3 Basic Principals of All Table Tennis Strokes

Newgy Robo-Pong

This column discusses the use of a table tennis robot in learning ping pong strokes, styles, and techniques. Richard McAfee is one of America's most active and recognized coaches. Certified as an International Coach by USA Table Tennis, he was selected as a USOC (US Olympic Committee) Developmental Coach of the Year. He organized and directed the Eastern Table Tennis Training Center and the Anderson College Table Tennis Team. He served as the Table Tennis Competition Manager for the 1996 Summer Olympics and recently was selected as an ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) Pro Tour Director. Currently he is Head Table Tennis Coach at the prestigious Sporting Club At Windy Hill in Atlanta, GA.

This article is unique because the information it contains impacts every stroke in the game. These concepts cut across all differences in grips, playing style, and personal technique. Strict adherence to these principals is necessary for any individual stroke to be successful.

1. Timing—When To Touch The Ball
  • There are three timing possibilities
    • As the ball is rising
    • At the top of the bounce
    • As the ball is descending
STROKE TIMING (Changes according to type of ball being struck.)
Stroke   Rising Top Falling
Fast Loop      
Slow Loop    
Reloop Off Bounce      
Reloop, Mid-Range    
Push, Normal    
Push, Fast      
Block Against Loop      
2. Application of Force and Friction—How to Touch the Ball
  • Force contact occurs when a forward moving racket strikes the ball. An example of this occurs when you bounce the ball straight into the air on the racket.
    • You can often hear a “wood” type of sound (hard sound).
    • Most of the energy goes into producing forward motion.
  • Friction contact occurs when you brush the ball with the racket.
    • Most of the energy goes into producing spin (ball rotation).
    • Sound is muffled (soft sound).
  • Most strokes are a blend of Force and Friction.
    • Slow Loops, serves, and pushes are maximum friction and minimum force.
    • Fast Loops are medium Force and medium Friction.
    • Counters and Kill shots are maximum Force and minimum Friction.
DIRECTION OF STROKE FORCE (Changes according to type of ball being struck.)
Type of Incoming Ball Stroke Direction
Against Topspin Down & Forward
Against Backspin Up & Forward
Against Right Sidespin To Your Left & Forward
Against Left Sidespin To Your Right & Forward
Against a High Ball Downward
Against a Low Ball Upward
3.       Ball Contact—Where to Touch the Ball
  • Most important of the 3 principals.
  • Always contact the Front of the ball.
    • Front of the ball is an area, not a specific point.
    • Front of the ball is a constantly changing area, determined by the trajectory of the ball.
    • It is the part of the ball facing the direction of travel.

Area Of Contact For Various Strokes (Changes according to type of ball being struck.)


Contact Area On Ball

Counter Against Topspin

Above Center

Kill Against Backspin


Slow Loop Against Backspin

Center Or Below Center

Fast Loop Against Backspin

Center Or Above Center

Reloop From Mid-Distance

Center Or Below Center

Reloop From Close To Table


Push Against Backspin

Below Center To Bottom

Chop Against Topspin

Center Or Below Center

 Definition of "Front" and "Center" of Ball
Relationship Between the “Front” of the Ball and Stroke Timing

The area of the ball facing the direction of travel defines the “Front” of the ball. The Front does not change even if the ball is spinning. When you are aiming for a spot on the ball you must also consider the stroke timing that you are using.

Here is an example of how the contact point on the ball will change with the timing you use. Let’s assume that your opponent chops a ball to your forehand that you wish to loop. According to the chart on where to contact the ball for this stroke, the contact should be below the center of the “front” of the ball. Now look above at where that point on the ball would be when the ball is struck at the top of the bounce. Now compare how that location would change if you let the ball fall. You can see how your racket angle would have to change as your timing changes.

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