Pushing - Butterfly Table Tennis
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Han Xiao – Table Tennis Coaching


by Han Xiao

Pushing is an underrated skill among many players, especially intermediate players who feel that they have a good grasp on how to push. We spend a lot of time on more glamorous shots such as our attacking shots, or other necessities such as footwork and blocking. Meanwhile, pushing is often a forgotten part of the game that actually makes a big difference in match play.

Effective pushes are based on timing, placement, speed, and/or spin like most other shots. The most effective pushes combine at least 3 of these 4 factors to limit the opponent’s attacking options. Attempting to incorporate all 4 factors is usually difficult and risky.

When pushing deep, here are some tips to remember:

– Before committing to the push, watch the ball to see if it’s attackable. If it is, then pushing is usually not the best option and attempting to push will usually result in a lower quality shot.

– Focus on spin and placement more than speed, especially if you are a more advanced player. Sure, a fast push to the opponent’s elbow might give them trouble if they are caught flat-footed, but more advanced opponents will have no problem unleashing a strong attack against a push with little spin, even if it is very quick. Use placement to force the opponent to move a lot before attacking the ball, hopefully throwing off their timing. Vary the spin on the ball, preferably pushing with very heavy backspin sometimes in order to really force the opponent into a weak attack.

– When pushing, don’t lock up the wrist. Keep it loose and flexible so that you can snap the wrist on ball contact. Make sure to follow through with the wrist and forearm in order to generate the most backspin.

– Footwork is a big part of pushing. Make sure you’re not reaching for the ball by moving your feet before executing the stroke. Then, as you’re pushing, step into the table and through the stroke, most of the time with your dominant foot. If it’s a backhand push where the ball is very wide out to your backhand, however, step through with your non-dominant foot so that you don’t step across your own body.

When pushing short, here are some reminders:

– Dropping short is best executed on a short ball. If the ball is half long, it will be very difficult to push short, so you are better off attacking or pushing deep. This also means that pushing short is most easily done quickly off the bounce. Trying to wait for the ball and then push short is very difficult.

– There are two ways to drop the ball short. The first way involves simply touching the ball quickly off the bounce so that the ball lands short on the other side. This relies mainly on touch and the resulting ball has very little backspin. The other is to really push the ball off the bounce and put a lot of backspin on the ball so that although the intention is for the ball to land quite short, it will also stop on the table due to the backspin. The latter method is difficult to perfect but gives you a much greater margin for error. It is also a higher quality shot and more difficult to attack.

– Just as when you are pushing deep, remember to step into the table and through the stroke.

– Don’t use too much arm when executing a short push. Mostly step through the ball and use your wrist to perform the stroke.

– For a shakehand player, applying pressure to the handle of the racket with the middle through pinky fingers can absorb some of the pace on the opponent’s ball and help the ball stay short. This is covered in a previous article as well.

– You don’t have to be absolutely perfect. Give yourself a little bit of margin for error, especially making sure that you don’t miss short pushes in the net. If you read the spin on the opponent’s shot perfectly, you can go for a more perfect short push, but this is often not the case.

Make sure you practice pushing quite a bit in practice and really pay attention to the quality of your pushes. A good push can be a big difference maker and keep your opponent from attacking the way he/she really wants to, giving you the initiative and a big advantage. To round things out, here’s a video of the 2000 Olympic Games men’s singles final, featuring arguably two of the best pushes of all time, Kong Linghui and Jan-Ove Waldner. Pay special attention to how both players try to use spin, placement, and surprise to limit the opponent’s attacking quality. Even if their pushes aren’t effective 100% of the time against each other due to the quality of the opponent, it’s still an excellent way to learn pushing tactics as well as observe correct execution of the strokes.

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