Are You Backhand Oriented?

By Larry Hodges

A common problem for players at all levels of table tennis is being backhand oriented. Backhand orientation (B.O. for short) means that you favor your backhand over your forehand, trying to cover too much of the table with the backhand. Once developed, the forehand is the more powerful shot, so this is a mistake.

B.O. is a disease. It infiltrates your game, multiplies and divides, and takes over your entire playing style. Left untreated, you may find yourself blocking lobs with your backhand! But treated properly, there is hope.

B.O. can be highly contagious being caught simply by watching or copying (consciously or subconsciously), someone in the throes of B.O. It generally strikes during the formative years before you break 1500 and you must take precautions against this occurring.

Let's examine the causes of B.O. by starting with foot placement, as that's the root cause of the problem. Contrast the ready position of the feet of a "healthy" player with that of a backhand oriented player (both right-handed).

Notice player "B's" feet? Left foot in front, both feet rotated clockwise slightly. This player is in perfect position for any shot while favoring the stronger forehand. You can't see it, but he also has his knees bent and his weigh on the inside balls of his feet.

Now look at player "A." Feet parallel, standing in the middle of the table. Since the forehand and backhand rotate at the elbow and his elbow is on his right side (see "X's" in figure), he's covering almost the while table with his backhand. "A" will return shots to his middle with his backhand, while "B" would use his stronger forehand; "A" will be leaning over to cover shot to his backhand, while "B" is in perfect position; and a shot to the forehand would catch "A" unable to rotate into the shot properly (which costs him power), while "B" is in perfect position to do so.

Obviously, "A" has a problem. Very likely, "A" has been caught in a trap whereby he finds he is most successful by favoring the backhand – but only because he hasn't given the forehand a chance. Giving the forehand an opportunity to develop may mean a few temporary embarrassments, but in the long run, it's the right thing to do. Otherwise the "B's" of the world will pass the "A's" by.

So how do you go about changing? The first thing to do is reposition those feet like player "B"! That's half the battle.

Now that your feet are where they're supposed to be, things look differently. Your elbow is now approximately even with the middle line of the table (refer to "B's" "X's") and your left foot is in front of your body so you can now swing that forehand much more effectively. Or can you? The table seems to have moved. It used to be over to the left, now it's to the right. All your shots suddenly feel awkward. That's okay, you're just experiencing withdrawal symptoms of the B.O. disease.

Now is the time to find a good coach and take a lesson. You're trying to break a bad habit and it's best to get help. You have to hit the forehand properly, and impossibility if you stand like player "A". Even your backhand will feel uncomfortable for a while and you'll find yourself wanting to go back to what feels like the comfortable foot position of player "A."

Don't take the easy way out; stick with the new foot position. Your uncomfortableness will pass and you'll be a better player because of the change.

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