he has great topspin control from off the table, it means he’s practiced it until he’s develop such a feel for the ball that he can topspin anything back, whether he’s counterlooping, fishing, or lobbing.

Suppose you want to develop an off-table topspin defense game. Then have someone practice their attack – whether looping or hitting – while you practice your off-table topspin defense game. It’s as simple as that. Many players complain they don’t have the feel for the ball needed for this, but that’s because they haven’t systematically practiced it, which is how you develop that feel. The same is true if you want to learn to vary your blocks – you have to practice these variations with a practice partner.

Note that when you do such practice, you are not only systematically practicing a specific shot, but you are also systematically practicing adjusting to incoming shots. While adjusting to an incoming shot is central to developing any shot, it’s more extreme with ball control shots – and making this a habit is central to developing a ball control game.

So you develop ball control with the same systematic approach as other shots, except instead of just systematically developing the shot, you also systematically develop the habit of adjustment. That means that if you are close to the table blocking, instead of just blocking the same way every time, try changing the pace, placement, and spin (topspin, sidespin, chop) of your blocks, and have your practice partner give you different shots to work against, until you develop a feel for such adjustments.

If you are more off the table, it’s the same thing, except now you are counterlooping, fishing, or lobbing – but do so with different spins (topspin, sidespin both ways), and with different contact points – sometimes top of the bounce, sometimes a little after that, sometimes (against a hard-hit shot) farther back, thereby developing a feel for these shots from anywhere on the court against any incoming shot.

It’s a different mentality than the more common systematic attacking, counter-attacking, or standard blocking play of most players – but that’s why many players aren’t ball control experts. It also doesn’t fit all parts of everyone’s game – some players are simply better with all-out attacks, rarely backing up (so rarely fishing, lobbing, or counterlooping from far off the table), and there’s nothing wrong with that – but that doesn’t mean they can’t develop ball control with other shots, such as pushing (short and long pushes against short backspin or no-spin serves) or change-of-pace blocks. And by using such ball control shots, they’ll learn when they are effective in setting up the other parts of their games – and maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn to add such ball control shots to their game at times when they are more effective than just blindly attacking or counter-attacking everything.