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Footwork Techniques - Part 1

Tips to improve your footwork

The key to the player’s movement is the synchronization and combination of leg movements. No matter how good somebody’s technique is, if he does not have a good sense of space and proper leg movements, it will not be possible for him to achieve high levels of performance. Many beginners or even intermediate level players, approach the ball with their arms and not their legs. When they try to return a ball, they simply stretch out their arm instead of first taking a position and then playing the stroke. Although theoretically simply stretching out your arm is easier, it does not mean that it is correct, because when the player plays the stroke correctly and uses his feet to get to the ball, he has the ability, to transfer the energy from the body to the arm and to manipulate the ball more easily and accurately. Four factors are basic for satisfactory leg movement: (a) knowledge of the steps, (b) foresight, (c) the return to the ready stance, and (d) physical fitness.

a) The leg movements both close and far to the table must be characterized by small side steps. Quick side-stepping movements gives the player the ability to react faster and forestall the ball more easily without losing balance. The initial learning process for this kind of movement is accomplished though specific drills in which the players knows the movements of the ball beforehand. An example of such a drill is the well-known “X” pattern where one player plays parallel-court and the other cross-court. Subsequent learning (after the player has become familiar with the side-step from the first stage) involves automation of the footwork. This is achieved with drills where the player does not know the direction of the ball beforehand. Examples of such drills are: (a) continuous backhand drives with a sudden change to the forehand and (b) continuous forehand topspins played to defensive forehand chops with a sudden drop shot to the center or shift to the backhand.

b) It is impossible to talk about good footwork without referring to player’s ability to anticipate the direction of the ball. This basic factor distinguishes a high level player from an intermediate level player. Some players have high foresight and quick responses while others are lacking in these areas. A player can improve his skills in anticipating the ball by not over-focusing on the ball during the point. The player must give equal attention to the opponent and his racket so that he can move simultaneously with his opponent’s stroke or slightly before it.

c) Another way to improve footwork is to understand the positions the opponent favors in his game and take up a position accordingly. The player can observe his opponents position by watching the opponent’s movements and by keeping in mind that a player’s ready stance depends mostly on the way he intends to develop his game. The majority of the offensive players cover almost 70% of the table with the forehand while the remaining 30% is covered by the backhand.

d) Physical fitness is an important factor for a successful footwork too. A satisfactory strength on both legs helps the player to move quickly from side to side and take the best position for the next stroke. Waist flexibility helps the player to keep body balance during most of the technical strokes.

© Dimosthenis Messinis
Denis' Table Tennis World

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