Step Around Footwork
by Han Xiao
One of the most common footwork drills in table tennis among all levels of play is the Falkenberg drill. It’s a very simple drill. The drilling player plays only to the blocking player’s backhand side, playing first one backhand, then a forehand from the backhand corner, then a forehand from the forehand corner. Its main appeal comes from the range of skills that it can train simultaneously. We can practice three of the most basic strokes in one drill, along with basic side to side footwork and step around footwork. Additionally, the difficulty of the drill can be easily adjusted based on the level and style of play.
Unfortunately, the step around portion of the Falkenberg drill is often done with suboptimal footwork by many players ranging from beginners to national team level players. This is especially true in countries such as the United States where many coaches don’t focus too much on correct footwork and instead act as private practice partners. Here we’ll focus on two of the most common things that some of us might be doing incorrectly so that we can correct these problems.
The first part of the step around involves turning the body at an angle to give us ample room to hit a forehand from the backhand corner. To hit a forehand with adequate power and consistency, the elbow should be to the side of and even slightly in front of the body, not behind the body. We also don’t want the elbow too close to the body, or for us to have to lean to the backhand side to hit the forehand. Therefore, we should rotate our body around the corner of the table as we move to give us a good angle to rotate the body into the shot. If we instead move parallel to the table, it becomes difficult for us to rotate our body into the proper forehand position. If you feel like you are rushed or cramped when you hit a forehand from the backhand side on this drill, rotate more when you’re stepping around to give yourself more space. Sacrifice timing a little bit as you’re trying to get the footwork right and take the ball a little later if you need to.
After you’ve stepped around and hit a forehand, returning to the ready position is just as important. This is probably the most neglected step in stepping around, because it comes after hitting the ball. After rotating the body around the corner of the table to hit the shot, it’s important not to leave your body at that angle and try to cover the forehand corner from there. The reason is that attempting to move to the forehand from the backhand side at this angle using regular side to side footwork is not only difficult, it will result in moving backwards off the table rapidly. Because your back foot will be pointed away from the table after the step around, you need to move back to ready position immediately after hitting a forehand from the backhand side. To do this in the context of the Falkenberg drill, simply take one quick shuffle step back to your original backhand position just left of the center line of the table, making sure you rotate as you move towards the middle of the table so that you are nearly parallel with the end line. This way, as the next ball is hit to your forehand, you can comfortably move laterally to hit a forehand from the forehand side without backing off the table and putting yourself in bad position. Those of you who find yourselves constantly backing farther and farther away from the table while doing this drill and related drills may find that this one step back to ready position can really help you stay at the table without too much effort.
Taking this step back to ready or neutral position also improves the angles that you can cover after stepping around. Of course, advanced players can always use cross-step footwork to cover a great distance and move to balls wide to the forehand. Still, being able to take one preparatory step back to ready position after stepping around can prevent the necessity of a cross-step and can still link into a cross-step to the wide forehand if necessary. It also helps to prevent a cross-step from being too much of a backwards step off the table.
We can see here a quick demonstration of the Falkenberg drill. Take specific note of the footwork involved on the step around, the quick shuffle step back to ready position afterwards, and how the player uses his weight and his body in general on the step around.
In my opinion, the two components of step around footwork that I’ve mentioned here are also two of the biggest mistakes that players tend to make when stepping around. Mastering these two components will allow you to do drills such as the Falkenberg with less difficulty and more consistency. You’ll be able to use your body more, allowing you to commit fully to each shot and still be ready for the next one, and you’ll be able to stay up at the table while moving.
Bonus for advanced players: Everything we’ve talked about here still applies when you’re hitting multiple forehands in a row from the backhand corner. You still want to move quickly back to neutral position to make it possible to cover the wide forehand easily in most cases, unless you are willing to gamble on the opponent returning to your backhand corner again. In order to train this, there is a very difficult drill you can do. Have a partner block medium to slow only to your wide backhand corner, while you attack with your forehand from the backhand side. Not very difficult sounding, right? The catch is, you must return to a neutral position after every forehand, meaning you must move back towards the middle of the table and rotate to your normal ready position as we’ve discussed. This is a very demanding drill on your footwork, balance, and body control, and probably can only be done in small bursts due to the physical demands it will put on your body. However, it can be quite beneficial if you commit to doing it correctly.